Promoter slams BBC's free festivals

Vince Power demands Government explains why broadcaster is allowed to spend taxpayers' money on massive music events
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The Independent Online

Vince Power, the man behind some of the biggest music festivals of the past 30 years, has launched a furious campaign against the BBC.

The music entrepreneur has twice written to the BBC's director-general Mark Thompson to demand to know why the broadcaster is putting on so many festivals, in particular this month's free admission, Rihanna-headlining Hackney Weekend, this summer.

Mr Power, who pocketed £13m from selling his Mean Fiddler music venues business in 2005, has also sent a letter to the Government, arguing that taxpayer money is subsidising the BBC festivals that are eating into the business of commercial event organisers.

His current company is Music Festivals, which is behind the Hop Farm festival in Kent that takes place a week after the Hackney Weekend. Mr Power, who has said recently that ticket sales for his festivales were down on last year, told The Independent on Sunday that big name acts, such as former White Stripes lead singer Jack White, had shunned his event for the BBC, as big record companies wanted their acts to get the playlist exposure that the broadcaster's event would bring.

"In a special time of austerity, I'm sure that taxpayers don't want to see their money spent on festivals," said Mr Power, alluding to the licence fee that funds the BBC. "If the BBC is giving something out for free, then we can't compete. It's really pissed me off. A lot of people aren't willing to put their head above the parapet, to say that this isn't fair. It isn't right."

Mr Power said that the BBC and ministers had sent back standard responses and passed him on to more junior officials. However, he said he would continue to demand answers from the BBC and Government as he "needs to get a proper result" on what he believes is a distortion of the market. "This needs to be taken seriously," he added.

The Hackney Weekend is part of Radio 1's annual "Big Weekend" events, which have taken place all over the country. It is in east London and is particularly big this year as part of a wider event to mark the Olympic Games. The event will be covered on Radio 1, BBC Three and will have its own website.

The threat to festival organisers is clear from BBC's website: "As 2012 is a very special Olympic year it felt right to celebrate in east London with an even bigger party. Nothing we've done so far has been as huge as the festival due to happen in Hackney this summer."

The six-stage line-up also includes the likes of Jay-Z, will.i.am, Leona Lewis and Kasabian. The BBC also puts on Radio 2's hugely popular Hyde Park Festival in September.

A number of music festivals have already been called off this summer as they have struggled to compete with the Olympic and Queen's Jubilee celebrations. Innocent Drinks cancelled its London 2012-themed event due to poor ticket sales, while the Scipmylo – "Olympics" backwards – cultural festival, also in Hackney, was put on hold earlier this month.

But, veteran rock concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith said the industry had to accept that the market was crowded. "Competition is competition," he said. "I don't know why the BBC is doing this, but that's life."

Asked for comment, a BBC spokesman said: "Live music is a core part of our output and we have a long history of staging events that offer unique live performances, feature an unrivalled breadth of artists, support new British music and complement the UK's vibrant festival scene. "

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