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Authenticity, AR, facial recognition: The future of ticket tech

From methods of tackling fraud to improving the visitor experience, ticketing firms are exploring a variety of tools.

High on everyone’s minds is the rapid rise of mobile tickets – as frequently reported in the market profiles throughout ITY 2019. But this is just the start of a mobile-first paradigm shift.

“We’ve got a generation of new consumers coming through now and they don’t just expect their services to be on mobile, they expect them to be mobile first,” says industry veteran Steve Machin, global director of ticketing strategy and innovation at FanDragon. “People are buying tickets now who don’t ‘go online’ to do something, they just use their phone. This move to mobile will make the shift away from CDs look like a slow meander.”

Security is the top priority, says international ticketing consultant Tim Chambers. “Unfortunately, prevention of fraud costs time and resources and all too often organisations fail to plan for worst case, without any regard as to how to recover post-incident, and assume they’ll continue to get away without specialised focus.”

He adds: “Related to this is the issue of combatting automated bots that impact site availability (DDoS), on-sale queueing, event webpage reload, ticket purchase and other operational factors. Unfortunately, as an industry, too little has been done with shared expertise, best practice or market intel.”

Maureen Andersen, president and CEO of the International Ticketing Association (Intix), thinks ticket authenticity is a significant focus for companies when considering how new technology can help them.

“As an industry, too little has been done with shared expertise, best practice or market intel”

“Tickets delivered to your mobile is well established, but what will be more important in this matter is that the distribution is tied to your mobile, for example, by using a barcode that’s refreshed frequently. Ticketmaster has now released SafeTix, which is not unlike other technologies out there, but that the largest ticketing company in the world has done this shows how important authenticity is.”

Launched in May 2019, SafeTix uses a barcode that changes every few seconds, meaning it can’t be copied or screenshotted. Fans can transfer tickets to friends or family using mobile phone numbers or an email address. A new digital ticket is tied to the recipient’s account and phone, each time a ticket is transferred or sold, making the journey of each ticket visible to organisers.

Of course, knowing who all the attendees are provides venues and companies with a rich source of data – an opportunity to track what experiences are valuable to any given consumer.

Generation Z is more comfortable with being tracked in exchange for a fast service, says Andersen. “They know they leave a digital footprint, but they want information right in their hand and they want it immediately. They understand they’re being tracked and they’re okay with it because they get served options and they’re all about options.”

She points to statistics showing that in Las Vegas while 68% of visitors attend a show or event, two thirds of them decide what to see after their arrival, and 60% of event tickets are sold within 72 hours of event. “This is because people are waiting to look at all the options that are fed to them before they make a decision. They’re in the moment. It’s only the older generation that’s worried about being tracked.”

Nonetheless, we are moving towards a world where consumers will have more control over their data. That will affect not just the ticketing industry but all sectors of public-facing commerce, from the motor industry to travel.

“People are waiting to look at all the options that are fed to them before they make a decision”

“This means we will need to be able to deliver hyper-relevant services to individuals even when you don’t know who they are,” says Machin. “You’ll be tracking behaviour in an anonymised way. This is one of the benefits of blockchain.”

FanDragon’s ticket-wallet feature means while the person owning the wallet remains anonymous, their behaviour can be analysed. For example, if a wallet buys tickets every time a certain artist comes to their town, but suddenly stops, that sort of information might be interesting to the client. Similarly, if a wallet has 600 tickets in it, it’s a scalper.

“Tickets are no longer simply ‘a revocable licence to attend the event listed on the front,’ they are a personal communication hub,” says Machin. “Once you buy a ticket, you can have experiences, messaging or content delivered to your phone because the organiser knows you’re going and who you’re going with. It means the event experience can start much sooner. It’s a much deeper relationship but that requires greater responsibility not to impinge on people’s privacy and data.”

My face is my ticket
Using your face to unlock a smartphone has been commonplace since Apple launched FaceID in 2017 (other earlier phones used facial recognition but it could be easily hacked). But when Live Nation Entertainment invested in biometric company Blink Identity in 2018, the prospect of being able to walk into a venue without needing to get your phone or paper ticket out took a step closer to becoming reality.

