As CEO of Rogers & Cowan PMK, Mark Owens oversees management of the global firm’s client roster, and is responsible for the vision and growth strategy of R&C PMK’s brand and agency offices worldwide. In addition, he is charged with leading ITB, R&C PMK’s sister agency specializing in talent & influencer communications and marketing. When Owens joined what was then Rogers & Cowan in 2015, he brought with him experience and insights gleaned from having spent more than a decade working in entertainment for companies including Bill Gates-owned Corbis Entertainment and Davie Brown Entertainment. In an interview with PRovoke Media, Owens discussed the future of live events, movies, and the expanding importance of brands supporting the arts.

The entertainment industry really suffered a blow during Covid. Where is it at now?

We are looking at what should be a record-breaking 2022, and that is pretty much the industry as a whole — movies, streaming, live events, concerts. Everything in real life is expecting a tremendously strong 2022 and is planning for that with and without brand support.

There’s an enormous pent-up demand for experiences, particularly among Gen Z. Take movies for example. A lot of really big films have been pushed into 2022 — Jurassic World, Top Gun. The expectation is 2022 will break attendance records from 2019 and that was the biggest box office year ever. And in the music space: Live Nation reported that 8 million people attended in-person events or festivals that they ran in August. That’s the highest it’s been since the pandemic, but their expectations (for 2022) are to go and beat 2019 levels.

So, fear of Covid is no longer keeping people away?

There's a difference in age where the risk factor is concerned. Gen Z or millennials, they are the ones who are truly going out and really attending the movies and concerts and festivals. They are the first ones back. (Older audiences) are a little bit more cautious, and more looking for the VIP experience in the slightly more vaccinated sections.

Yet one would think it’s older consumers who want more traditional experiences, like going to movies versus streaming.

I’d say it depends on the piece of content. This is true for movies and music. I don’t believe movies are going to die out. The big franchise movies — the Avenger types and Spider-Man, youth-oriented movies — are still attracting a significant amount of Gen Z and millennials as great affordable experiences. It is still a great evening of community, and they like experiences even though they are 100% digitally native and streaming. With music, we choose what we go to probably based on the artist. Gen A chooses based on the experience. And because they are discovering music on TikTok and Snapchat, they just want to go to Badlands or Governors Ball. They want to see emerging artists and the risk factor is getting better for everyone but particularly for them.

What are the challenges the industry is facing?

I think one of the challenges in the film industry is how do you communicate that this is in theaters, or this is in theaters and streaming at the same time. HBO has for this year decided to go day-and-date on pretty much every film. Disney has done some. Others, like Bond, have been only in theaters. The challenge for the industry is making sure the consumer that’s out there understands the path of what a film is on and why it makes great sense to see it on a big screen (versus at home). Marketing content is going to have to tailor the messages to different audiences. It’s going to be hard. (Communicating to) somebody who is nervous about getting back into sitting with strangers is not generally what a movie studio does. They are not doing emotional marketing.

Where do brands come in?

I think brands are more engaged than they ever have been in the music space for sure and almost becoming equally in the film business. They are looking at much more holistic experiences for their customers. Whereas brands used to slap a logo on a tour sponsorship and do some tickets for hospitality, you now see brands looking at music and arts to be in their marketing and social, (connected to) talent celebrating a special show, maybe a limited collection. We’re going to see brands being much smarter and have much deeper associations with fewer audiences and fewer festivals and making the best of it.

In my mind, there was a bifurcation in 2020 and 2021 when so many brands, including ours in Mastercard and Cisco, started doing a lot of more intimate streaming programs for their best customers or partners or members. What you also see happening is some platforms doing a live Coachella along with some version of streaming. That raises questions: is that a paid event or is it free? And what are the economics of that to the performers? Which is why brands are so necessary for the funding equation of those kinds of things.

It doesn't sound like we're facing the predicted demise of traditional entertainment.

The demise of the different pieces of the industries often is greatly exaggerated by the media. There was a moment in time when DVDs came out and the thought was they were going to kill the movie business. What it did is expand it because people got to see so many things they couldn’t see at the time. When they wanted to have a special occasion they watched a movie. I think that streaming, and Spotify and TikTok have made people just that much more aware of content and music. The trick is what’s going to keep Gen Z and millennials interested and what do they want.

Where does that leave older audiences?

It is definitely harder for the older generation to keep up with how fast things are changing because what used to take 10 years to evolve is now happening in 18 months or two years. I am sure there are few people 60 and up on TikTok if that’s where so many people are consuming their information. (But) it’s hard and it creates a little bit of cultural dissonance out there. I think it’s the obligation of all us to be as inclusive as possible and figure that out so everyone feels they are still part of an important industry.