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Venue experts tackle rise in crowd disorder

European venue experts have spoken out on the increase in unruly audiences at live events since the business returned from the pandemic.

The issue, which has been reported on by a number of UK publications, was explored during The Venue’s Venue at this month’s ILMC in London, chaired by The O2’s Emma Bownes and OVO Arena Wembley boss John Drury.

Teeing up the discussion, Bownes spoke from personal experience in saying the problem was not limited to one form of entertainment.

“It’s fair to say that at The O2 we’ve definitely seen, across multiple genres, a change in audience behaviour,” she said. “I go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year, and I noticed a massive trend in quite aggressive heckling. Heckling’s always been a thing in comedy, but it’s not as prevalent as it definitely is now.

“I’ve heard racist heckling. I’ve heard heckling to the detriment of the entire show, where two drunken members of the audience just wouldn’t let an issue go with a comedian and it’s ruined the show for everybody. We’ve had really poor and aggressive audience behaviour at country shows, pop shows, comedy shows. As I mentioned, it’s not specific to one genre.”

“I feel like there’s an increased expectation when you get to the gig. With some individuals, if it’s not perfect, then they’re willing to kick off”

Katie Musham of Oak View Group’s Co-op Live in Manchester, and Sybil Franke of Germany’s Velomax Berlin, noted that the trend had not been mirrored at venues outside the UK.

“I spoke to my counterparts [in the US] and they’ve not experienced anything to the detriment that we’re seeing in the UK,” said Musham.

“I haven’t heard of any incidents across [Germany],” added Franke. “We do have such incidences, but at New Year’s Eve public gatherings or after football games, not in venues from what I have experienced.”

Bownes questioned whether the rise in disorder was related to people having less disposable income than in the past.

“I feel like there’s an increased expectation when you get to the gig,” she said. “With some individuals, if it’s not perfect, then they’re willing to kick off with the audience member who might be stood up in front of them.”

“Just before Covid, through Covid and post Covid, there was definitely a change in the audience”

“I think we are seeing that certainly,” agreed Drury. “Actually, there’s a conversation as well about the level of abuse that we should take. I had a customer who was unhappy about something. She was screaming down the phone at me, and it was so loud that the speaker was distorting on the phone. None of us should have to put up with that.”

Crowded space expert Prof Chris Kemp of Mind Over Matter consultancy put forward some of the sociological factors – explaining that the changing crowd dynamics pre-dated the pandemic.

“This is a window into our society, and what’s happening in society is being mirrored by what’s happening,” he said. “Just before Covid, through Covid and post Covid, there was definitely a change in the audience. I was working on a lot projects, and I was finding that things weren’t the same.

“There’s a polarity in music at the moment between the protest songs emerging from a number of genres and sub genres, and also, simultaneously, this new kind of relationship between concertgoers and artists where the crowd is more fragile.”

Kemp said there had been a rise in “young male on female assaults”, plus instances where security has been deliberately distracted to enable fans to “jump from the seating onto the floor, which causes severe problems”.

“This is about an audience recovering from the immense impact and emotional challenges caused by a pandemic as well”

“This is about an audience recovering from the immense impact and emotional challenges caused by a pandemic as well,” he added. “We’ve also seen concomitant rise in challenges in both society, and more from a kind of micro viewpoint [with] the recognition of autism, Tourette’s, ADHD and other, often hidden, conditions… coming to the fore. That’s been quite an interesting development, alongside difficulties with mental health. Also, it shows that the event is not a one-size-fits-all scenario; it needs a graduated response to take into consideration the many things that are changing in the industry.”

Responding to a question from the audience, Kemp agreed with the assertion that fans who had bought tickets pre-Covid were attending the rescheduled shows “in a completely different mindset” and were harder to impress and less patient as a result, with that potentially contributing to unruly behaviour.

“I think you’ve got a possible link there,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s a great many people, but it may be one or two, and it only takes one or two people do incite violence.”

