Big data at Festivals

How Tech Is Shaping The Festival Industry


Posted By Michael Wall ⋅ July 28, 2017

For decades now, festivals have been synonymous with the summer. Revelers around the world await the start of the annual ‘festival season’ with anticipation, and in 2016, the festival industry was worth £1.1 billion to the UK economy alone (eventbrite.co.uk).

Earlier this year, the UK’s largest festival marketer, Live Nation, bought the Isle of Wight Festival just days before fellow super-promoter Global Entertainments acquired both Croatia-based Hideout Festival and Victorious Festival, which takes place on the UK’s south coast.

Festivals undoubtedly represent massive commercial opportunity, but with heavyweight promoters dominating the market and more new events added to the festival calendar every year, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for organisers, particularly of smaller events, to make theirs stand out from the crowd.

The answer lies in data. As is the case in so many sectors, festival marketers are turning to data to help them better understand their audiences, predict the acts that will be in demand and carve themselves a definitive slice of the action. And if festivals are seen as ‘microcosms’ of larger markets, much can be gleaned from the way organisers are collecting and analysing data from their shifting, transient demographics.

Attending a festival? There’s an app for that…

A few years ago, on arrival at a festival it’s likely that you would have been handed a printed festival timetable and guide, probably hanging from a branded lanyard. Now though, any big festival worth its salt has its own free festival app, including Wireless, Download and Glastonbury.

These handy interactive guides contain everything an attendee needs to know, from maps of the site, to line-up information and directories of food and drink vendors. The apps also enable attendees to plan and personalise their festival experience ahead of time, by starring their favourite artists and creating their own schedules and set alerts. What’s more, many festival apps make use of Facebook’s automatic login functionality which as well as being convenient for users, gives organisers the ability to see demographic info and the wealth of personal data users share.

All of this data is stored and collated, so that when the festival is in full swing, organisers can geo-locate attendees as they move around the site via Bluetooth and can compare their plans and preferences with the acts they actually ended up watching. The app for California-based festival Coachella makes extensive use of this technology; with strategically placed ‘iBeacons’ recording individual attendees’ journeys through the festival that can pinpoint their location to within a foot.

Crucially, as plentiful charging stations and portable chargers make dead smartphones at festivals a thing of the past, it’s possible to follow the movements of attendees throughout the entire event. This data creates an incredibly detailed picture of actual attendee behaviour compared with their intentions, allowing organisers to ‘gut check’ their thinking and gain insight beyond the pre-event excitement that may surround the larger acts.

For example, did attendees turn up for a planned headline performance but seek out other acts halfway through when it didn’t live up to expectations? Maybe a lesser-known act benefited from playing directly after an act with a dedicated core fan base that liked what they heard? By comparing predictive data streams with real-time attendee activity, organisers can identify patterns of behaviour, rebook acts that actually hit the mark with specific crowds, plan future line-ups accordingly, and even make data-informed judgements on what to pay next year’s acts, instead of basing decisions on hype and publicity.

Wearable tech at festivals

Just as festival apps have replaced physical line-up info, at many events RFID wristbands have replaced traditional tickets. Containing a tiny Radio-Frequency IDentification chip, wristbands can be linked to their respective festival apps and scanned to verify the wearer’s identity as they enter the event. The Coachella wristband and app works in this way; in 2017 every attendee was required to activate their wristbands through a Coachella app account before being allowed entry.

Not only does this eliminate ticket fraud, it gives organisers a 100% app download rate and another way to trace the actions of their audience members. While RFID chips do not monitor attendee movements from afar, they record data each time wristbands are scanned and as such, can show organisers popular areas of the site in real-time, who is where, and when.

Wristbands can also be connected to individual Facebook profiles, prompting users to ‘check-in’ to various areas of the site, and if a festival enables cashless payments through RFID chips, there’s access to attendee purchasing data too. This allows festival organisers to see what you bought and where from in real-time, which vendors make the best returns and how stands can be arranged to maximise revenue. For the avid partygoer, being able to scan their wristband to pay for drink rather than reaching for their wallet not only makes them more likely to spend, it cuts down on card and cash theft and loss, and makes for quicker transactions and reduced queuing time.

A better, data-led festival experience for all

Data is well-placed to help festival organisers from a commercial perspective, but it’s also having an impact on user experience and customer service. This, of course, will help market a festival by making attendees more likely to come back the following year, but from a consumer point of view, simply makes the whole event smoother and more enjoyable.

In 2014, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Festival was one of the first events of its type to use Bluetooth and iBeacon technology to collect data about its attendees and their experience. As attendees moved around the site triggering the iBeacons, they were notified of current and next to play acts at nearby stages. Behind the scenes, organisers could deploy more staff to the busiest areas of the site, helping to prevent and work through queue build-up at bars, eateries and entry points. Organisers could see this data recorded in real-time via an iBeacon heat map, showing concentrations of attendees when and where they occurred.

iBeacon Push Notification to Festival App

An iBeacon pushing a notification to an iPhone via Bluetooth – iBeacon art credit to Stuart Williams from Noun Project

The company behind Bonnaroo’s iBeacon tracking, Aloompa, also plan to make future use of this technology in combination with social media to enhance attendee’s lasting impression of festivals, enabling them to “relive their experience in a new way: a “retrospective itinerary” — not just looking at photos and tweets, but the chance to see where you were, when, and who you were with — creating a community feeling even after an event is over” (9to5mac.com).

Using data to improve safety and sustainability at festivals

A communal atmosphere is an important element for festival organisers to create, but when many thousands of people come together to have a good time, safety and sustainability are even bigger considerations. Data has a part to play here too.

As the biggest music festival in Northern Europe, IBM and Copenhagen Business School chose the 2015 Roskilde Festival as a ‘test bed’ through which to identify safety and sustainability issues affecting highly-populated urban environments. Through an opt-in app on attendees’ smartphones, researchers set up a real-time, cloud-based and scalable data lab that captured 91 million rows of data every minute of the 10-day event.

Once the festival was over, the team looked at heatmaps used to track attendee movement in combination with data streams monitoring weather patterns, temperatures, and food and drink sales to name just a few. By identifying trends such as when attendees are most likely to go to food vendors based on line-up and the weather, organisers can implement a number of predictive actions that make future festivals more sustainable, safer and more profitable. Crowd build up can be pre-empted and mitigated through selective stall placement and more staff on hand, vendors can reduce wastage and boost revenue by moving food items from fridges or freezers at the most opportune moment, and clean up teams can stay on top of waste disposal. And all from just one set of metrics.

What’s next for the festival industry?

We’ve looked at several big, high-budget festivals and how they are using data to hone their commercial offering. However, as data informs more and more of the organisation and marketing of festivals, it’s likely that the market will shift towards more small, niche festivals created to appeal specifically to targeted groups of music fans, in a move away from ‘mega’ festivals that try to cater to larger demographics.

As organisers learn more about the people who come to events and their behaviour, they will be able to provide an increasingly personalised experience to their largest demographic. For large festivals, this may mean even more emphasis on highly-targeted zones within a site and for smaller events, identifying and catering for a smaller, yet dedicated group of fans.

At Quant, we use FastStats PeopleStage, an omnichannel marketing automation system that incorporates the use of iBeacon technology. When a customer enters a store or comes within range of an iBeacon at an event, PeopleStage can send a personalised notification to their smartphone, telling them about an offer or promotion, and revealing valuable behavioural insights. If you think your business could use data more effectively to shed light on your target markets or inform your business strategy, talk to us today.

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Categories: Big Data, Blog, Insight, Seize the Data, Tech


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