AEG brings TV hits to a venue near you

Favorite shows head to the stage

Give ’em credit for doing the unlikely: AEG Live is turning couch potatoes into a new breed of concertgoers by translating TV shows into stage productions. It started with “American Idol,” hit lows with a ticket snafu and hit highs in attendance with Miley Cyrus/”Hannah Montana”; come Dec. 17, AEG Live waltzes “Dancing With the Stars” across the country.

It’s the new style of family entertainment, spanning a significant demographic as it focuses on parents and kids who have graduated from the circus and Ice Capades. It’s an opportunity, too, especially in the case of “American Idol,” to introduce young audiences to the thrill of a concert performance and to potentially develop a new generation of concertgoers. No need to worry if the act goes out of favor, breaks up or leaves their label — this is all about selling a brand.

AEG’s newest model is based on ownership. The content suppliers handle the creative; AEG then manages, produces, markets and promotes the touring editions.

“We have more control” than in traditional concert arrangements, said AEG Live president and CEO Randy Phillips. “Other tours are leasing a superstar for a period of time. This beats the leasing business.”

AEG HAS handled all seven “American Idol” tours, the last one hitting 45 markets and averaging 15,000 attendees per show. The last “Dancing With the Stars” tour played close to 50 markets and grossed more than $20 million; its fourth edition, with Lance Bass, Toni Braxton, Marlee Matlin and nine of the show’s professional dancers, will play 37 cities beginning Dec. 17 in San Diego.

The company has also been behind the tours of “High School Musical,” the Cheetah Girls, and “So You Think You Can Dance.” In Las Vegas, they staged an edition of “America’s Got Talent” with Jerry Springer as host and 10 of the show’s amateur contestants. It drew a crowd of 8,000, and its future as a touring edition is being discussed.

“Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew,” the live version of the MTV show, is the lone show in the bunch geared toward large theaters rather than arenas. In Tampa, Fla., 74% of the 2,610 seats were sold, leading to a gross of $94,000, a sign that a show with a narrow demographic — 12 to 24, Phillips points out — and a smaller TV audience may be too tough a nut to crack.

“Part of my mandate is to develop entertainment for arenas,” Phillips said, “and if these were not arena shows we wouldn’t be involved.”

A CONSIDERABLE number of formulas play into the staging of these shows.

  • Corporate sponsorship is crucial, but the limit is three. “Otherwise it gets cluttered,” Phillips noted.

  • Pricing needs to be a “value proposition.”

  • Elaborate meet and greets with stars and fans, one of the most important elements of the higher-priced tickets.

One of Phillips’ other conditions, though, surprised me: “You have to give them exactly what they see on TV.”

That seems to contradict past lessons learned when television stars and entities attempt to migrate to other platforms. Why pay for something the audience already gets for free?

Yet by limiting the concert version to its televised parameters, down to not just the stage setup but the actual style of the stage, it creates an element of authenticity. “Dancing,” for example, uses a proscenium stage; “Idol” is a concert setup, and the top 10 perform in the order by which they were eliminated, limiting the material to songs performed on the TV show.

But at one point is there too much?

“I assume that as people have to make choices during a slowdown, instead of attending three shows they’ll go to one, and we could be cannibalizing ourselves,” Phillips allowed.

On the other hand, there is often a sense that the marketplace is too crowded and that there’s no room for anything new. “Then something blows up and there’s room for that one,” he says. “We might have said stop after ‘Idol.’ But then ‘Hannah’ performed really well.

“TV is so much more powerful than radio. It’s amazing how fast a brand can take hold.”

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