Justin Burleigh, LN-owned Ticketmaster’s global chief product officer, says: “We didn’t want to have a database of millions of customers’ faces, so instead this technology uses the same mechanism as the facial recognition tech that unlocks many smartphones. By scanning a face and converting that information into code, it negates the need for storing images of people’s faces.

“Facial recognition will be able to create some really compelling experiences for backstage, or VIP personnel control. For example, if you’re carrying some beers and food it will mean you don’t have to reach into your pocket for your phone or ticket to gain access.”

“Facial recognition will be able to create some really compelling experiences for backstage, or VIP personnel control”

However, he adds, “We have a lot more to do in the lab before this gets rolled out. We want to get it right because we know if we get it wrong we won’t be given a second chance.”

It’s not just the world’s biggest ticketing company that’s interested in the technology. Former Ticketmaster CEO and later head of commerce at Twitter, Nathan Hubbard, recently announced a facial recognition-powered ticketing platform of his own, Rival. Its first client is Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, owner of Denver’s Pepsi Center (20,000-cap.), although migrating from AXS had some teething problems.

And while there may be what Machin calls some “ickiness” around the idea of facial recognition at music events at the moment, the technology’s use at airport security is commonplace. And as people become more comfortable with it in this context, that will smooth the path for its arrival in entertainment.

Enhanced real life
Augmented reality is becoming increasingly sophisticated and more common in live entertainment, so how will the ticketing industry respond to that? Andersen reckons the answer will be driven by how much consumers want to buy into these things and what they want to experience.

“Whereas a 50-year-old might want to come into a venue and sit down, buy a hot dog and watch the show, somebody younger wants to engage with technology that recognises them as an individual. You could be watching the game from your seat but also see it from the players’ perspective by looking at your device.”

Other examples include creating 3D virtual venue models that can be expanded using AR. This could mean being able to see a model of the venue before you go to a show and finding out where everything is, as well as seeing sponsorship activations, and even connecting it to a Facebook account to see where your friends are sitting. You could find out where the bar queues are shortest, or where to get your favourite pretzel.

“SafeTix is not unlike other technologies out there, but that the largest ticketing company in the world has done this shows how important authenticity is”

Looking forward
That’s the present situation. But what nascent tech or business models might we see in the near future?

Ticketmaster’s Burleigh says he is excited to see new hardware come online, such as more powerful NFC tech, which would mean people don’t have to take their phone out of their pockets to scan on entry. He would also like to see more powerful cashless opportunities across venues. Andersen suggests a subscription-based model could have potential in the future.

“Like a Netflix model, where you buy something today and have access to it later – for example, if you want to go to a big game or play-off you can get access to early booking because you’ve paid a subscription.”

It’s not without precedent. In the cinema industry, MoviePass allowed people to go see films for a monthly subscription fee. Currently, the venture is in difficulty as the company behind it struggles to control its cash burn. However, US cinema chains AMC Theatres and Cinemark are also running subscription models with some success. AMC’s programme, which allows customers to see three movies a week for $19.95 a month, has over 900,000 subscribers. Could that model be transferred to live? While it’s unlikely to work for the largest companies and artists, it could be more viable for grassroots-level venues and promoters.

Whatever the future holds for ticket tech, Chambers predicts that the fragmented nature of all the options means there will need to be open-API schemes to ensure that a seamless customer delivery service is provided: multiple backends but unified consumer experience.

“This is increasingly evident in [London’s] West End theatre or with the NFL ticket retail and distribution agreements, and will inevitably spread to other sectors and territories to become much more commonplace,” he says.

For more insight into the state of the global ticketing industry, read IQ’s International Ticketing Yearbook 2019.


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Anti-facial recognition campaign gains artist support

A coalition of musicians including Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and band Speedy Ortiz have joined a campaign to oppose the use of facial recognition technology at live music events.

Biometric identification technology has been used at live events over the past few years, in a bid to speed up entry into shows and detect troublemakers.

Digital rights group Fight for the Future is leading the charge against the technology, which it deems inaccurate, invasive, discriminative and dangerous.

On Monday (9 September) the group launched a campaign to mobilise “artists, fans and promoters to speak out against the use of facial recognition technology at live music events.”

