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Technological trend spotting paints a clearer picture of future outdoor events, but ‘what will detract from a visitor’s experience?’ is a pertinent question…

You are not paranoid if they’re really watching you, so the phrase goes. And, in the modern era, the tin foil hat is looking more like a practical, if unflattering, fashion accessory.

Indeed, revelations from Wikileaks revealed that the authorities can break into most mobile handsets and computers, use smart TVs to listen to your conversations and even hack into cars – potentially causing them to crash.

Value judgments over data privacy meanwhile, might cause one individual to discuss hormone imbalances with a dulcet toned digital assistant, and another individual to seek shelter from the digital noise at Innocent’s ‘mobile phone-free’ Un-plugged festival.

The extent to which you trust Siri, Alexa, or your friendly festival organiser is a question that’s not going away, especially when having a digital record of your whereabouts could enhance your enjoyment of an event. Or even save your life.

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A matter of life and death

It is a dilemma Krowdthink’s founder & managing director/CEO Geoff Revill is familiar with. His company recently won funding from the UK government’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) in a competition seeking ‘innovative ideas to reduce the threat from terrorist and malicious use of explosives and weapons in public spaces’.

Krowdthink’s venue-based communication and social platform, the Krowd, can call on venue security staff’s assistance, who can track your location in real time should an urgent situation arise. “In high footfall spaces that are Wi-Fi enabled it enables threat, event, venue and safety information to be shared via mobile devices, transforming ‘the crowd’ into a ‘virtual sensor’ to effectively identify threats and easily respond via alerts,” says Revill.

“Research shows that on social media there’s a lot of data that people are willing to share, but location came up as the one metric where people tend to draw the line. As a social platform, we are maniacal about data minimisation. Article 25 of GDPR stresses minimising the data held on people, and for us that’s a point of innovation. Keeping someone’s data history is incredibly exposing, but there comes a time when informing someone where you are becomes desirable. In this scenario your whereabouts are roughly communicated using our software, the moment you decide that your location is important.

Freeman’s digital development manager Tom Vamos agrees that there should be strict limits to data security, but says the rewards of sharing location can be worthwhile.

“Very specific geo-locating is coming in. We can track people around an event, allowing us to target specific people in ways that enhance the experience. A hundred people queuing at a food stall, for example, can get a message sent to them, letting them know there’s a nearer coffee bar with no queue.”

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Marketing Superstore founder Peter Kerwood reflects on location tech, boldly stating that beacon technology is dead. “Geo-behavioural targeting via smartphone apps is already incredible and is only going to get better, allowing organisers and sponsors to present the festival goer with a fully personalised experience giving a 360 degree video of audience behaviour. EE Latitude with CrowdConnected is a great example, and they also worked with GreenCopper.com,” he adds.

Meanwhile, you won’t lose your mates or your car at a festival, if Kerwood’s crystal ball is accurate. “Real-time locating on a map will be a festival app given. You will never lose your family, friends or car again.”

Will this have privacy implications? Vamos says: “You can opt-in for push messages of value, and on a more serious note, should we need to evacuate, the emergency services have a far better idea where you are.”

“Festivals are traditionally escapist. Apps might be useful to network before an event, but once on site people often want to do their own thing. It can cause people to be harassed by the technology. People often just want to see bands and not be interrupted.”

Enter morals, ethics and the blockchain

RefTech’s founder Simon Clayton says that GDPR laws show that if you have a legitimate business reason for storing personal data then you don’t actually need a person’s explicit consent.

This means that if you are holding a person’s data because they attended ‘A Festival in 2017’ then it is reasonable to safely and securely store their data and contact them to ask if they would like to attend ‘A Festival in 2018’ because it’s a reasonable assumption that if they attended last year’s event then they may well be interested in attending this year’s event too.

“Be careful not try to stretch it too far – you probably shouldn’t assume that they would also like to attend other completely unrelated events that just happen to be organised by you, or subscribe to a related service you offer.

“You can take one small leap in your assumptions – from last year’s event to this year’s – but a second leap to an unrelated product may be a leap too far.”

One secure solution that helps give organisers peace of mind, and visitors’ data freedom is blockchain.

