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Working on the chain gang

As the live entertainment industry moves back into gear, the advantages that blockchain can deliver appear to be front and centre. Gordon Masson reports

By Gordon Masson on 21 Jan 2022

Bitcoin/blockchain

The pandemic pause has allowed businesses around the world to take time to explore the benefits that new technology can offer, and as the live entertainment industry moves back into gear, the advantages that blockchain can deliver appear to be front and centre. Gordon Masson reports.

There have not been too many positive stories to come out of the last two years, but the non-fungible token (NFT) phenomena and the revenues it can deliver certainly piqued the interest of artists and corporations alike.

As one of the range of products and services that are made possible by block- chain, NFTs have quickly become commonplace, while another application for the transparent digital ledger to quickly emerge has been in ticketing – which itself is embracing NFTs in the form of collectible tickets, as well as a way in which to offer interaction between events/artists and fans.

Noting that the prolonged pause on activities caused by Covid has allowed decision makers to take a closer look at blockchain, Olivier Biggs, marketer for GET Protocol, says, “it definitely has given everyone a chance to re-evaluate their business and consider how future-proof their approach is. We’ve certainly seen a lot of in- bound curiosity around NFT capabilities from both newcomers and veterans within the events industry. It’s clear to most that there are lasting benefits offered by NFT ticketing that transcend any short-term hype cycle. Ticketing is the perfect vessel for this innovation.”

Beat Hive founder, Josh Pamplin, agrees, “It’s definitely been a pivotal moment for change, especially for people trying to future-proof creative and in-person industries,” he says. “However, the changes brought about by the pandemic also caused many content creators to realise that direct connections with fans is a great way to support themselves without the need to involve big corporations. In this way, I think that music creators are becoming key decision makers in the industry.”

Straddling both the blockchain ticketing and NFT sectors, Biggs is well placed to explain the intricacies of the technology.

“By registering a ticket on a public block chain, you achieve transparent ownership for all to see,” he says. “When a ticket is minted as an NFT, it becomes an asset you can interact with and actually place in the hands of your attendees to unlock functionalities never before seen in the event industry.”

He adds: “When a ticket or ticket transaction is registered on the blockchain it is visible only through a hash (standard bit of code). When it is minted as an NFT, depending on the file type, it becomes a token for which it is possible to ascribe specific behavioural conditions and perks.”

While NFTs have made the big headlines over the past year, those in the blockchain ticketing business have been quietly working away to highlight the benefits of transparency that the online ledgers can provide.

Indeed, Stathis Mitskas, co-founder/chief revenue officer of ComeTogether, has also found some positives from Covid’s live music shutdown. “Prior to the pandemic the use of blockchain was really a new, novel topic that many organisers didn’t yet understand or view as a solution for their needs,” he observes. “With time to reflect on the future and innovations, this topic has now become something that is highly marketed, well understood, and deployed throughout the music (and all live events) industry.

“Across many industries, we’ve seen a strong uptick in new technologies being introduced as organisations had the time to consider their ‘nice to have’ projects during the break. I guess you could say this was the one silver lining in this horrible time.”

And that has certainly been the experience for Luca Ziche, senior sales manager for SecuTix, who tells IQ, “The switch to mobile ticketing necessitated by the pandemic introduced blockchain for the first time to many live event organisers. When looking for a contactless ticketing solution, they’ve found that digital ticketing based on blockchain solves not only the health and safety challenges they face, but it also addresses issues around fraud and security.

“There are mobile solutions that simply offer a PDF ticket visualiser. But they don’t offer the traceability that a secure mobile ticket using blockchain does. Mobile ticketing-based blockchain provides full ticket control and traceability. As the tickets are completely traceable, blockchain ticketing removes the risk of counterfeit tickets and makes it easy for fans to transfer or re- sell tickets securely. The latter is more important than ever now, for example, if someone suddenly can’t attend because they need to quarantine.”

“The news is full of stories about ticket touts ruining the fan experience and revenue model of events all around our industry. The more blockchain is deployed, the more we can control this”

State-of-the-art Functionality

As just one of the many new technologies that has been trying to find a foothold in live entertainment over the past decade, blockchain developers have, until now, been marketing their wares to an industry that was often too busy to give them proper attention. But with the pressure very much on efficiency and improving bottom-line revenues as businesses plan for the future, the Internet-based tech and its proponents are finally finding new clients.

“We eliminate fraud, boost security, help clients connect better with fans, and take audience experiences to the next level,” says Ziche of the ticketing services SecuTix offer. “We do this by delivering unique encrypted and completely traceable tickets into a mobile wallet. This helps the organiser better understand and digitally engage with audiences, provide a great fan experience, and guarantee safe venue operations.”

ComeTogether’s corporate tagline is: Blockchain ticketing to unlock new revenue from secondary markets and NFTs, while improving fan experience. “What this means in layman’s terms is basically three things,” Mitskas says.

“1 – blockchain: Our solution is based on blockchain, which means the solution is secure, the users’ data is secure, the tickets cannot be faked.

