26 Years at SXSW: A Q&A with Festival Director Hugh Forrest
SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest discussed Interactive’s unprecedented transformation and spoke candidly about the tech and startup economies in a recent interview.
Summer is finally here, which marks the start of another music festival season. Burning Man, The Governor’s Ball, EDC and Lollapalooza are just a few of the big-name events music fans across America will attend in the coming months.
While more music festival organizers are taking it upon themselves to help fans stay connected and give them new experiences, several U.S. startups—seeing a gap in the potentially lucrative market—are now going the extra mile to integrate new technology into each and every event.
It’s not surprising that more tech companies are entering the music festival space. Approximately 32 million people in the U.S. attend a music festival every year, with almost half of attendees (46 percent) aged 18-34, according to a 2015 Nielsen ratings study. Music festival goers also spend more on music than the general population—about $207 on live events, digital music and streaming—and are more likely to rely on tech and social media than the average American.
In other words, they’re not just interested in discovering the latest bands; they want to be front row to the latest technologies and digital innovations, too. Here’s a look at a few tech companies who are making sure festival goers get both.
One of the most common problems people encounter at festivals is a lack of cell service or dropped calls. No surprise there: After all, when large numbers of people use the same network at the same time, it’s bound to cause problems. In the past, festival goers have been forced to suffer through the experience or bring their own personal Wi-Fi connectors.
FireChat is trying to change that. The company’s application lets users connect with up to 10,000 people in the same area at the same time via Bluetooth and doesn’t rely on cellular phone coverage, data plans or an internet connection to work. Lose your friends? Can’t find your tent? This app allows you to program friends into your phone and then connect with them at any time. Initially designed for music festivals, its reach has extended into politics and was used by activists during the 2014 Hong Kong protests.
In fact, the free application has become so popular that Open Garden Inc.—the San Francisco-based startup behind the software—announced that it’s working on a new version that media, governments and non-profits can use in cases of natural disasters or terror attacks. It would let officials dispense vital information to larger groups at the same time with very little effort.
In a sense, Everfest is the Google of the music festival industry, as it neatly packages almost every part of the concert experience into one app and let users search for what they need all in one place.
Unlike some of its competitors, Everfest isn’t specific to one particular festival, country or mainstream event—both big and small events of any kind around the world are included and searchable in this app. Users are able to find a nearby festival (whether its related to film, culture, art, sport or food), purchase tickets, and even preview what’s to come before attending.
While the app is free, the company plans to offer premium experiences and sponsorship opportunities in the “near future,” according to its website.
Drones have grown in popularity and become more commonplace over the years. A startup called Nixie—winner of Intel’s 2014 Make it Wearable Challenge—has taken notice and developed wearable drone technology that will change how consumers record and share their experiences at music festivals.
Nixie’s innovation features a mini quadcopter that weighs about 0.1 pound and attaches to a user’s wrist. Using a phone, the drone can be ordered to fly and record HD video, photos and audio—which is perfect for festival attendees. While not commercially available just yet, the company plans to release its first line of drones soon and currently taking pre-orders.
The California-based company bills its product as the first wearable drone that can go everywhere, and an alternative to selfie sticks, which organizers have been begun banning in recent years. It has been featured in several tech publications including Wired, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal and boasts of $5 million in backing from top-tier investors alike AME Cloud Ventures, and Redpoint.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology-enabled wristbands are an increasingly popular alternative to paper tickets and the time-consuming practice of scanning attendee information from barcodes on mobile phones. The technology, used for ticket sales since 2014, is finally growing up.
For those unfamiliar with RFID wristbands, they look and feel like regular bracelets, but they act as wearable sensors thanks to embedded chips that send out a signal (oftentimes encrypted) to on-site vendors. Global ticketing company Eventbrite is one leader in this area after acquiring startup Scintilla Technologies in 2015.
Attendees at select festivals can now use the wristbands to purchase food and merchandise), upgrade their experience at the last minute through an online dashboard, reduce the threat of theft, and even use them as personal identification so they can purchase age-restricted products like alcoholic beverages.
At the same time, Eventbrite organizers say the wristbands help them cut down on wait times, provide real-time updates to attendees, and cut down on fraudulent tickets (because RFID applies a unique profile number to each user). In other words, it’s a tech-enabled win-win for festival goers and festival hosts alike.