Bamboo Curtain raisers

Concert promoters hoping to enter emerging market

Now that the Rolling Stones have rocked China, concert promoters are eager to give Chinese auds more satisfaction with other Western acts.

“This is the largest emerging market we’ve ever seen,” says Jonathan Krane, CEO of Emma Entertainment, a ticketing and booking agency that promoted the Stones’ April 8 show in Shanghai. “When artists are going to Japan, they’re also looking at going to China now.”

Mariah Carey, Elton John and James Brown preceded the Stones in Shanghai, and Norah Jones, Whitney Houston and Deep Purple played both Shanghai and Beijing. But there are still lots of hurdles, ranging from ticket dumping and scalping to censorship.

Unlike the U.S., Europe and Japan, where long lines and sell-outs are the rule for top events, concerts in China rarely sell out. Tickets are often scalped for well under face value. Sometimes they aren’t sold at all.

One ticketing exec says because of the big security presence the Public Security Bureau (PSB) mandates for concerts, promoters must often provide thousands of tickets, without compensation, for PSB use. These then leak out, making tix available for as little as one-tenth their face value.

There is one definite upside. Huang Feng, international marketing manager for Warner Music China, says a band’s local perf can boost legitimate CD sales. He cites a gig by Warner act Simple Plan.

“The CD wasn’t so welcome before the tour, but now, the real CD is in shops that specialize both in legitimate and pirated discs. We’re shipping more and the sales period is longer,” he says.

The Stones’ hits compilation, “Forty Licks,” may also see a spike in sales. But Chinese consumers will only get 36 licks — four of the songs on the original release are prohibited in China.