“Music fans should feel safe and respected at festivals and shows, not subjected to invasive biometric surveillance,” writes Fight for the Future, warning that the use of the technology at live events could lead to deportation, arrest for minor offences, misidentification and permanent data storage.

“Music fans should feel safe and respected at festivals and shows, not subjected to invasive biometric surveillance”

The group argues that there is “no evidence” that the technology will keep fans safe, adding that “mass surveillance is largely ineffective at preventing violent crimes.”

Artists including singer Amanda Palmer, hip-hop duo Atmosphere, rock band Downtown Boy and Slovenian producer Gramatik have all voiced their support for the campaign, as well as the team behind Summer Meltdown, an AEG-promoted festival.

However many, including event security platform Vertus Fusion, state the technology could be integral for enhancing the safety of fans.

A hidden facial recognition camera was used to detect stalkers at Taylor Swift shows in 2018 and the technology was used to screen guests at this year’s Brit Awards. Live Nation-backed biometrics company Blink Identity recently began to roll out its facial recognition system in a pilot programme for Manchester City football club.

The role that facial recognition technology plays in event security will be discussed at the Event Safety and Security Summit (E3S), which takes place on 8 October at the Congress Centre, London.


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Blink Identity wins Manchester City FC pilot

Blink Identity is to deploy its facial-recognition technology in a pilot programme for Manchester City FC, after winning the recent City Startup Challenge in Manchester, UK.

The five-day competition, organised by City Football Group, the Abu Dhabi-based holding company that owns the English Premier League champions, saw Texas-based Blink impress club bosses with its biometric security solution, which can identify people’s faces at full walking speed.

Over the coming weeks, Blink Identity will work with City Football Group on their VIP and Academy access solutions, in order to improve “both the overall experience and guest security”, says the company.

“We’re thrilled to have been chosen to work with the City Football Group, integrating our facial-recognition-at-walking-speed solution into their elite programming,” comments Mary Haskett, CEO and co-founder of Blink Identity.

“Our state-of-the-art biometric technology … will improve dwell times, overall and specific security issues”

“Our state-of-the-art biometric technology has high throughput rates and accuracy, which, combined with our ‘privacy first’ policy, will improve dwell times, overall and specific security issues, and also back and front of the house operations for this prestigious organisation.”

Blink Identity last year summer received US$1.5 million in seed funding from Sinai Ventures and Live Nation, with the latter’s CEO, Michael Rapino, describing how Blink’s tech could be used to “associate your digital ticket with your image”.

The technology made its public debut at the KNOW 2019 conference in Las Vegas in March, with guests entering the event by simply walking past Blink’s sensor.


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LN-backed Blink Identity debuts facial recognition tech

Blink Identity publicly debuted its facial recognition technology at KNOW 2019, the international identity tech conference, in Las Vegas on 24–27 March.

The Texas-based biometrics company – which last year summer received US$1.5 million seed funding from Sinai Ventures and Live Nation, whose CEO Michael Rapino described how Blink’s tech could be used to “associate your digital ticket with your image” – has already held early pilot programmes for the technology, but the deployment at KNOW was its launch to the public.

“This was our first public demo and people were blown away at the simplicity of our solution,” says a Blink spokesperson.

As can be seen in the above video from KNOW, Blink’s access-control solution identifies people at full walking speed. In addition to controlling access to live entertainment, the ‘military-grade’ tech has applications in a variety of sectors and industries, says the company.


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Techno Files: New technology for March 2019

Blink Identity
Blink Identity’s revolutionary ID-in-motion technology recognises concertgoers at full walking speed in any lighting condition using advanced facial recognition for personalised customer experiences and increased venue safety. And it all happens in the blink of an eye.

In live event spaces, Blink Identity’s facial recognition solution allows venue/festival management to provide the frictionless identity of people in motion, up to 60 people a minute per sensor, massively cutting down time spent waiting in lines. This process is completely voluntary as ticket-holders enrol in advance by taking a selfie with their mobile phone. Users have complete visibility and control over their data.

Once at the venue, concertgoers can use their face – literally – for admission, easily and painlessly. “Eventually, the Blink Identity solution will be expanded to enable guests to buy drinks, merchandise, enter VIP areas and more, simply by walking past our sensor,” comments Blink Identity founder and CEO, Mary Haskett.


