Time Out was founded on a simple idea – to get people out of the house, to discover their city and have fun.
In 11 years of running Time Out here in Australia, I can tell you with some degree of authority that there have been easier times for us to achieve this mission than those we are currently experiencing in Sydney.
But to reduce those impediments to ‘lockouts’ is an over-simplification. There are a number of factors that are hampering the Going Out Habit in Sydney, and some of them are not unique to the Harbour City.
For example, it’s expensive here. Public transport is not (currently) in tip-top condition. And perhaps what finally tips the balance: there has never been a better time to be at home, courtesy of the following equation: Couch + Netflix + Deliveroo = A good night in
All that said, we are making things unnecessarily difficult for ourselves. For example, up to seven government departments have the power to weigh in on noise complaints in different circumstances, and in many cases overlapping. Pick up a guitar and here’s who might take an interest:
- Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing
- Roads and Maritime Services
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Property NSW
Further, a number of our venues have licensing restrictions such as “no rock music”, or “no DJs and no dancing”.
For those thinking of opening a new venue, things are similarly fraught. As a first step, you must apply to council for a DA (who run it by police). Then you apply to the OLGR for your liquor licence (who will run it by the police again).
As we all know, the upshot of all of this has been a significant loss of venues across the cityscape. As venues close, precincts become less attractive, which leads to fewer people going out which leads to venues closing. It’s a vicious circle.
So much for the problem. What’s the solution?
Step 1 Stop Whinging. Get Active.
The lockouts accelerated the problems of a city whose going-out culture was already affected by some of the issues outlined above, and it was really only by 2015-16 that we realised the extent to which the cumulative effect of all these issues would change the city. During that period I was vocal about the issues, but guilty of not taking meaningful action.
But, come 2018, I decided to stop my whining and set about fixing things. We can’t simply talk away the problem; what we can do is take that negative energy and apply it to a solution.
Step 2 Break the Problem Down
The problem is multi-layered. There are competing interests and conflicting agendas. However, like any problem it can be broken down into bite-sized chunks making it easier to deal with.
A key insight is to understand that convenience and the comparative low cost of at-home entertainment has improved dramatically in the last five years. The couch is a magnet, and our posteriors are drawn to it, with each thumb-click, each Netflix countdown, each home delivery, the attraction gets stronger.
In contrast, how is our cityscape competing? Is it easy? Is it seamless? Is it relevant? Is it addictive? How well are the different components of a night out working with each other, conspiring to get us out of the house and into a world of undiscovered experiences?
And therein lies the problem. Until now, each sector that comprises the night – hospitality, arts, entertainment, culture, music and retail – has existed in a vacuum, not really talking to each other deeply enough on an ongoing basis, or co-ordinating their engagement activities with consumers or lobbying efforts to government.
But with the couch now the competitor, it’s clear that our night time infrastructure providers need to come together and work with one another, to improve the going-out offering and get a better deal from government and regulators.
Step 3 Identify a solution
The above insights, combined with a decent amount of time in my private booth at the Duke of Clarence chatting to industry leaders, hanging out in Town Hall chambers with city councillors, giving evidence to NSW Parliament as part of the Music and Arts Inquiry, and even briefing Federal MPs in Canberra in relation to the future of the Australian music industry, have shed light on the solution. If industry wants change, it needs to get organised. And it needs to get organised across traditional sector demarcations.
In the last few months, my private booth at the Duke of Clarence has fuelled discussions between captains of industry and senior states-people, all deeply committed to re-establishing a vibrant city.
Step 4 Getting organised. Introducing the Night Time Industries Association
That’s why – along with other industry leaders – I have launched a Night Time Industries Association (NTIA). Its purpose? To promote Sydney as a vibrant and creative city, and to build a new, positive narrative for Sydney’s nightlife that includes:
a. that Sydney is a fun and inspiring place to live, work and play;
b. that Sydney’s nightlife contributes to the cultural value of the city; and
c. that nightlife stimulates creativity, which is an important economic driver for NSW.
Founding board members of the NTIA Justine Baker (CEO, Solotel Group), Kerri Glasscock (CEO Sydney Fringe Festival) and Michael Rodrigues (Time Out). Photograph: Daniel Boud
These are objectives around which stakeholders in the night time economy can unify from multiple sectors including:
- Hospitality (bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants)
- Entertainment venues
- Arts, Music and Culture
Joining myself on the inaugural board are:
- Justine Baker, CEO of Solotel Group which has 30 bars, pubs and restaurants
- Kerri Glasscock, CEO of Sydney Fringe Festival, City Recital board member and owner of Venue 505
- Greg Khoury, Executive Director of Century Venues which operates the Factory, Metro and Enmore Theatres and the Concourse (Chatswood)
- Rennie Addabbo, Managing Director of Sonos Australia
The NTIA has been formed in consultation with the Committee for Sydney, following the release of its 24-Hour City report, which was released in March 2018.
If you are a business whose outcomes are being adversely impacted by the issues touched on in this article and you want to unite with other like-minded industry players to fix things, then you should join our fast growing membership base.
Step 5 Take Action
Governments are more responsive to calls for change in the lead-up to an election. The NTIA will be running a campaign that will land 8-12 weeks prior to the election in March 2019. The campaign is deliberately designed to hit at the right time in the cycle and with the impact needed to make it an issue that the major political parties can’t ignore.
The NTIA has retained the services of Anthony Reed from Watson Consultants, an experienced political campaigner who is already working with the NTIA Board to formulate the campaign strategy. Anthony and his team recently campaigned successfully and won the seat of Wentworth for Kerryn Phelps.
There will also be a team of publicists, advocates and ambassadors working together during the campaign to drive media and community engagement, provide support to the NTIA membership on messaging, and ensure the campaign gets the appropriate traction.
Vision for a city
What is the vision of the city we want to work towards? Do we want a retirement village for young people? Or do we want a city that is vibrant, diverse, inclusive and inspiring?
If it’s the latter, join a like-minded group of industry leaders and let’s make it happen. Yes, there is a cost. But the real cost you need to think about is the ongoing cost of doing nothing.
MD, Time Out Australia and Chair, Night Time Industries Association (ntia.org.au)
The Night Time Industries Association is an incorporated association distinct from Time Out, and with separate governance.