“2 – new revenue streams: Event organisers can access revenue streams that are new for them. If they decide to allow resale of their tickets, this can be done safely through our app within the parameters for pricing set by the organiser. They can also share in this revenue. Non-fungible tokens or NFTs can be offered via the app to provide exclusive event collectibles that can be resold in the future to create royalty revenues.

“3 – the fan experience: We improve fan experience by always ensuring that tickets are the real thing. There is zero chance of getting to the event and finding out you have a fraudulent ticket. Resale rules provided by the event organisers ensure that tickets are not resold at exorbitant prices as tickets can’t be transferred outside of the blockchain. NFT collectibles also increase fan engagement giving fans an extra incentive to go to an event to redeem exclusive NFTs and through gamification and contests.”

That ability for ticketing operations to also offer clients NFTs is being heavily pushed by Biggs and GET Protocol. “We allow our users to issue NFT tickets and tap into the added value of innovative tech without facing any complexity,” he explains. “This hassle-free experience makes it easy for event organisers or ticketers that use our protocol to enjoy the benefits that we designed our tickets around: for starters, this entails direct engagement with fans without relying on social media algorithms; retaining complete power and revenue with regards to the secondary market; and knowing exactly who owns your tickets.”

Pamplin, meanwhile, is keen to promote the benefits of NFTs for artists. “Beat Hive’s vision is to bring equality back to the music industry,” says Pamplin. “At present music is as accessible as it’s ever been. This is great for listeners but has meant that the value of music has diminished to the point where most artists struggle to earn a living wage. Without means to support them- selves, more and more musicians are having to turn away from the music industry, meaning that we are risking a creativity drought where diversity of music shrinks.”

Developing a solution for that dilemma, Pamplin states, “Beat Hive is a decentralised, online marketplace, where users can buy, sell, and exchange music NFTs. Music creators, venues and event organisers who sell their NFTs via our marketplace will keep 95% of their sales profit and can set their percentage of any resales.

“We are one of the first companies in the digital world setting out to democratise the music industry. By offering creators increased shares of their music profits, we are enabling creators to keep on creating. We provide a secure space where unique content, tickets or music can be safely stored and sold with maximum transparency for both fans, creators, and organisations.”

As part of its business model, Beat Hive’s community wallet takes 2.5% from every transaction on the platform to support projects that users can propose and vote on to fund further creativity. “We are also working on launching our ‘Powered by Beat Hive’ project in the New Year, [which will be] an active team of consultants offering a helping hand to clients who want to navigate our platform and this new technology, while still ensuring that every client keeps 95% of their revenue.”

“Throughout 2022 we will continue to see an uptake of digital wallets that can hold NFTs and cryptocurrency”

Research & Development

While the live events industry has been crippled throughout much of the past two years, those in the emerging blockchain world have been working tirelessly to ensure that the products and services they offer will be fit for purpose to address business needs as and when venues, concerts, and festivals start to re-emerge from the pandemic fog.

“Essentially, research and development is a continuous state for us – we are constantly building out features and concepts for the future,” proclaims Biggs. “During the pandemic, we have turned every ticket we issue into a NFT collectible, as well as allowed existing ticketing companies to issue ‘digital twin’ NFTs of their current ticket inventory. As of late, the topics of innovation range from generative NFT artworks to channelling the power of decentralised finance (or DeFi) to allow for artists and creators to pre-finance their own events without having to rely on predatory loans from third parties.”

“As a team, Beat Hive’s pandemic research was split into two main areas,” Pamplin tells IQ. “The first was working meticulously to understand the many journeys of music creators, at all levels and in all situations. This is so that Beat Hive’s vision can be aligned with all creators, and we can sup- port the needs of as many as we can, especially as this space is constantly evolving.

“The second was a long journey of design- ing and developing our platform. We wanted to utilise blockchain technology as best we could while simultaneously making it as user friendly as possible and always focussing on our goal of bringing equality to the industry.”

And Pamplin believes that Beat Hive’s in-house experience, coupled with its desire to bring in outside experts to bolster its knowledge base, puts the company in an ideal position to help the live music industry with its recovery.

“Our research team has a competitive edge: a strong foundation and in-person understanding of the challenges involved in supporting yourself as an artist,” says Pamplin. “Our team has lots of experience in many different areas of the music industry: performing live; producing records; graphic design; audio and visual engineering; managing music studios; publishing/licencing; and event management. We have an awesome team of blockchain developers and external partners we consult with too.”

As a relatively new tool for ticketing companies to exploit, blockchain’s capabilities are generating exciting possibilities for the industry to tap into.

On SecuTix’s R&D efforts, Ziche reveals that the company’s TIXNGO product has evolved in two distinct ways.

“Firstly, we developed our fan engagement capabilities with dedicated push notifications and a questionnaire that allow the organiser to communicate with fans simply and quickly, plus get their feedback,” says Ziche. “During the pandemic, organisers have learnt that events can change quickly – new safety protocols, change of date, introduction of timeslot entries – so it’s imperative that they can communicate swiftly and directly to the ticketholder. Push notifications are an effective way to achieve this as they have a higher rate of cut through than the traditional email.