In conclusion, Drury said the debate had shown the subject to be more nuanced than it might initially have appeared.

“I think you make a really good point about mental welfare, and people going back into society who might already have some issues that are exacerbated by the reopening of society,” he told Kemp.

“It’s interesting that when when we look at the headlines of ‘have audiences forgotten how to behave’, and ‘has Covid sent them crazy? They’re coming back out to see events and they just don’t know how to behave,’ it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.”


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How audience insights are improving the fan experience

With restrictions on events gradually coming to an end and shows and festivals restarting across much of the world, promoters and venues are finally getting back to business after a year-and-a-half-long shutdown unprecedented in the history of the concert business.

Also getting ready for a return to something approaching normality are the clever companies behind the software and hardware solutions that help concert businesses learn more about their audiences before, during, and after their events – many of which have used the enforced hibernation of the coronavirus period to tinker with, finesse, and add new functionalities to their already feature-rich products, they tell IQ.

Pascal de Mul, CEO of Exit Live, explains that his company is filling the space left by the decline of physical media to provide fans with a digital souvenir of their favourite shows.

“Live music recordings used to be a major release platform, but streaming has refocused the industry and the fans on studio recordings. Today, there are no good places to find quality live recordings,” he says

“The CD at the door and the bootleg cassettes are gone, with nothing to replace them.

OnePlan is a festival planning platform that enables teams, partners, and stakeholders to plan events in one system

“We created a platform that is 100% focused on celebrating the best audio recordings of live music, and have done it with a passion for the artist first. Performers and songwriters are in control, receive 70% of all proceeds, and can receive this immediately through our ‘pay me now’ button.

“Once a transaction is made, the funds are available immediately. Artists do not have to wait to be remunerated; they can be rewarded instantly. We believe the artist deserves full control and that is our ethos.”

OnePlan, says CEO Paul Foster, provides analytics on fan engagement at the time of ticket purchase, connecting to a venue’s ticketing platform via its Venue Twin solution.

“OnePlan is a collaborative festival planning platform that enables teams, partners, and all stakeholders to plan their events in one system,” he explains. “It’s centimetre-accurate and easy to use, with all the infrastructure and objects you need, plus real-time event analytics.”

OnePlan “seamlessly connects with our hyper-realistic, interactive 3D platform, Venue Twin, including the most advanced 3D SeatView when buying tickets.”

“Festivals have till now been planned in non-specialist tools, with screenshots of maps emailed back and forth. OnePlan massively simplifies and improves the event planning process,” he adds “ensuring your team and stakeholders all have one single source-of-truth for the entire festival and any scenario.

“Venue Twin’s hyper-realistic digital twins of the venue can be used for operational planning”

“Venue Twin is a game-changer for stadiums and arenas, with incredible hyper-realistic digital twins of the venue that can be used for operational planning, customer walk-throughs from any angle, easy-to-change signage and branding and more. It even enables light and sound production planning for concerts.”

“Given Exit Live is a global platform, any artist utilising our tool will be able to see where in the world fans are most likely to buy an audio recording,” says De Mul, outlining Exit Live’s audience insight capabilities.

“Even beyond this, an artist will be able to judge pricing structures to sell audio live show recordings by measuring the success of the sell-through of shows. This can help to boost sales whereby the pricing to fans will be agreed at a point that works for everyone.

“Also, over time, as artists upload more and more live show recordings, more data will be received, which will showcase which shows were most popular with fans. Again, this will help to inform any future decision to promote any historical shows in a different way.”

Zack Sabban, president of Festicket and subsidiary Event Genius, identifies a number of Event Genius solutions, including egMarketing, egTicketing, egTravel and egPay, that he says will help “to build strong and clear profiles of fans throughout the life cycle of the events that they attend.”

“A greater understanding of customers’ spending habits can help venues and promoters to deliver a better fan experience”

“Perhaps the most fruitful area for audience insights comes via our cashless solution, offering venues, event organisers and promoters, access to a wealth of data usually reserved for the big banks,” he says.

