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How technology is giving more life to festivals

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Nick Thompson, founding partner at creative technology agency Knit, takes a look at some of the tech trends impacting the festival and event experience.

The weird, wacky and innovative go hand-in-hand with music festivals and it’s about to get a whole lot more immersive. Once considered gimmicky and a bit ‘out there’, technologies such as virtual reality (VR), radio-frequency identification (RFID), facial recognition and beacons are being used at festivals and live events to create more immersive and engaging experiences for festival-goers.

Creating immersive experiences

Technologies which bring festival-goers closer to the action during and after events are set to be a game-changer. VR in particular gives brands and acts the ability to forge meaningful connections with attendees. 360-degree video and binaural audio, for instance, can both be used to create more visually and audio immersive experiences.

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US music festival Coachella this year, for example, launched a VR app. All ticket holders received a Google Cardboard VR headset through which they could view performances, engage with 360-degree panoramic video around the festival grounds and also watch VR experiences created by other festival-goers. This enabled Coachella to reach beyond the boundaries of the festival grounds and for its content to live on beyond the event itself.

Most recently US music festival Panorama announced the addition of The Dome to its event in July. The Dome is a spherical theatre which organisers say is a giant VR experience that brings together vision and sound to create a 10-minute immersive experience for 300-400 people at a time.

Event live streaming has been around for years, but this has become even easier with video apps like Meercat, Periscope and Facebook Live. VR is, however, about to take live streaming to the next level with 360-degree video in real-time. Live streaming content in VR is highly immersive and provides users with a personal experience from a new perspective.

In April, a US hockey game was streamed live, giving fans the chance to watch the game with complete control of their point of view.

We’re expecting more brands to tap into this powerful technology at live events and anticipate the eventual introduction of two-tier ticketing to tap into this commercial opportunity – one price for physical tickets, one for virtual.

Making the physical, digital

RFID wristbands have been on the festival circuit for many years for payments and to drive social engagement. Back in 2010 Coke used RFID wristbands to drive Facebook likes and in 2011 MasterCard tested NFC wristbands for payments at the Isle of Wight Festival. Last year Download festival went completely cash-free with festival-goers using their wristbands for all purchases.

Advances in this technology, however, means wristbands are now multi-functional. The Disney MagicBand, although not a festival or event, is a good example of how wristbands can be used to create a seamless, personalised experience. This context-aware technology uses a complex network of receivers to track a visitor’s movement through the park to enrich their experience, in addition to functioning as a park pass, door key and method of payment. Tomorrowland festival uses wearable technology to enable festival-goers to ‘scan’ their way around the grounds and connect with others through Facebook.

We also expect to see more beacons at festivals.  These are a class of low energy Bluetooth devices that broadcast to nearby portable electronic devices ie your smartphone. These can deliver proximity-based ‘push’ notifications direct to handsets so the user receives relevant content according to their location. Reeperbahn festival uses Beacon technology to allow users to effortlessly record their journey through the festival. It uses this information to populate a Spotify playlist for them and surface videos and photos they or others capture and enabling them to create a logbook of their event experience. Brands could also harness this technology to push special offers, alert users of events and offer rewards in the form of competitions, giveaways and VIP experiences.

Data collection and crowd-sensing

Along with the convenience for festival-goers, RFID means organisers can collect Data around customer profiles, social media activity, general behaviours and festival spending all in real time. This insight gives organisers the ability to continually improve and fine-tune the visitor experience. Reeperbahn’s use of Beacon technology was useful for event producers to help them understand how people navigated the festival, identify any ‘dark spots’ and to extrapolate artist popularity.

A more controversial form of technology we may start to see more of at live events is facial recognition. This was used for the first time at Download in 2015 where 90,000 people had their faces scanned by police upon entry and checked against a live database of wanted criminals. However, the general public reaction to this initiative was largely negative and this ‘Big Brother’ type of surveillance deemed intrusive and incongruent to the festival experience.

Once very much talked about and publicly shared, we expect technology like this to simply become the norm. Festival and event goers will move seamlessly from the physical into the digital and content from events will have a life beyond its borders and the here and now.

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