2020 vision for 2022: Live music, clubs face ‘starting from scratch’

Video consumption also accelerating as more people stay at home during the pandemic

Nate Sabine, This is Blueprint Management’s director of business development, outside one of the Vancouver clubs his company manages | Chung Chow

Part of a BIV series on what B.C.'s post-pandemic business landscape is expected to look like in two years. 

After 25 years in the bar and nightclub business watching establishments get by on razor-thin margins while musical artists embark on months-long tours to pay rent, Nate Sabine is wary of what awaits Vancouver’s nightlife scene.

“When we’re looking at the landscape of Vancouver, we think it’s going to be seriously, seriously reordered, and it’s going to be starting from scratch to a large extent for those of us who make it through,” said the director of business development at This Is Blueprint Management Ltd.

The company operates clubs and bars across the city, including Fortune Sound Club and the Colony chain of pubs. It is also known for promoting concerts and operating the annual FVDED in the Park music festival.

Blueprint had to let go of nearly 600 workers at the outset of the pandemic as well as cancel 60 concerts and three festivals.

“I think that 90% of the night clubs and live music venues in B.C. are going to close permanently,” Sabine said.

So what does that mean for 2022, when a vaccine would presumably bring more stability and safety for those gathering in large groups indoors?

Sabine said there will still be demand for clubs and live music, but it may require a new group of financial backers.

“The pessimistic side of me says that the people that are going to come in and speculate after are the people that you don’t want in culture. They are developers, U.S. companies that don’t have a real stake one way or the other,” he said, likening them to the kind of well-to-do entrepreneur who launches a swanky restaurant without any operational know-how.

“You’re starting at a smaller knowledge base, a different understanding of the culture. In my view, speculators and people who try to come in and snatch up the crumbs after things are done … it’s not a great option.”

He said the concern is that the quality of Vancouver’s nightlife will decline sharply if it’s only the people with big pockets suddenly calling the shots.

But Sabine is hopeful the next year will cultivate more love for local talent in live music establishments as uncertainty remains over the Canada-U.S. border.

While he’s confident people between the ages of 20 and 30 will continue to frequent bars and clubs for fun, Sabine suspects the pandemic may erode the base of older patrons who have turned their attention and dollars to other activities.

The COVID-19 crisis has already accelerated video consumption to levels not seen before, according to SendtoNews Video Inc. CEO Matthew Watson.

The Victoria-based company is best known for its video distribution platform for sports highlights that are showcased within online stories for publications such as the Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune.

This month SendtoNews touted new Comscore Inc. (Nasdaq:SCOR) rankings that show the company attracted more than 47 million unique viewers responsible for more than one billion video views in May.

“Three years ago that’s what we did in a year and now we do it in a month, and we see that trend continuing,” Watson said.

Last August, SendtoNews expanded beyond sports into finance, health, news, lifestyle and weather videos.

By 2022, Watson foresees video consumption shifting further into the realm of long-form clips, while creators will push towards local targeting and personalization for audiences.

Prior to the pandemic, Watson spent about a week in New York City each month courting businesses with visits to big-league hockey, basketball and football games.

With live audiences temporarily ruled out at North American pro sports games, he believes there will be pent-up demand when crowds can finally return.