Tech viewpoint on festivals
A view from Jon Busby

Tech viewpoint on festivals

As the festival season approaches, it is worth reflecting how tech has revolutionised the experience.

My first festival was in 2003 – not much longer than a decade ago but a technological lifetime. Although BlackBerrys were becoming commonplace, the term "smartphone" had yet to enter our daily lives. With no Facebook and Instagram to show off on, festival attendance was all about the music and the new experiences. Even if you had enough battery to last you through a festival, the network was probably overloaded.

Today, phone networks are more resilient, there are USB chargers for phone batteries and phone cameras (even HD recording) are the norm. Phones contain flashlights, GPS tracking, magnetic compasses, Bluetooth beacons and more storage than would have been thought possible five years ago. And that’s just the start…

At festivals now, there is a real focus on safety and environmental issues. Apps facilitating car-sharing can help reduce pollution and traffic. Interactive wristbands, with embedded RFID tags or Bluetooth receivers, as well as QR codes on mobile applications (such as Apple’s Passbook), are replacing paper tickets. This increases security and also provides real-time attendance figures, stopping areas of the site becoming dangerously congested. We’re already looking at ways of using Passbook in event apps to improve the ticketing and arrival experience.

Interactive wristbands, with embedded RFID tags, are replacing paper tickets. This increases security

It is a lot easier to plan ahead and be prepared. Weather apps are integrated into many smartphones (now there’s no excuse for not bringing your wellies!). By using the GPS in smartphones, locating friends who have downloaded the same app is simple. At Twogether, we’re experimenting with iBeacon technology to help pinpoint people inside individual rooms in a building. Think Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map – but real!

Interacting with the event, and with others, is much more effective and exciting. Interactive terminals and touchscreens have become much more approachable and it’s cheaper and easier to embed chips in tickets and wearables. We can create interactive bracelets that change colour in unison, allowing light shows to be truly immersive.

This year’s Isle of Wight Festival audience will use technology that would have seemed inconceivable to fans watching 2002’s headliners The Charlatans – and it would have been like something from a sci-fi movie to the hippies grooving to Hendrix back at that legendary 1970 festival.

And what’s really exciting is that we’re just at the beginning.

Jon Busby is the digital director at Twogether