An update from Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society
Things that will be different at The Fringe this year as we emerge from the damaging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A full-blown, full-throttle Fringe is within touching distance! As interest and excitement grows, more and more artists, venues and other stakeholders are rightly asking questions about what to expect – and what will be missing – this year.
1. Every decision made about Fringe 2022 was made against the backdrop of severe financial risk
Let’s face it: Covid-19 nearly finished us off. In 2020 we lost all our revenue and faced insolvency. We received a £1million loan from the Scottish Government just to survive. £670K of that loan was immediately given directly to artists who had paid registration fees. Even as late as December 2021, when so many decisions about this year’s Fringe had to be made, we were in survival mode. We had no sponsorship funds; a skeleton staff; and no certainty about the future of major events. It is a miracle the Fringe is happening at all – and venues and artists deserve all the credit for the way they have responded.
2. Why isn’t there an app this year and couldn’t more people have been consulted?
The app was due for an upgrade after Fringe 2019 by rebuilding a mobile website to replace its functionality and integrate with the main website. The development required in 2022, including changes to app store policies, payment processing and e-ticketing, would have cost in excess of £100,000, with work requiring to begin in December 2021 to meet all the associated, and necessary, compliancy testing. This was simply impossible. It is a sad reality of the impact of Covid that there was nothing to consult about. We have had to make lots of tough choices to help as many people as possible to survive the effects of the pandemic, and this was one of them. Note that the Fringe app has just 7% of users compared to edfringe.com – more than nine in every ten app and web users still prefer the website.
3. What other decisions were made because of financial constraints?
Fringe Central, our centre for artists and media, will be hosted in St James Quarter for the month of August. This in-kind sponsorship has saved us £50,000 on rent and fit-out costs. We would not have been able to deliver Fringe Central this year, without this generous support. The new location has the added benefit of balancing the presence of the Fringe throughout the city of Edinburgh, responding to concerns expressed by residents, and many venues and artists who are outwith the concentrated footprint. The Fringe Society remains in their offices on the High Street.
The physical Half Price Hut will not be returning as the current infrastructure had reached its end of life. But that doesn’t mean Half Price Hut tickets offers will end. Instead, they’ll be available at our box office at 180 High St – more details on this will be announced soon. We will also be coordinating weekly ‘offer-led’ e-newsletters to subscribers, with venues able to provide targeted offers for specific shows or locations. The move to e-ticketing throughout Covid, has meant there are no physical tickets. We have invested in mobile phone handsets at venues, to ensure a seamless move from physical to e-ticketing, which was piloted in 2021.
4. Our new partnership with TikTok is a great digital opportunity
Our 2022 partnership with TikTok will allow a new opportunity for artists and venues to engage with audiences, encouraging digital engagement and performance attendance. Venues have been encouraged to engage directly with the TikTok team on workshops and programming opportunities within the TikTok stages. Venues and artists can utilise the TikTok screens, located on the High Street, where digital posters can be submitted for inclusion. We are using this platform to increase marketing to audiences. To take up this opportunity, email [email protected].
5. There are still other functional, digital improvements coming
We have invested in mobile website improvements this year including a “My tickets” area on the mobile website, which supports planning, e-ticketing and a one-stop shop for all audience ticketing needs. We have also updated secure payment processing, in line with 2021 legislation and improving customer information security, establishing a robust platform to support future app development and ticketing.
We are finalising a new ‘Nearby Now’ button on the homepage, replicating the functionality of the App with a single button on the homepage – this will be live in August.
6. We’ll keep freezing registration fees.
For the last 15 years, registration fees for the Fringe have been frozen to support artists. £300 in 2007 is equivalent to around £462 today. We have further committed to freezing registration fees until 2027. For more details see https://www.edfringe.com/take-part/putting-on-a-show/registering
7. How else are we helping?
We recently launched a series of six development goals which outline the themes we are focused on for the coming years. Included in these development goals are specific commitments and new developments, which we encourage anyone interested in The Fringe to read.
8. Lobbying and Advocacy
We advocated for government funding to support the covid mitigations required for venues to operate a scaled back Fringe 2021. £1million funding was allocated through Event Scotland and all of it went straight to Fringe venue operators. Albeit scaled back and socially distanced, a Fringe was enabled to happen and the Festival was kept alive in the hearts and minds of audiences. The Fringe Society survived a second year through furlough, rates relief, redundancies and donations.
We advocated again for 2022 and Scottish Government again recognised the importance of the Edinburgh Fringe as a place for artists to be seen and celebrated and have the opportunity of onward touring and promotion. In March 2022, £1.58million was allocated, this time £250K of this was given to the Fringe Society to help us to build back our team and services, to address some of the huge post-covid budget gaps. The remaining £1.275m was allocated through an open application process to Fringe venues to support recovery of the Fringe and key developments in fair employment, sustainability and inclusion. The funds were allocated against clear criteria and sadly not all who applied were successful, but the Fringe Society has continued to recognize the recovery needs of everyone and try to use our resources as smartly and fairly as we can to support all of the Fringe. The remaining £55K was allocated to support street events.
Whilst we can’t control accommodation costs or the transport infrastructure, we have used our convening role to lobby for affordable accommodation for artists and have secured around 1200 rooms capped at £280 per week through partners like Queen Margaret’s University, Unite Students, University of Edinburgh and Theatre Digs Booker Find out more.
We will continue to lobby tirelessly on these matters, and will look to others to do the same.
9. What does the future hold?
We need a year of recovery before we can deliver everything that we all want to see. We also need to secure additional funding, or sponsorships, to finance these projects. Resourcing and producing a new app is one of our priorities for 2023, in line with our future vision for a digital Fringe, but this requires extensive scoping and will be dependent on securing additional funding.
10. The full programme launches this week
For the first time since 2019, we are about to launch the full Fringe programme. We delayed it by a month in response to requests from artists and venues to have more time to register this year. But this week will see a tremendous 75th anniversary programme launched into the public domain with all of our marketing campaign and PR behind it. There have been a record number of pre-orders of the programme. We will be putting all our efforts into encouraging Fringe lovers and those new to the Fringe to join us for this year’s extraordinary line-up.