“Putting this data in the hands of venues and promoters is very powerful; our cashless offering is as much about delivering a better fan experience as it is about regaining ownership of data and insight that promoters and venue owners can usually never gain access to.

“By offering a greater understanding of customers’ spending habits, we can help venues and promoters to deliver a better fan experience, using data to build different profiles of customers – favourite products, food, drink, merchandise, etc – to ascertain how to best serve these audiences and adapt accordingly, as well as offering insights into which customers are the biggest spenders and those that offer the greatest value.

“All of this data across the fan experience, from discovery through to on-the-day purchases, offers the opportunity to engage with audiences in new and creative ways before, during, and after events, via rewards, incentives, gamification and more.”

Festicket’s ticketing and travel businesses, meanwhile, “can help to build a picture of the audience for an event, whether that’s through traditional demographics like age or gender, or more detailed insights into where fans are travelling from the split between domestic and international audiences; and even the preferences and budgets when it comes to VIP tickets, accommodation options, and extras. We can also offer insights into spending behaviours in terms of what proportion of fans make use of payment plans to spread the cost of their booking over instalments,” says Sabban.

“Viberate breaks down fans by accurately pinpointing where they come from, what age they are, and what gender they are”

ComeTogether’s ticketing solution uses crypto- currency-like blockchain technology to give event organisers complete control over a ticket and its life cycle. It also offers tickets as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), with other concert content, such as video and augmented-reality (AR) experiences, also available in the in-vogue collectible format.

With ComeTogether, event organisers are able to “conduct targeted marketing for future events and to better understand the demographics of attendees,” says ComeTogether’s CMO, Claudia Bacco.

“All information is tracked in accordance with GDPR and information can be anonymised as needed. Examples of details that can be provided include who used the ticket to attend the event; the type of ticket purchased; where they sat; whether the ticket was purchased in the primary or secondary market and how much they paid for it; and if they purchased a group of tickets this information would be linked to show who joined as a group.”

Viberate monitors all major social, streaming and other music channels – including radio, Spotify, Beatport, Instagram, YouTube, SoundCloud and Twitter – and uses the data to determine how each music artist is performing online, and how they rank in popularity compared to other similar artists.

“We measure [the artists’] fanbase growth and engagement for each of those channels through time, so it’s easy for anyone to track their promotional and growth efforts in one place,” comments Vasja Veber, Viberate co-founder and business development director. “We go even deeper into breaking down fans by accurately pinpointing where they come from – by country and city – what age they are, and what gender they are.

OnePlan is used by over 2,000 events in 50 countries, including music festivals in the UK and US

“One major thing is that we listened to the artists and labels and really focused our efforts building extensive analytics for Spotify, radio and Beatport, and we can say that we managed to do that – we really covered everything.”

He adds, “All this information is very useful when artists or their teams want to promote new releases and other ventures, assess past gigs and promotional activities, or look for specific cities that have the most potential for future gigs.”

Despite its focus on recorded/streaming music channels, Veber says Viberate has been affected by restrictions on concerts during the pandemic. “The live music industry was hit hard, and since events and festivals were a big chunk of our business, we had to adapt quickly.

“Now, with things slowly picking up, we’re happy to notice that a lot of music professionals have turned to data and tech in general to help them navigate their online presence.

“The music business has always been notoriously slow at adopting tech solutions, but the adoption and use of analytics has now leapt forward by at least five years.”

Foster says OnePlan, which is used by over 2,000 events in 50 countries, including music festivals in the UK and US, has also seen increased demand for its solutions as promoters sought to minimise travel after March 2020.

“[Event Genius] invested heavily in unmanned top-up stations, contactless payments, and contactless ticket scanning”

“The global pandemic has made it much more difficult for promoters to visit venues for site visits,” he explains. “Venue Twin provides perfectly realistic virtual site visits, massively reducing the need to travel and significantly cutting costs.”

