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Crowd Connected founder and CEO James Cobb explains how access to high-quality data has revolutionised the way organisers manage live events
By IQ on 17 Feb 2020
With over 25 years’ experience behind him, Crowd Connected’s founder and CEO, James Cobb, is well placed to assess how live music is reacting to the challenges of a digital-first world.
The driving force behind Crowd Connected’s multi-award winning software – described more than once as “Google analytics for live events” – Cobb talks to IQ about the seismic changes he’s seen in the attitude of festivals and venues towards new technology over the past five years, and how the pacesetters in the live music industry are increasingly embracing data to compete with digital.
IQ: Crowd Connected is now well established when it comes to enabling live events to benefit from data. But how did Crowd Connected come into existence?
JC: I started in live music in 1994 , working for Paul Walden and Derek Nicol at the Flying Music company. Ten years later, I found myself working with Hugh Phillimore on the very first Cornbury Music Festival.
As a self-confessed data “geek” it frustrated me how little insight we had once the gates had opened. Pre-event I could analyse the post codes of previous ticket-buyers, and use that to predict ticket sales and target marketing spend. But once fans were on site the approach seemed to be cross your fingers… and fire-fight.
That frustration stayed with me and became even stronger as I started designing festival sites and stadium configurations. Where was the data on how people moved around?
So I set up Crowd Connected. Live Nation had teamed up with Innovate UK to look for innovative digital solutions to improve the festivalgoer experience. We entered and won the competition. Our first deployment was Wireless Festival in 2014.
As a self-confessed data “geek” it frustrated me how little insight we had once the gates had opened
What exactly does Crowd Connected do?
Crowd Connected delivers three things: real-time situational awareness, personalised audience communication and audience movement analytics.
In a nutshell, we enable live events and venues to better monitor, measure and engage with the audience.
We’re used by events of all types beyond live music. But we first established ourselves with festivals, who quickly begun using our technology in really creative ways.
Often, that’s to enhance the festivalgoer experience. Sometimes even before they are on site. One US festival in 2019 could see huge traffic jams building up on the way into the festival, using our live heatmaps. So they used our targeted notification platform to send them all a festival playlist to keep them in a positive frame of mind.
Another festival – this time in the UK – was also alerted to traffic issues during ingress, through using our heatmaps. They reported this to the Highways Agency who were a little confused as to how someone had better intelligence than they did.
We’ve had events use our data to support licensing applications; to report footfall figures to sponsors; to analyse which artists are getting the largest audiences; or to evaluate which facilities are being over and under-utilised.
Once you have situational awareness across (and beyond) your entire venue, and you have the means to talk to very specific groups in your audience, you start managing live events in a completely new way.
Once you have situational awareness across (and beyond) your entire venue, you start managing live events in a completely new way
How does Crowd Connected get the data?
We integrate into the official mobile app for the festival, venue or show. Event fans come with their smartphone, expecting a first-rate digital experience to complement the physical joy of the live event. For a big event like a festival, that’s £20m+ of hardware.
Today’s smartphones can provide step-by-step tracking throughout the duration of the event. We take this data plus some smart algorithms to produce a single, accurate journey around the event site for each app user that’s granted permission.
So, while we don’t develop apps ourselves, we work with all the major app developers.
So what’s changed over the last five years?
We’ve seen a huge change in the attitude towards technology.
I remember in the early days approaching a leading UK festival. I was told there was no point talking to them. They believed in an organic and thoroughly non-digital live experience. Data was viewed as a dirty word.
That festival is now a Crowd Connected client, seeing real value from the situational awareness and analytics tools they now have. And it hasn’t spoilt the festivalgoer experience. It’s improving it.
That illustrates that you can’t compete with digital if you don’t embrace data. This has now dawned on pretty much the entire live industry.
You can’t compete with digital if you don’t embrace data – this has now dawned on pretty much the entire live industry
Who’s using Crowd Connected?
We can mention some names, but not others. If our clients don’t want us to disclose that we work for them, then, of course, we won’t. That can be a bit frustrating sometimes, but we’re a privacy-first company. Privacy and security of user data, and confidentiality for our customers.
The big companies – Live Nation and AEG – were early adopters. Leading festivals like Coachella have worked with us since the very beginning. Many renowned independents use us too, for example Roskilde.
Over the past couple of years we’ve worked with hundreds of festivals and venues across the globe. I think we’ve got to the point where major events are thinking they can’t afford not to – at the very least – consider the value of this kind of technology.
What’s next for Crowd Connected?
One focus for 2020 is to make sure smaller festival teams get real value from our technology. Maybe they don’t have the in-house personnel or technical expertise that the big players have. But that shouldn’t matter. We want them to use digital tools and data like ours to help take the live music experience forward in the 2020s.
So we’ll continue to innovate. We’ll continue to listen to our customers, to develop new features. As smartphones get ever smarter, our mission is to help live event promoters do the same.