Huge losses: stepping stones to profit

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Major event organizers in Vietnam have stars in their eyes international stars.

Despite burning their fingers with a few major concerts recently, they are planning more shows to bring the most popular international music stars to do live shows in Vietnam.

Whatever the merits of Backstreet Boys and the legendary Bob Dylan, their recent live concerts bombed big in Vietnam.

Nguyen Kim Hanh, representative of Saigon Sound System (SSS), the company that organized Bob Dylan's first performance in Ho Chi Minh on April 10, said, "A heavy loss was foreseeable, but we still pursued our plan because the event would pave the way to attract more international stars to Vietnam."

According to the company, even if all 10,000 tickets had been sold out for US$100 each, they would not have been able to avoid a loss, since they had to spend heavily on leasing a Vertec light and sound system worth nearly $3 million as well as a system engineer from America's JBL Company. (They refused to divulge how much money was spent for the lease.)

In reality, only half the tickets were sold at $45-125, even after organizers gave a 50 percent discount for students to attend the event.

Prior to Bob Dylan's show at the RMIT campus in District 7, Water Buffalo Production (WBP) suffered huge losses when they organized two performances of American boy band Backstreet Boys in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The popularity and brand value of the 1990s' pop stars and massive promotions did not help the organizer sell as many tickets as they'd hoped.

According to an exclusive source, to reduce expenditures, WBP used local equipment instead of imported ones, apart from negotiating a "reasonable" payment of $150,000 for the band.

Both SSS and WBP, however, claim that they will invite other international acts in the near future, and the names being bandied about include alternative rock stars Linkin' Park and Jason Mraz, as also Justin Timberlake.

Two ways

There are two ways international stars are usually brought to Vietnam for live shows like that of Super Junior, Backstreet Boys

and Bob Dylan, or through shows tied to bigger events, like Il Divo at the Miss Vietnam World 2010 contest, or Ronan Keating at the Miss Earth 2010 contest held in Vietnam.

The payment differs accordingly as well. An exclusive source said,  on condition of anonymity, that Ronan Keating was paid $250,000 for performing two songs on coronation night during the Miss Earth Contest last December.

The highest payment to an international superstar so far in Vietnam is $2 million. This was the money paid to Korean superstar Bi-Rain's "Rain's coming" live show in 2007. The $2 million tab covered payment for the singer, dancers, and other staff as well as equipment and transportation. The program had the same quality as world tour performances by famous singers, and was well received by the public, although ticket sales fell below organizers' expectations.

There are less than a handful of organizers with the wherewithal for inviting major international stars. But after the losses made thus far, even the big players in the local market are likely to be wary.

"In the entertainment industry, loss is common, especially when we invite international stars," said an organizer, who did not want to be named.

For instance, D&D Company has apparently lost its appetite for international stars in Vietnam after they brought Bi-Rain.

Viet Top, another event promoter, had to cancel plans to invite several foreign acts including Hong Kong actor-singer Andy Lau Tak-Wah or singer-actor Jacky Cheung Hok Yau, two of the "Canto pop four heavenly kings" (as the Chinese media calls them) to perform in the country after an Air Supply concert in Ho Chi Minh City two years ago inflicted hurtful losses.

For the same reason, Viet Vision, after holding long discussions with Linkin' Park, is hesitating to sign on the dotted line. The American rock band from Agoura Hills, California, wants to come in September, in the midst of the rainy season in Vietnam.

Viet Vision representatives said they were worried about the extra expenditure involved in protecting expensive equipment in case it rained as also the dampening effect the weather was likely to have on ticket sales.

So there the matter stands.

Organizers are keen on bringing international stars to Vietnam despite losses made so far, but as of now, there is no indication that Michael Learns To Rock, Linkin' Park or Justin Timberlake will perform here this year.

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