BitTicket co-founder Phil Shaw-Stewart says the technology is transparent and allows for fair and secure transactions. “It is very much an emerging technology. It cannot be applied to all problems yet, but it’ll be involved in logistics, staffing, and will be embedded in all our lives and we won’t know it. It is the future. “

Is there a future challenge to blockchain? Sort of, Revill comments. “Quantum computing technology could in theory unlock anything anywhere, but ‘hashing’ – the method via which blockchain is secured – is still orders of magnitude more difficult too unpick than traditional encryption.”

GDPR, Revill continues, has been a game changer for data. “Data breeches historically meant someone getting access to data, stored somewhere. GDPR involves how you are using it, and if it was consented to.

Not just data, but data and the purpose are in lock step now.

“The whole of the EU will be under GDPR, and any activity in the EU.  If a person from the US is at an event in the UK, it still counts,” Revill adds.

Cashless is also taking off

BitTicket’s Shaw-Stewart alludes again to the risk/reward balance, this time when handling your cash at festivals.

“The idea that you can top up your wristband with money and not lose spare change – and that you can buy anything on site is the future for festivals. But, previous festivals have failed at cashless. It takes a lot of trust for the vendor.

“Tomorrowland pioneered a top-up card which enhanced everyone’s experience. You could also associate your card with the wrist band so you don’t run out of money.”

He adds that petty crime was nullified because of the bands.

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But what about the show experience?

Graham Miller, head of music & touring at Creative Technology, says the bar is being raised on production, but this is weighted to certain sectors.

“Video at events, LED screens, etc, are being pushed forwards, especially at EDM events. Organisers want a better look and feel, and dance artists in particular are pushing  the boundaries.

“Meanwhile, budgets are differing. Smaller festivals want the same for less, but there will be other sectors putting in newer technology and one of those areas is building more cashless payment infrastructures.”

A more holistic look is emerging at festivals, and the technological infrastructure is critical to achieving this. “Fibre networks allow organisers to transmit video all around a site, and handle cashless payments, and cctv for security,” says Miller.

“It’s already happening, but we’re encouraging it more in the UK.”

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Adam Hornblow, CEO, PSL Media Group adds that organisers will try and cut costs and get better value. “We installed holographic video and soundwave field synthesis at Knebworth, and this was the first of its kind. We are looking into creating themed rooms, with projected holographics, and ways to make sound come from a specifified point – so maybe in the room you can have people walking around a piano that isn’t even there. It’s a projection.”

Sound volume is also an area of contention as local authorities try to keep residents happy, while visitors rave into the wee hours.

“Wavefield synthesis doesn’t allow you to increase the volume cost effectively yet. A stadium size venue would cost tens of millions. Therefore, point source is a specialist area for us and we can make sure there’s a 30db drop off between two points.”

This was achieved at the Margate Soul Weekend, where PSL installed a sound drop off to protect residents.

“Organisers wanted 100db on the dancefloor which was very ambitious. But, using ‘aimed bass’ and cut off technology we actually achieved 68db at the entrance, and 98db on the dancefloor.

“Point source evolved into the convenience of line array, but people recognise that when the wind blows and you suddenly can’t hear. So, 90s technology is coming back and every organiser wants to offer something better and different that works.”

PRG, meanwhile, recently project managed an experiential tour that needed only 3,000 audience members connected to a local server via Wi-Fi. The infrastructure for this and managing 3,000 concurrent connections made the connectivity budget three-times the budget for lighting, video and rigging combined.

Kerwood says: “The LED race has largely been won, but we need more processing power. LED screen resolution is a race that is mostly done – the distance the audience are from screens means that it is indifferent if the screen is 5mm or 10mm screen (or anywhere in between) so the more pressing LED solution changes are based on colour space, colour rendition and speed of processing (delay from camera to screen).

“Increases in media server power will change everything. Festivals will end up with more screens (such as BST in Hyde Park) so visiting bands will need to have their creatives do more site specific pre-production.”

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The stakes are high for live, and the future is a blank canvas, according to Pete Downton, CEO 7digital. “It’s taken the music industry the best part of 17 years to get used to the post CD era. The next 20 years needs excitement and live has a massive role in that.

“We’re scratching the surface as to what we can do with audio. We’re also looking at how we can make ‘live’ available to more fans in high quality, and doing what happens at Glastonbury for smaller scale events.

“Over the next two or three years people will see concerts try new technologies and the show will also be streamed in high quality Virtual Reality to extend the concert’s lifespan outside of just the festival. There will be more immersive experiences, and I’m convinced live will play a much larger part of people’s consumption of music.”