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How Insomniac is Tapping Tech to Improve Fans Experience in 2015

Photo: Insomniac Events

Each festival season, along with pieces written about the acts and bands playing, a number of festival ‘how-to’ articles emerge, providing punters and newbies alike with what to take, what to wear, and tips on how to make the most of the festival experience.

This is especially true in relation to Glastonbury, where along with wellies and sunscreen, an older model Nokia has been the phone of choice for the packing list because of its long battery life. And if you’re able to actually get a signal, the best you can do with it is text or possibly call someone.

2014 saw a shift in that mindset as Glastonbury partnered with EE to provide Wi-Fi hotspots as patrons’ mobile demands grew. “Until recently I might have agreed with the pro-Nokia crowd,” said Lise, a Glasto-goer commenting on PC Pro’s article on EE’s battery pack service the same year. “Of the thousands of people we saw using phones at Glastonbury, I believe not one was using a Nokia or similar device. Smartphones didn’t replace the festival experience for us, but in my view they did add to it and provided us with some happy mementos.”

Another large festival, Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in Orlando, knows that patron’s expectations are rising, that more and more people want to carry their everyday mobile habits with them to the site to not only capture but share their two to three day experiences with their friends and the world.

“It’s interesting; allowing fans to have internet at the shows,” said Betty Tran, Executive Vice President of Media and Marketing at Insomniac Events. The promoter produces EDC Orlando and a number other massive and elaborate electronic dance festivals in the states and overseas. “It’s a back and forth, I would say, philosophy. When you go to a concert, do you want your fans on the phone, texting their friends, or do you want them to enjoy the experience? That’s our internal debate.”

It’s a tough call. But with the emphasis on enhancing the fan experience, to cater to the festival goer’s desires, the Insomniac team decided to do a test run of deploying fan-facing Wi-Fi, but with just as much emphasis on keeping the integrity of the festival experience intact. “I know with technology, digital and social media, and just the way the world operates now, it’s something that our fans want.”

Insomniac partnered with SignalShare to deploy their Live-Fi mPower wireless networks in specific areas of EDC. Having years of experience in the high-density networks space, SignalShare’s clients have included AEG Live, Live Nation, and SFX, along with large corporate event customers and sports teams.

Photo courtesey of Insomniac

The 5GHz system supported 13,500 concurrent users, and patrons within the Wi-Fi hotspots could access the network by opting in via the Insomniac mobile app, with the option to also provide their email.

To complement the level of fan connectivity beyond the hotspots was the use of advanced geofencing and Bluetooth® Smart (Bluetooth Low Energy) beacons. To do this they turned to their mobile app provider, Aloompa. Over the years the two organizations have brainstormed and planned to continually add new features and advance their mobile development. “We look at them as a partner versus a vendor. It’s customized for us. We have a mobile web strategy, but this is a mobile app strategy.”

Their previous use of beacons with the app began with gaming and scavenger hunts. “When you walk past the beacon it will have a cute little note,” Tran explained, “People will play the scavenger hunt and get a prize at the end.”

For 2015 fans will be able to contact their friends at the festival through the app by leveraging the beacon technology, something that festival goers around the world have desired for some time. Plans will involve an increase of beacon deployment along with a new version of the Insomniac app, which is planned for release mid-year.

The use of beacons and its application is having a large impact on health and safety, enabling the creation of real-time heat maps and monitoring footfall for crowd management, so staff can send push notifications during times of emergencies.

At EDC New York, staff were able to send news that a storm was coming, “Saying, ‘please head into the stadium, go here, here and here,’ so that worked really well,” Tran said.

A new health and safety feature being introduced this year within the Insomniac app is the ability for a fan experiencing health issues or an emergency to be able to directly contact guest services through the app.

Aloompa heatmap at Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA

Tran explains how it will work, “On your own screen, you would have Guest Services, tap it, and you’ll be in a real-time session with someone in the operating room. We call it the command center, so if someone sends a message, we would write back to them and deploy a team to go locate this person for medical attention.”