OnePlan, Foster adds, has also developed a “social distancing toolkit” that event organisers can use to plan the flow of attendees, including with automated calculations for entrance and exit.”

Sabban explains that Event Genius spent its pandemic downtime “evaluat[ing] our offering in light of the lasting changes that Covid-19 will inevitably have on the live events industry.

“We made a series of innovations to our services to make sure we had a completely Covid-ready solution for event organisers. Things like reduced contact between staff and eventgoers suddenly became a huge part of an event experience, so we invested heavily in things like unmanned top-up stations, contactless payments, and self-scan contactless ticket and wristband scanning.

“We wanted to make sure we were able to reassure fans and staff that they were attending an event that felt safe. We developed time-slot-specific tickets to help maintain social distancing and improve attendee flow, while also making sure promoters could be fully [contact tracing] compliant with us.”

ComeTogether has the “ability to have a single digital ticketing solution that also supports health access control and NFTs”

For ComeTogether, coronavirus lockdowns were initially “a complete halt to our business,” according to Bacco, with the company undergoing a “short-term pivot to focus on the development of Covid-19 certificates to support health access control based on our blockchain engine. This solution was made available as a standalone app, and also combined with the main digital ticketing app.

“As the industry started to reopen, we [found ourselves] ahead of solutions that don’t offer as many options to implement this functionality.”

What makes ComeTogether unique, she adds, is the “ability to have a single digital ticketing solution that also supports health access control and NFT collectibles through a single app. The app can be provided as a white-label solution to promote individual branding, and NFT solutions can be customised to the event, audience or topic.”

De Mul says that the shutdown, despite the proliferation of live-streamed events, underlined the importance of live shows for both performers and fans.

“What the pandemic has shown us is that live shows are very important to artists and the music industry. As an artist, it is within the live show where a real connection with the fan is made,” he comments. “This cannot be replicated in any other format.

Viberate is “in the final stages of launching a personalised professional feed that will deliver unique information”

“With the return of live music, we are excited to support artists and share content with fans and audiences once again.”

Having “worked with thousands of partners across more than 50 countries,” including festivals such as Coachella, Tomorrowland, Mad Cool, Afro Nation and Rolling Loud, and promoters like AEG and Untitled Group, Festicket and Event Genius are now looking at other business areas, including striking agreements with artists directly, says Sabban.

“Because our platform is versatile we’re always looking to explore other verticals, and we’re currently working on deals with some globally renowned artists, so being a part of more global tours like these is something we’d definitely like to do more of,” he explains. “There’s also scope for events that aren’t music-based: seasonal events, attractions and the like.”

Viberate, which is currently offering a 30-day free trial of its fully featured Viberate Premium service, is “in the final stages of launching a personalised professional feed that will deliver unique and up-to-date information for every single registered user,” reveals Veber.

“Apart from the feed feature, we’re currently working on adding several other features to the platform, such as TikTok Analytics, Facebook Analytics, the most comprehensive YouTube analytics available, as well as the data export feature,” he adds. “We expect to roll everything out in the coming months.”

“Be open to new ways of using technology you have already built, and be open to expanding beyond your initial target market”

“The main lesson learned” over the past 18 months by the team at ComeTogether, which prior to the pandemic had provided its solution to 14 events in Greece, is “to always stay flexible. Be open to new ways of using technology you have already built, and be open to expanding beyond your initial target market,” says Bacco.

De Mul, meanwhile, is looking forward to the return of live music, as well as new audio technologies that will enable fans to hear live recordings in a higher quality than possible before: “New digital technology, spatial audio and HD-quality [sound] all contribute to the intensity and intimacy” of the recordings, he says.

“Never before has technology allowed so many fans to get so close to their idols. Fans wanting to relive those incredible live music experiences will truly benefit from Exit Live, and will do so in the assurance that their artists will receive a fair deal.” Ultimately, he concludes, “there is nothing like the energy of live music. In person, or as a recording, hearing an artist or band at their creative peak is exciting and exhilarating like nothing else.”


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