LONDON (Billboard) - In 1989, the British music industry
gambled on a tactic to rev up its annual BPI Awards ceremony.
With a new, snappier name -- the BRIT Awards -- the country's
version of the Grammys was televised live for the first time.
But what rolled out that fateful night became the stuff of
legend, with co-hosts Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood and
glamour model-turned-pop signer Samantha Fox stranded haplessly
at the podium as the show turned into "car crash" TV, replete
with technical failures, botched lines, miscued presenters and
late-arriving guests. Unsurprisingly, the BPI (British
Phonographic Industry) has since opted for a delayed feed.
This year, though, the February 14 show will be televised
live. The BRITs have gone from laughing stock to blue-chip
stock, acknowledged as the jewel in the crown of the U.K.
awards calendar -- despite the arrival of a plethora of new
honors in recent years.
Of all the U.K. awards shows, the BRITs have had the most
notable regular effect on sales. In the first Official U.K.
Charts Co. (OCC) album listing published after the broadcast of
the 2006 show, for example, double award-winner KT Tunstall's
"Eye to the Telescope" leapt 15 places to No. 4. Other award
winners showing dramatic sales rises that week included
Coldplay (up 13 places to No. 8 with "X&Y") and Kanye West (up
17 to No. 23 with "Late Registration").
Tunstall and West had both performed on the show, as did
outstanding contribution award winner Paul Weller. The latter
saw a reissued version of his old band the Jam's hits set
"Snap!" enter the chart at No. 10 the following week -- an
entry much higher than would have been anticipated.
Mercury Prize effects have been quantifiable as well. The
2005 winner, Antony & the Johnsons' "I Am a Bird Now" leapt
from No. 135 to No. 16 on OCC's sales chart, while retailers
reporting a 20-fold week-on-week sales increase.
London now hosts at least 30 music award ceremonies
annually, catering to virtually every sector. Take in the Live
Music Awards, dance music's DJ Awards, the U.K. Music Hall of
Fame, the Digital Music Awards and the events hosted by rock
weekly Kerrang or music magazines NME or Q -- and you're only
scratching the surface.
"At the moment," suggests Kim Bayley, secretary general of
trade body the Entertainment Retailers Assn., "(the ceremonies)
all work. If anything, there are gaps within the year."
But others argue that the calendar is already overcrowded.
"Some of the magazine awards have pushed their luck," says
music critic David Sinclair, a regular contributor to The Times
newspaper. "(They've) created vague categories and fanciful
'inspiration'-type trophies which are doled out to whoever they
can persuade to show up. The ones that matter to the artists
are the Mercury Music Prize, for credibility, and the BRITs,
The U.K. business has to "be very aware that it can
overcook the goose by having too many awards ceremonies,"
cautions Bernard Doherty, CEO of British PR firm LD Publicity,
which has handled the BRIT Awards, MTV Europe Music Awards and
the Sony Radio Academy Awards, among others.
For the U.K. mass-market tabloid press, it's the BRITs that
rule, veteran tabloid showbiz correspondent Rick Sky says.
However, Sky adds, "They also care about the Q and NME Awards.
The tabloids are just interested in what ceremony brings in the
biggest stars. They have a nod at the Mercury Prize, but it's
not really their market."
For market-leading music merchant HMV, the three most
important ceremonies are "the BRITs, the Mercury Prize and the
NME awards," head of music Gary Rolfe says. The BRIT Awards in
particular increase in-store traffic, he notes.
HMV is a sponsor of the NME Awards, which Rolfe describes
as "a very proactive/interactive event for us. We organize a
lot of in-store shows featuring nominees, particularly newer
acts. A couple of years ago, we had the likes of the Killers
and Kaiser Chiefs playing in HMV stores ahead of the NME
From a radio perspective, Parlophone Records head of radio
Kevin McCabe says, "The most important ones are the BRITs and Q
Awards. There's kudos attached to Q, and it's one that gets
some leverage (across the media). It's become quite global."
Insiders recognize the tangible effect the BRITs and a
handful of other U.K. awards shows can have on record sales.
But "the ones artists like to win," says Kaiser Chiefs manager
James Sandom, are "the Ivor Novellos, the Silver Clefs and
other songwriting-focused awards." Unlike the BRITs, however,
these key music-publishing galas are not televised.
Sandom added that when the Kasier Chiefs won three BRIT
Awards last year, "it meant something in Europe, but globally,
it really just didn't matter."
Among the acts hoping to benefit from BRITs exposure in
2007 are multiple nominees Lily Allen, Gnarls Barkley, James
Morrison, Corinne Bailey Rae and Snow Patrol.
Snow Patrol, Bailey Rae, Scissor Sisters, the Killers, Take
That, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Amy Winehouse and Oasis will
perform on the show.