“Secondly, we introduced TIXNGO Covid Pass Early Check-In, [which is] a fast-lane capability. It works in a similar way to boarding an aeroplane; a few days before the event, the ticketholder will receive a notification on their smartphone with instructions on how to upload their Covid Pass. The system will then validate the document, checking it against the name on the ticket and allowing the user to gain priority access at the event.

“For ticketholders, it means a better pre-event customer experience, and for the event organizer it means lower staff costs as the fast lane doesn’t increase operational costs, smoother operations to meet health protocols, and protection of customers’ health data.”

Meanwhile, Mitskas says ComeTogether has used the pandemic period well by developing new products he believes the industry will benefit from in its drive to return to normality – including the seemingly inevitable development of NFT tickets and collectibles.

“We used our blockchain development in place for digital ticketing as a foundation for new offers given the lack of live events,” explains Mitskas.

“The first additional product we developed was the BackTogether app: a Covid-19 digital certificate that shows the current Covid-19 status – vaccine, recovered or test. Additionally, the person who actually attended an event can be verified in the case that Covid-19 tracing needs to be conducted. This effort was focused on the safe restart of events.”

He continues, “The second product we developed was the NFT collectibles app, UniqTogether. Collecting tickets and other event memorabilia has always been a part of going to events. We bring this to the digital world. It works in conjunction with digital ticketing or standalone and includes a marketplace for future resale. The ticket can be an NFT, with artwork and even dynamic content (eg the setlist) but we can also create NFTs linked to the live event with images, video highlights, fan-generated content, and exclusive artist content for event attendees.”

A Bright Future

The growing adoption of blockchain ticketing, NFTs, and the likes of blockchain-based royalties applications in the wider music industry are building the foundations for what could become a multibillion dollar sector in the years to come.

Central to blockchain’s appeal is its transparency, allowing people to track transactions at every stage and to see how money is genuinely shared between the various rights holders.

Sharing his belief that blockchain will continue to become more prevalent in ticketing solutions, Mitskas says, “The news is full of stories about ticket touts ruining the fan experience and revenue model of events all around our industry. The more blockchain is deployed the more we can control this.

“Blockchain enables the industry to create new marketing programmes, such as NFT collectibles, to drive stronger fan engagement and ongoing revenues. During 2021, we saw incredible NFT success stories where NFT music was auctioned at very high prices; but these scenarios were only applicable to a wealthy audience. Our vision is that NFTs become something available to everyone at every price point.”

Mitskas continues, “We envision a future where multiple ticketing vendors (or other stakeholders) will have the incentive to participate in a ticketing public blockchain network. This would result in a collaborative ticketing economy built on a public blockchain that allows for vendors to cross borders to increase their revenue and ticketing market share. How would this work? Imagine a ticketing vendor in England who wanted to include events taking place in Greece in their portfolio of tickets available for sale.”

Looking toward the future, Pamplin says Beat Hive is predicting huge growth. “We are incredibly excited for what’s in store for the music industry. Much of what we predicted back in October 2020 has happened, and we are expecting much of the same moving into 2022. One particular standout is an increase of public adoption and awareness for blockchain itself.”

Pamplin predicts, “Throughout 2022 we will continue to see an uptake of digital wallets that can hold NFTs and cryptocurrency. This will enable the live events sector to use blockchain more in everyday life. Live online performances can become more profitable for the creators using NFTs, and when the time is right, we have some wonderful ideas on how we can team up with venues and event organisers.

“We also have to talk about the Metaverse! It sounds crazy, but we do believe it will supplement the live event industry in years to come. We have some land in a metaverse, and it would be silly of us to let you know all our plans for it, but we are keeping a close eye on the metaverse/event space and looking forward to sharing more news with you throughout 2022.”
For his part, SecuTix executive Ziche contends that many people will turn to blockchain technology to fulfil tasks that traditional ticketing providers have been unable to deliver.

“Many in the event industry have had bad experiences with the legacy ticketing players,” states Ziche. “The trust in their ability to solve the transparency and fair exchange equation has been eroded. We are now seeing some large sports rights holders and music artists pushing for action to protect their true fans and allowing them to buy a ticket at a fair price thanks to blockchain. A perfect example of this is SECUTIX’s use of blockchain for Ed Sheeran’s 2022 tour in Europe to combat ticket fraud.”

And Ziche tells IQ that while there are obstacles to overcome, the sector has been preparing itself for a full-scale assault, post-pandemic. “The building blocks have been coming to maturity in 2021 and solutions like our own TIXNGO is already embracing those new capabilities and applying them to ticketing. For example, leveraging blockchain smart contracts to regulate secondary market transactions, generate new revenue stream for organisations, and create a trusted resale experience for fans.”

Indeed, GET Protocol’s Biggs concludes that the current wave of blockchain operations is merely the start of a new commercial marketplace that he insists will grow exponentially in the years ahead.

“At the risk of coming across slightly biased, I feel it is safe to say that we have only seen the first iterations in a lot of revolutionary blockchain-based applications,” says Biggs. “From our own NFT ticketing applications to the enormous potential of metaverse events, the drastic in- crease in people building within this corner of the industry illustrates the fact that we have truly only seen the tip of the iceberg.”

 


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