The Growing Disconnect Between Festivals and Technology

Nick Morgan is the CEO of Big Cat Group and founder of The Fair, the Group’s events division. Nick has over 20 years’ industry experience working for clients including MAMA & Company, GLA, Radio1, Film4, Secret Cinema, Hammerson and HOLI ONE World Festivals. He has particular expertise in large-scale event production and health and safety management, and regularly shares his knowledge as a speaker at Confex, The Event Production Show and IMEX. In this article he discusses the widening gap between the developments of RFID technology and its implementation at festivals.

The pressure is increasing on large-scale outdoor events to utilise new technology that is, whether we recognise it or not, already firmly embedded within our daily lives and increasingly used to tag, monitor and gather data. The gap, however, between the rate at which this tech is being developed and refined and its use in the UK festival industry seems to be ever widening. I am all for smart tech solutions such as RFID and believe that in the long-term, these systems present many advantages, none more so than the potential for data capture. So why then aren’t we weaving this into the fabric of our shows?

Knowledge of our audiences is invaluable and can only help us ensure that our events become more and more relevant for the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy them. RFID, wearable tech and smart phone technology that provide access to this data are widely accessible and developing at a rate faster than we can keep up with.

The options available for us to ensure audiences have the best experience possible are ever increasing so this tech should, in theory enhance our leisure time, especially when we choose to spend this in a field surrounded by other tech savvy people who crave a festival experience which is as seamless as it is unique.

Creating these memorable and meaningful experiences that stay with audiences is at the heart of what we do but it is no longer enough for this to be made up of the sights, sounds and feelings associated with the festival experience. Expectations to bring audiences together through the medium of new technology seems as important to our patrons as the latest festival fashion trends or camping options.

The prevalence of technology in our personal lives and infrastructures of our towns and cities, coupled with the constant coverage of developments in industry trade and the way in which many festival sponsors champion tech, make for compelling arguments for its integration. So when it comes to large outdoor events, why shouldn’t our clients expect its use to be a given?

Sounds simple enough…in practise. But in reality there are still many obstacles that prevent tech solutions such as RFID to become truly user friendly and widely used. The pressure to emulate and incorporate on-trend solutions is a specialist job in itself and if not approached with the same meticulous planning as all other aspects of the event infrastructure it can stifle, rather than enhance customer experience.

We are more familiar with Passive RFID but the reliance on scanners or choke points to gather data and power the devices can, if not properly understood and planned, slow transactions down. Active RFID tags are self-powered and continuously transmit data regardless of the distance and because of this a single RFID reader can cover a very large area. Perfect for a large festival site gathering and transmitting real time data, not just for transactions but also enabling instant sharing of photos via social media that can amplify the show and its reach.

On paper, the RFID options should represent seamless transactions from the minute the customer purchases their ticket all the way through to the bar, merchandise points and the ‘posh loos’. Numerous cash transitions are replaced by just one and data can be constantly transmitted which should make processes quicker, more efficient and more accurate.

However, lack of satellite availability and the cost associated with booking can count some outdoor events out. Poor connectivity can often stop organisers from digging any deeper into the brave new world of cashless events. As well as this, latency in terms of merchant transitions, poor 4G reception and costly infrastructure are also key factors in deciding against its use.

If our experience of using a cashless system like RFID just adds complications to production and live experience rather than simplifying it then we will continue to be slow to convert. Culturally, this type of technology is not yet embedded into either the delivery or customer experience at large outdoor events in the UK even though there are glaringly obvious reasons for its use.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that these types of tech solutions are the way forward but even my support for RFID could be short lived after a recent conversation with one of my close peers, Ru Barksfield about Palmpay which is set to potentially take over as the cashless solution. Could RFID, in its cashless capacity be on its way to becoming the Betamax of this world before it even had a chance to prove its worth? Let’s hope that 2015 paves the way for the successful integration of the right tech solutions that become an integral part of our work, making the customer experience better than ever.