Year on year, millions of fans happily pay to see their favourite bands and attend their favourite festivals. However, the challenge for artists and promoters alike is that in many cases they have no clue as to who the majority of their fans are, and even for the ones they do know, there is no insight as to what they value and how much they would be willing to pay to access it.

Creating insight requires the collection of quality audience data and refinement of that data into clusters of similar people based on artist interest, affluence, life stage, digital fluency, etc.

Festyvent’s touring and festival apps are a key pillar for collecting quality audience data, which when combined with ticket data, mailing lists and RFID data, are the raw materials for the Festyvent data refinery to produce audience insight.

This audience insight removes the guesswork for the creation of successful acquisition, retention and cross-selling campaigns; simplifies event planning; and improves conversions when pitching for brand activations.

“The ability to view an audience at the individual level is increasingly important to reflect the variations in interests, spending power and channel use,” states Festyvent founder David Jacobs.

“You wouldn’t target a recently employed millennial with the same campaign as her 50-something parents. So, while they may live in the same house, Festyvent’s apps and data refinery ensure that the messages they’re sent and the channels that they receive them on are relevant.”


Snow Business
Snow Business is the world’s leading supplier of winter special effects for the film, TV and live events industries.

The company trades in 37 countries around the globe and its work has been seen by most of the planet. Its falling-snow FX machines are the most advanced in the world using patented 3D-printed snow nozzles and full DMX 512 control. In 2018, its machines were used to create winter effects for Blade Runner 2049, which went on to win both an Oscar and Bafta for best special effects.

Currently, the majority of its physical effects are made from recycled, bio-based and increasingly bio-compostable raw materials. The company’s eco falling-snow fluid has been cleared for use in the tropical biome of the Eden Project in Cornwall in the UK, and for many years Snow Business has been a supplier of winter effects to Greenpeace for its ‘Save the Arctic’ campaign. Snow Business is ISO14001 accredited and an Albert supplier. (Albert is an initiative that helps the UK broadcast industry transition to environmental sustainability – Wearealbert.org.)

“In 2017, while working at Glastonbury, I realised that falling-snow FX could be used to reflect and refract light from moving spots and lasers, opening up a whole new avenue of business, says head of research and development, Paul Denney. “Building on initial success in this field the company is exploring working in the summer festival scene with its eco-friendly alternative to single-use Mylar and confetti.”


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Live Nation buys into facial recognition company

Live Nation has invested in Blink Identity, a Texas biometric ID start-up whose technology could allow ticketless entry into events using facial recognition.

The announcement was made in Live Nation’s wide-ranging Q1 2018 earnings call, with CEO Michael Rapino saying the company’s “partnership with, and investment in, Blink Identity” could enable concertgoers to “associate your digital ticket with your image, and walk into the show”.

Responding to a question from William Blair & Co analyst Ryan Ingemar Sundby, Rapino said the integration of Blink’s technology is testament to Ticketmaster’s willingness to work with outside parties to improve the concert experience.

“These are some very talented guys that have come out with what we consider to be a very interesting technology, which lets you tie in your overall identity to the ticket,” he said. “For us, it’s part of what we’ve tried to redefine Ticketmaster as over the past several years.

“Whether this becomes the solution for everything, or an interesting product for a number of clients, is to be determined”

“One of the reasons why we think [Ticketmaster] is more successful now is that we’re willing to look at outside technologies, outside partners, and how we can bring them in and enhance the overall fan experience, [to] make things more effective for venues.”

“Whether this becomes the solution for everything, or whether this becomes interesting product for a number of clients, is to be determined,” added Rapino. “We just think it’s an important part of where we’re moving the Ticketmaster DNA to.”

Whether by accident or design, the partnership comes as Nathan Hubbard – formerly CEO of Live Nation’s Ticketmaster, and later head of commerce at Twitter – announces the launch of a facial recognition-powered ticketing platform of his own, Rival. By “tying access to biometric identity (through our facial recognition platform)”, Rival will, writes Hubbard, “give teams and artists control over each individual seat in real time: its price, where and when it’s sold, who gets access, what else it comes with and more.”

Rival will formally launch next year, and has already signed deals with the English Premier League and more than ten US sports leagues, according to Sports Business Journal.


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