From within the command center their team can pinpoint the fan’s whereabouts on the geolocation map displayed on their 65″ screen, then radio the health and safety team on the field to find them. ”Right now, what we’re testing is a 25-foot radius, but we’re hoping to get to an exact point where when a fan asks for help, we can find their exact location.”

Another technology tool that could have a positive impact on health and safety is the use of RFID and cashless payment systems. At last year’s inaugural Festival Congress, presented by Association of Independent Festivals, Alex Trenchard from Standon Calling was one of the panelist for the “Future Proofing: The New Landscape of Ticketing & Payments” session. During it he recalled the impact moving to RFID and a cashless payment system made on the security of their festival.

In 2011 Standon Calling had 10 thefts and 62 attempted thefts, “Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but those were only the ones that were reported,” said Trenchard. The police estimated there were about 102 crimes associated with an EasyJet gang that flew into Stansted Airport, and then drove to the festival on Friday night, the first night of the festival when everyone had cash in their tent or on their person.

The next year in 2012 Standon Calling continued to provide on-site ATMS while also offering a cashless option via Glownet’s RFID solution, “We had one crime during the entire festival,” with 7,000 or so attendees, “which is pretty amazing in terms of making a much safer environment for everyone,” he said.

Tran has also seen how deploying Intellitix’s RFID IntelliPay and access control system has benefited Insomniac’s operations. “From a revenue standpoint, it’s great for us. I think what makes it great is just the ease of purchase. You tap your wristband, it asks you to confirm, you say ‘yes’ and that’s it.”

Festivals deploying RFID technology have experienced a reduction of ticket fraud, an uptick of 15-30% in food and beverage spend, and decrease in gate times and wait times at bars.

“It definitely moves the lines a lot quicker,” Tran said of their Intellitix deployment. In combination with beacons, they also receive real-time data on crowd flow to resolve any backups. “In Orlando, we had beacons set up outside where fans were entering the festival, and it got up to 30 minutes long. I got a text saying, ‘Hey, the lines are getting [up to] 30 minutes,’ so we were able to send staff out there to move the line faster. The beacons help from a production, operational standpoint too where with the data, I can gauge the line wait, the amount of people or concentration percentage at a stage, and for which artist, so we get a lot of data points that help us operationally as well.”
As festivals grow in size, the concern and emphasis on crowd management and safety also grows. Drug-related injuries and deaths, not limited to EDM events, over the years has festival organizers raising the bar and taking measures, operationally and technically, to ensure their patrons have a safer experience and get help when needed.

Open dialogues on drug use and even on-site drug testing take place at conferences, such as the UK Festival Awards and Conference and at IMFCON last December, the latter of which had organizations like Drug Policy Alliance and DanceSafe weighing in on safety issues with representatives from Burning Man and SFX.

It’s all a work in progress.

As Graham Brown from We Are Plaster, the moderator of the “Future Proofing” AIF Congress session, pointed out during the discussion in Cardiff, “There’s no point in putting yourself through the pain of embracing new technology and the teething problems it all brings unless there are benefits.”

Indeed. As these event platforms, be it mobile apps, iBeacon, RFID and IT services evolve, improving their efficiency year over year, the benefits will be seen in their deployment in the field. When combined with revised health and safety policies and procedures, the optimum results will be a better, safer, and more enjoyable fan experience.

Stay tuned for more in our Connected Festival Series, which highlights portions of The Connected Festival™ Report, being released during SXSW 2015 in conjunction with the related session, “The Future of Event Tech,” taking place Thursday, March 19 at 5pm.

The SXSW session will include Betty Tran from Insomniac, Serge Grimaux, CEO of Intellitix, Joe Costanzo, Co-Founder & CTO of SignalShare, Jim Lansford, Wireless Architect and Chair Member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, and yours truly moderating the hour-long discussion. I hope you can join us.


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