How Event Technology is Transforming The Festival Market

Those who embrace the technological revolution currently shaking up the festival landscape will thrive.
Those who embrace the technological revolution currently shaking up the festival landscape will thrive.

Don’t panic. If the festival market feels a little turbulent of late, it isn’t a sign of withering public demand or market saturation. On the contrary, festivals have never been more wanted.

The industry is simply going through its third significant technology-fuelled overhaul.

Just like the previous two, this one is refreshing the entire shape and power structure of the sector. For instance, how many had heard of Eventbrite – recently valued at $1 billion – a mere two and a half years ago?

Kate Moss and the Hunters that pushed festivals into the mainstream
Kate Moss and the Hunters that pushed festivals into the mainstream media

To recap, the first revolution kicked off in1999 when festivals finally joined the internet (the requirement for promoters to be early tech adopters being far lower back then) with a gentle nudge from the likes of Virtual Festivals and eFestivals. Now that people and the mainstream media could browse them all – and buy tickets to them without leaving their houses – everyone realised how brilliant festivals were and it all got a bit bonkers with hundreds of the things popping up over the next few years. Kate Moss and her Glasto Hunters deserve some credit too, of course.

The second revolution took things up a level from 2004 when the penny dropped and the UK’s three million festival consumers realised they had the group buying power, via social networks and the UK Festival Awards, to ask (some politely, others less so) for clean toilets, good food, real ales and glamping. Enter the boutique festival and digital manager, arm-in-arm. Such was the strength of digital tech’s new grip on the scene in this period that the industry even started naming major festivals (like ‘Download’ and ‘Wireless’) in its honour.

With digital tech now driving the marketing, communication, advance sales and even starting to overhaul the commercial sponsorship of our festivals, there was one place where its rule was conspicuously absent. The event itself. For some fans, clinging onto a more traditional flavour of festival ‘culture’, this was a blessing. Over the preceding few years, these poor souls had been forced to watch helplessly as health-and-safety standards, basic hygiene facilities and the other plagues of modern civilisation had been imposed against their will at their sacred festivals.

“I go to festivals to detach from the modern world, not connect to it!” – a typical whinge on Tweets and emails sent from this quarter (strange that they always use an online communication channel to do this).

People paying by card and loving it at festivals in 2013
People paying by card and loving it at festivals in 2013

Alas they never stood a chance against the other 2.9 million festival-goers in the UK who all came armed with smartphones. The third revolution was in full swing. Festivals had become connected. Before, during and after. Year round. They had mobile apps, e-teams, smart access control, cashless payment, social media integration, RFID, phone-charger rental booths, webcasts and digital radio stations. Ticket sales only carried on increasing. How the kids’ faces beamed in the fields last year when they first realised they could use their debit cards at the bars for the first time ever (we’re not above a shameless plug). Cashless is a journey, but a certain one.

And so the third revolution is going a lot further than just rebooting the way festivals are produced and sold. It is dramatically redefining the way they are experienced and shared. The promoters, bar operators, concessionaires, suppliers and booking agents who accept that their business models need to be updated (quite radically, in some cases) to work with the new firmware are the ones that will be left thriving. Those who do not risk being left behind like those promoters who opted not to sell their tickets online at the start of the century or chose to ignore the audience feedback on their message boards. RIP.

But we’re not here to be morbid – this is a time of wonderful, fresh opportunity in the marketplace. New empires are being built from the ground up. More than any other time in the history of the festival market, success is achievable through raw vision and creativity with old-school relationships carrying little weight.

IOW General Admission 2012 copy
RFID in early use by IVS at the Isle Of Wight Festival 2012

Thriving in this reformatting marketplace requires making these powerful new forces work for you, not against you. To do that requires that you understand them, and what’s driving them. Knowledge will always be power. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves – as one of the tech providers currently riding this big, exciting wave – to share our own knowledge and insights and provide you with a set of guideposts.

As we see it, the third revolution is being powered by five confluent trends and, over this upcoming series of articles, we will be taking a look at each one, explaining its individual bearing on the marketplace and suggesting how you can harness it to thrive in this time of increasing change and uncertainty.

These five trends are: 1) The Rise Of The Empowered Consumer 2) The Rise Of The Intelligent Event 3) The Rise Of Tech-Driven Sponsorship 4) The Rise Of Wearable Technology 5) The Internet Of Everything

About IVS: IVS LogoIntelligent Venue Solutions is Europe’s market leading provider of integrated cashless payment, access and social media solutions to festivals and live events. Our system can work with RFID, NFC, mobile and barcode technologies to create bespoke intelligent operational solutions that add significant value to event producers, their customers, artists and brand partners. For more info visit: