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Steeling the limelight

Derek Robertson takes a look at some of the companies responsible for event infrastructure and the multiple challenges they are facing as the live music industry returns to business after a two-year hiatus.

Cast an eye over the rest of 2022, and it seems that something approaching normal service – at least within the live music events industry – has resumed. Huge renowned festivals such as Glastonbury, Primavera Sound, and EXIT are all scheduled to return at full-capacity, while some of the world’s biggest pop and rock stars – Guns N’ Roses, Foo Fighters, Charli XCX – will be filling arenas and stadiums in typically bombastic fashion.

As such, it means full speed ahead for businesses involved in site infrastructure such as staging and steel. But with demand rapidly ramping up, suppliers face several challenges – not only dealing with what could potentially be the busiest period in their history after a fallow two years but also placing a renewed focus on sustainability and innovation, at the core of what they offer.

It’s all a far cry from the sudden shutdown most companies had to deal with back in March 2020. “We were loading-in on a BTS test build in Pennsylvania, dismantling the Tomorrowland Winter structures, and shipping for the intended Metallica South American tour,” says Tom Bilsen, operations director for Stageco Belgium. “Borders closed at midnight on March 1st – our last trailer had passed through only 30 minutes before.”

For many, the sheer scale of their operation made it a scary time. Stageco typically has structures out to 60 or 70 locations during a normal summer, using upwards of 450 subcontractors and freelancers. Others are equally as busy: eps executes 3,000 events a year; Megaforce supplies around 120 events during a typical summer; TAIT Wakefield employ over 900 people in 17 offices around the globe; and CT Northern Europe are the biggest suppliers of stages, rigging, and trussing in the Nordics, as well as delivering technology to corporate events and the sports sector.

The enforced downtime and ensuing uncertainty caused much consternation – more than one company placed staff on furlough and wondered what might be left of the live events industry post-pandemic – but many also made good use of the time to take stock and really think about their core offering. “We took a long look at our processes,” says Ben Brooks, managing director of TAIT Wakefield. “We created a global assets catalogue to make ourselves more efficient and, crucially, more sustainable as a business going forward.”

“We thought: ‘No events? What else can we do with our power and knowledge?'”

Stageco focused on the storing, cleaning, and maintenance of their inventory alongside diversifying what kind of projects they took on – “mostly industrial projects,” says Tom Bilsen.

All Access Staging also got creative. “We designed and developed things like rapid deployment homeless huts, backyard office structures for those unable to go indoors, outdoor patios for bars and restaurants, and an entire product line of Covid-response structures, including mobile hospitals,” says Jillian Forrester Braithwaite, chief operating officer. “We did our best to adapt to the changing landscape.”

Eps decided it was imperative to make good use of one commodity the live industry rarely affords: time. “We thought: ‘No events? What else can we do with our power and knowledge?’ So we questioned and challenged all our processes across every department – IT, logistics, accounting, project management, and staff education,” says Sebastian Tobie, COO of eps international. “We wanted to prepare ourselves and our staff for coming back stronger than ever.”

He also notes that R&D was busy working on new entry concepts regarding hygiene regulations for shops, schools, and factories, along- side innovations in their core disciplines such as flooring and barrier solutions. “All these concepts needed to be designed, engineered, and manufactured, but we accepted the challenge and broadened our horizons.”

“The coronavirus crisis forced us to be very slow and again look for ways to survive in the new reality”

Throughout 2021, order books remained in flux. Some, such as CT Northern Europe, diversified. “We shifted towards productions in TV, streaming, corporate events, and gaming,” says Fredric Holmgren, chief business development officer. “We also worked closely with clients to supply productions where they were allowed, taking into account local rules and restrictions.” TAIT Wakefield managed to deliver “several large projects,” says Brooks – Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre (London), Gary Barlow’s All The Hits Live 2021 tour, and the SOUNDSTORM festival in Saudi Arabia.

Having already relocated his company HQ – and his family – from Russia to Latvia in 2014, “for political reasons,” Alexander Strizhak, owner and managing director of stage company JSA Europe, has been dealing with a catalogue of challenges over the past eight years.

That hard work paid off, and pre-pandemic, things were looking rosy again for JSA. “[The company] again became the official seller of stage structures from world leaders – Layher, SIXTY82 and Protos,” says Strizhak. “With my old friend, Asteris Koutoulas, we prepared a unique FLEXODROM project – a mobile, modular and multifunctional hall, based on structural systems from the Layher plant in Germany. At the end of 2019, we started to gain momentum, but the coronavirus crisis forced us to be very slow and again look for ways to survive in the new reality.”

Elsewhere, as the pandemic decimated the order books of industry peers, many also fell foul of rapid changes in infection rates and new Covid variants. “In mid-May 2021, we had 24 truckloads of material on-site in the south of Portugal, ready for unloading,” says eps exec Tobie. “But the day before the first install, everything was cancelled.”

“Terribly exhausting” is how Megaforce CEO Michael Brombacher describes the never-ending postponements and cancellations that blighted 2021, but all agree that 2022 is scheduled to be busy. Sometimes overly so. “Our volume is up 20%, and we’ve been forced to turn down work,” says All Access Staging’s Forrester Braithwaite. Stageco is facing similar problems. “Demand is largely outpacing supply capacity in all aspects,” says Tom Bilsen. “If everything takes place, we might be a little short on gear, transport, and crew.”

“Costs are just much higher than 18 months ago, and if the current economics stay as they are, it’ll probably influence production design and the technologies behind it”

Rising Prices
Such shortages are also noted by Alistage managing director Phil Christodolou, who points out a further related issue. “People are still planning, but in a lot of cases are unable or unwilling to commit to quoting, as prices are spiralling upwards at an alarming rate,” he says. It’s the same for eps. “With a lack of raw materials and supply chain interruption, there’s been a drastic increase in pricing for stages, steel, and productions in general,” states Tobie. “Costs are just much higher than 18 months ago, and if the current economics stay as they are, it’ll probably influence production design and the technologies behind it.”

Aside from cost issues, staffing seems to be the primary concern across the board when it comes to delivering in 2022 – the pandemic forced many skilled freelancers and subcontractors to seek alternative work, and many fear that they’ve been lost forever.

“Many professionals are now enjoying a normal 9 to 5, and they won’t come back,” says Megaforce’s Michael Brombacher. “As long as the situation remains unpredictable, and the conditions are so unstable, no one would quit a job for an uncertain future in the live events industry.” And it’s not simply a straightforward brain-drain either – Brombacher also notes a demographic issue. “For years, we’ve had problems with the lack of young professionals in this business; now it will be even worse.”

JSA’s Strizhak has also suffered from staff shortages – especially in roles that require skilled crew. “Many former employees have already found other jobs and either do not want to return or cannot end their relationship with a new employer so quickly,” he says.

“For us, the most important factor is to set a high standard and to not take on projects that we can’t deliver to that standard”

“We expected that we would be able to hire staff in Ukraine, and we planned to make a global step on this market in 2022. But now, because of the war, everything has changed, and we are again forced to find new solutions. I already found a way to [solve] this problem with the [scaffolders] for the staging, and now we have begun the process to form the new JSA Stagers team.”

Others also contend that the employee situation is improving. Forrester Braithwaite reports that All Access Staging is “finally well-staffed,” while TAIT Wakefield is coping with renewed demand by planning and investing in their teams, both in the UK and globally. That way, says Brooks, “we can scale quickly and bring in our specialists from around the globe to accommodate whatever a project’s needs are.”

The key for many is to retain the ability to deliver quality and, of course, safety. “For us, the most important factor is to set a high standard,” says Fredric Holmgren. “And to not take on projects that we can’t deliver to that standard.” And Tobie agrees. A significant challenge will be to “deliver everything with the quality we strive for,” he notes, “without burning out experienced people with a non-stop shift from April to September.”

Green Issues
In the music industry – as in wider society – momentum around sustainability issues is build- ing, with many organisations and companies taking drastic steps to reform and become an example of green recovery. The likes of A Greener Festival have done important groundwork in this sphere, which has been taken on by newer collectives such as Music Declares Emergency – a group of artists, music industry professionals, and organisations dedicated to making the “cultural and operational changes necessary […] for a carbon-neutral future” – and Earth Percent, a charity helping the music industry address the climate emergency.

“NO MUSIC ON A DEAD PLANET” warns Music Declares Emergency’s flagship campaign, emphasising that artists and fans can bring the issue into the mainstream and “encourage a global response on a global issue.” Meaningful change is certainly something that all the companies IQ spoke to are thinking deeply about; one positive to come out of the two-year pause in live events was the space and the time to properly consider their sustainability credentials.

“Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of everything we do has been a blessing”

“Sustainability has a lot to do with thousands of small steps,” says Tobie. “We’ve been working on topics like e-trucking and green materials in the production of our barrier and flooring systems, but we also developed an IT-based loading and trucking algorithm. In combination with our ERP, it helps us optimise loading space and material routing, ultimately reducing trucking in general.”

TAIT Wakefield has long been engaged in evolving a more sustainable model for the long- term but, says Brooks, the last two years allowed them to really focus. “Alongside constantly looking at our carbon footprint, that global assets catalogue we created means we’re not making everything from scratch every time. And, since we do not have to build things twice, we can do things more quickly. Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of everything we do has been a blessing.”

Similarly, Megaforce has developed its international network and keeps materials in strategically favourable locations. Alongside a new set of national partners, this is helping them keep logistic costs – and the resources required to move equipment – as low as possible.

All Access Staging has been busy, too. Their core product line, the Versa system, is “inherently green,” according to Forrester Braithwaite, “because it can be used over and over again in countless configurations, like a really cool LEGO set. We also recently designed an upgraded version of our staging deck that is lighter, stronger, and more versatile than previous generations. In general, managing supply chain issues, and respecting the increased expenses that come with those challenges, is something we’re learning about all the time.”

“It still saddens me that I had to leave my strong and reliable team there”

War in Europe
Having fundamentally overhauled his life because of Russia’s military manoeuvres, JSA’s Strizhak is better placed than many to comment on the impact Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has had on the region.

He explains, “The quiet and gradual process of my withdrawal from the Russian market began a long time ago because of the Russian war in Georgia in 2008. Even then, I understood that the Kremlin would revive the hybrid USSR, using show business, including television, radio, press, cinema and, of course, live concerts and various events, as their weapons for propaganda.”

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the beginning of military aggression in the east of Ukraine in 2014, prompted Strizhak to close his premises in Moscow and St. Petersburg. “It was hard,” he admits. “JSA was the first professional stage company in Russia. I had a large number of employees, the company had many significant projects every year, great business connections, and a good reputation. I had to stop it all. It still saddens me that I had to leave my strong and reliable team there. To all these people, I express my gratitude for their cooperation.”

Acknowledging that the scale of JSA’s operations took a hit following its withdrawal from Russia, Strizhak tells IQ it took him a number of years to build a new team and find “new paths” for the staging company. Some of that work involved JSA fulfilling contracts in Ukraine: Eurovision 2017 and Olerome Forum One in Kyiv; Leopolis Jazz Fest in Lviv; and Underhill Music Festival near Ivano-Frankivsk.

“I am optimistic about the development of the company’s business this year”

Indeed, he contends that Ukraine led JSA’s pandemic recovery as the country’s quarantine rules facilitated a return to business. “In 2021, the [Ukrainian] market began to recover earlier than it did in Europe and [the] UK,” reports Strizhak. “That season, many outdoor concerts and festivals took place, and JSA made good sales of stage structures for Ukrainian production companies. But we could not develop and make long-term plans in the fog of remaining restrictions.”

Russia’s invasion earlier this year put an end to all such ambitions, and Strizhak says JSA in Latvia is now involved in humanitarian projects for Ukraine in partnership with local Ukrainian societies and the local Embassy of Ukraine.

On the business side, he is again scrambling for solutions to keep his business running and says that despite the war, enquiries from other countries mean he and his staff are being kept busy. “Currently, we are focused on active work in the Baltic States and for the European market,” he reveals. “We constantly receive requests for stage structures in different countries. As a rule, these are requests for help and support opportunities for unexpected projects. So, in my opinion, we will be able to take part in big and worthy projects this summer.”

And, while other companies are suffering from a scarcity of equipment, Strizhak believes JSA is in good shape for the year ahead. “We already have a sufficient stock of Layher, trusses, podiums, and large roof systems,” he says. “JSA engineers are already making structural drawings for customers. In addition, customers are quickened to purchase new designs, and we have orders. So I am optimistic about the development of the company’s business this year,” he adds.

“To overcome this crisis, it’s imperative to stop producing or procuring everything ever more quickly and cheaply”

Quality of Live
But something else that companies are keen to emphasise is a deeper, more fundamental consideration of their place not just in the live music industry but society in general, and what that might mean in the post-Covid 21st Century. As Forrester Braithwaite puts it, “We are more focused on maintaining the quality of life for our hardworking crew. During the Covid pause, people had the opportunity to re-evaluate their lives and priorities, and as a company we are trying to take a modern approach to our teams’ workdays.”

It was the same at TAIT Wakefield; “Improving our work/life balance has been a big focus,” says Brooks, “and the ways in which we’ve been forced to work have not been all bad. For example, some of the virtual commissioning we did was a great proof-of-concept, so we can take that forward into 2022 and beyond.”

“The key is in personnel; good training, attractive remuneration, integrative framework conditions for the family and career, and appreciation for all participants in the value chain,” says Megaforce’s Michael Brombacher. “To overcome this crisis, it’s imperative to stop producing or procuring everything ever more quickly and cheaply. We need to remember that quality has a price and that secure and quality preparation takes time.”

“2022 will be the busiest and strongest year in the history of eps, and maybe even the entire events industry”

Yet, as long as the industry in general takes heed of such factors, many believe the future is bright – and that the live music industry can be better than ever. Sebastian Tobie predicts that, as long as Covid restrictions remain minimal, “2022 will be the busiest and strongest year in the history of eps, and maybe even the entire events industry.” Phil Christodolou is more cautiously optimistic. “We’re starting to emerge out the other side,” he says. “But we hope that all of us in the live sector have learnt lessons from what’s happened and use this knowledge to navigate the future.”

“The biggest lesson learned is to be nimble,” says Forrester Braithwaite. “We had the ability and necessity to pivot to offering different products and services, and this creativity and willingness to branch out into new areas will allow us to thrive in the years to come.”

“We’ve been able to figure out what ‘better’ looks like over these last two years,” adds Ben Brooks. “It’s absolutely affected what we do and changed our approach to live events, but in many more positive ways than negative ones.” Such a sentiment is shared by Megaforce’s Michael Brombacher, who says that while times will remain turbulent, “there will also be new opportunities. Success will certainly be redefined in the future, but I’m not worried – we will survive this crisis.”

For as he – and others – note, music will endure. “The value of culture is pricelessly important – all the politicians on Earth should understand this by now,” he says. Brooks points to events like British rapper Dave’s London O2 show selling out in four minutes as indicative of just how healthy public demand will be going forward, and why companies such as his can finally be optimistic again.

“I think there’s a renewed appreciation of what live music means to people,” he says. “You could argue it was taken for granted; the ability to walk out your front door, travel to a venue where you could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with like-minded music lovers, and enjoy that visceral experience of a live show. People want that more than ever now, and that bodes well for the industry.”


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Covid kit: The tech helping fans stay safe at shows

As buildings, venues and public spaces start to tentatively reopen following months of lockdown, savvy businesses and operators are turning to technology to help them boost confidence, both among consumers and staff.

From simply supplying hand-sanitisation facilities at store entrances to sophisticated mobile phone apps, thermal testing and scanning devices, numerous products and systems are being developed to bolster personal protection measures, giving people confidence that they can safely return to the workplace and, ultimately, get back to enjoying live entertainment.

Here, IQ takes a look at just some of the products and services on offer to the live events industry, as venue owners and promoters contemplate how to entice people back to their shows, concerts and festivals…

 


Biosecurity-Systems
Biosecurity-Systems offers a comprehensive range of products, facilities and staff to augment safety procedures that are implemented in buildings and venues. Rather than being in the business of selling kit, the company’s goal is to minimise infection risk and help businesses to protect customers, staff and anyone else who visits their premises.

CEO Paul Twomey observes that while many people view the Covid pandemic as a ‘once in 100 years’ phenomena, those living in Asia and the Pacific rim have a different viewpoint. “It’s a key thing for people to think about: in east Asia there has been Sars, HN1, swine flu, bird flu and now Covid. So there are major viruses every five to six years,” he says.

“In terms of pandemics, this is a bit like a 9/11 moment. There was terrorism before 9/11, but everyone thinks of terrorism differently post 9/11. Covid-19 will probably do the same for pandemics.”

Consequently, Biosecurity-Systems urges clients not to make the mistake of simply bringing in equipment purely to deal with the current coronavirus, but to rather see their actions as a long-term investment to deal with this pandemic, as well as all future pandemics.

Currently working with the likes of airports, airlines and logistics centres, Biosecurity-Systems offers a turnkey solution, as well as bespoke solutions that include disinfection technologies, triage technologies, testing technologies and artificial intelligence, if needed.

The company morphed out of an existing robotics operation in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and has strategy solutions in place that cover everything from simple health questionnaires and disinfectant misting tunnels to blood oxygen testing and robots that can continuously – and conspicuously – clean the likes of floors in airport terminals (as they do in Hong Kong). The company’s robots can also automatically clean toilets, hence protecting cleaning staff in an environment that is known to be highly virulent for coronavirus infection.

Twomey adds: “Things like temperature testing are not particularly effective for Covid-19, but consumers are demanding it, as it makes them feel secure. However, those same systems are very important in detecting other diseases – ebola, for instance. Meanwhile, blood oxygen testing does have more relevancy for Covid-19. So having such equipment should be seen as a long-term investment that can basically show people that it’s safer to come back to your facilities then those of somebody else.”

“In terms of pandemics, this is a bit like a 9/11 moment”

Seats.io
Ticketing operation Seats.io is using the challenges presented by the coronavirus restrictions to leverage its technology and create opportunities that should help restore consumer confidence when it comes to attending shows and concerts. Seats.io is determined to give venues and event organisers additional tools to help restart the live entertainment sector and begin selling tickets again, as soon as possible.

The company notes a key factor in these transactions will be trust: many surveys indicate that people want to go back to live events, but only if they feel they can trust that they and their loved ones will be safe in doing so.

In an effort to rebuild that trust, Seats.io believes demonstrating at the moment of ticket purchase that people will be safe is the best approach. To achieve that, Seats.io can make sure customers are aware, when they select their seat, that social distancing rules will be applied and respected.

As a result, Seats.io has configured its ticketing system with an option that shows ticket buyers how the seats around theirs will be blocked out, as they select their tickets. For some theatres, the distance required will be one seat, for others two; sometimes aisle seats will always be blocked, sometimes, not. In addition, it is essential that such a system can be integrated into any existing ticketing system, negating the need for a complete overhaul.

Seats.io says its system answers all these needs. Easily integrated, with world-class UX and UI, Seats.io can allow any ticketing platform to offer ticket buyers exactly what they need: the reassurance that they are safe, and that they can trust the event organisers to respect social distancing.

Seats.io believes demonstrating at the moment of ticket purchase that people will be safe is the best approach

Megaforce
Staging company Megaforce has developed a range of products and facilities to help businesses protect staff and customers from the spread of coronavirus, and has already installed its equipment at everything from kindergartens to hardware stores.

Products include biometric fever screening, carried out using a thermal imaging camera, which can rapidly record body temperature with exceptional accuracy, and can thus make a significant contribution to the containment of pandemics.

The system uses state-of-the-art sensor technology to scan up to five people’s faces simultaneously in order to determine body temperatures. If an increased temperature is detected, the system triggers an alarm or can deny access – for example, as part of an automatic access control system. The temperature check also has an automatic mask detection option, so that if the camera detects a person without a mask, the system will politely remind them that they must wear one.

The system is already being used at border controls, airports, trade fairs and events, and is also suitable for protecting healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes; and at entrances to factories, offices, shopping malls, hotels, schools and public authority buildings.

Contactless hand-washing and hygiene stations are available as single, double or triple units with diverse areas of application such as shopping malls, DIY stores, bus stations, car parks, stadia/event locations, public places, wholesale markets etc. In short, anywhere with high footfall where there are too few or no sanitary or hygiene facilities.

Added value is provided by advertising/branding spaces on all sides of the stations with the option of integrating frames or dispensers for brochures etc, making them perfect for promotional campaigns. The stations can be branded accordingly depending on the theme.

Hygiene gates  are gantries/locks based on a chlorinated water solution, much like swimming pools, and can be used for semi-disinfection of equipment and people.

The main area of application is access to work, backstage or production areas. Although it is not possible to ensure 100% disinfection, hygiene gates significantly increase hygiene standards and safety.

The gates are constructed using high-quality stainless steel; they are contactless and can be combined with Megaforce’s fever screening system.

Megaforce has developed a range of products and facilities to help businesses protect staff and customers

Realife Tech
Realife Tech has developed a Covid Safety Hub – a customer-facing technology designed to help events safely relaunch once restrictions on large gatherings are lifted.

The Covid Safety Hub has a range of mobile-based features that will guide fans through new venue policies and procedures, with messaging delivered before, during, and after events. This includes digital ticketing, checklists, location- based directives, an AI Covid assistant (powered by Satisfi Labs), real-time safety tips, and post-event messaging.

At events, the location-based safety alerts share real-time information to help reduce congestion in high-traffic areas such as entrances and exits, and provide facility updates. The assistant also comes with touch-free mobile ticket scanning, as well as contactless ordering and collection of food, beverages, and merchandise. This is a powerful tool as it runs on Realife Tech’s platform, aggregating data from multiple systems at festivals and events. These include apps, ticketing, Wi-Fi, point-of-sale, digital advertising screens and access control points. In addition to the Covid safety features, organisers can capture a single view of the customer across their journey.

The Covid Safety Hub is being deployed across multiple events and will help welcome fans back this summer, as it aims to minimise event attendees´ fear and anxiety about the ‘new normal’ through dedicated messaging, features, and protocols put in place to mitigate risk.

Founded in 2014, with headquarters in London and Los Angeles, Realife Tech is an experience automation platform that unifies data from every event venue system, then analyses the data to provide truly personalised digital experiences. The company works with more than 65 of the world’s biggest venues and events, including The O2, London; Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London; Mercedes-Benz Arena, Berlin, and Outside Lands Festival, California.

Realife Tech is the recipient of three Event Technology Awards for Best Festival Technology, Best Venue Installation, and Best Venue Solution.

Realife’s Covid Safety Hub has a range of mobile-based features that will guide fans through new venue policies and procedures

Grid
Grid claims to be a game-changing new app that enables people to socialise in safe, socially distant and contactless ways. It has already received exceptional feedback from events, such as Kiesgrube’s Stay Wild Moonchild! in Duisburg, Germany.

Grid works by digitalising events and providing a safe way for social gatherings to take place by making ticketing, F&B orders and Covid-19 registration fully digitised – even the cloakroom is handled via the app, all in line with current Covid-19 safety regulations.

Using Grid, long lines and guest lists; cash transactions and face-to-face ordering; lost tickets and wristbands; and smudged morning-after stamps, are no longer an issue. The app can also incorporate loyalty rewards.

Solutions already built by the Grid team pre-pandemic, are now helping to prevent further job losses, as well as allowing economies to thrive again and providing people with the opportunity to go out and socialise whilst prioritising their safety.

Grid works by digitalising events and providing a safe way for social gatherings to take place

Rebuild the Chain
An international consortium led by Dragon Gateway, in collaboration with Accubits Technologies Inc, FutureTech, Nexus and LL Consultancy, has launched a pandemic management solution called Rebuild the Chain (RTC) to try to help the live event sector get back to business.

In brief, RTC Sport and RTC Entertainment create a Covid-free zone around a venue in which no person or surface is Covid infected. The two apps are similar in that they harness the speed, efficiency and accuracy of rapid test kits (98.6% accuracy), a mobile app, appropriate PPE and the security of blockchain technology.

With a global network of contacts and suppliers, RTC offers all the latest Covid safety tech such as thermal cameras, sanitiser mist tunnels and so on to ensure the public feels as safe as possible. At events, real-time test kits mean that a consumer’s ‘safe status’ can be uploaded immediately to their smartphone to be checked by stewards at a green zone checkpoint and again as they enter the venue at ticket collection.

With the aim of enabling audiences to safely return to sports, festivals, concerts and even B2B conferences and exhibitions, Dragon Gateway further claims to be in contractual discussions to deploy RTC government across entire nations.

RTC creates a Covid-free zone around a venue in which no person or surface is Covid infected

Bubble Band
Social distancing within the live event industry is an obvious challenge. Static barriers and markers will never work in a fluid environment. However, a cost-effective alternative is already available. The Bubble Band is a simple wearable social distance alarm. Worn as a wristband or on a lanyard, the Bubble Band is ideal for artists and backstage event crew. When two Bubble Bands come within the set proximity to each other they will vibrate or alert the wearers.

Bubble Band settings are managed through an app available on Mac or android mobile devices. Connecting via Bluetooth they are easy to set up and fully rechargeable. Distance and alert settings can be adjusted to meet current government guidelines.

Groups of Bubble Bands can be linked with varying settings: e.g. lighting and rigging set at 1m, backline and catering set at 2m. Available in a range of colours, the bands help to easily distinguish between working teams, as requested in the UK’s Working Safely During Coronavirus guide.

The Bubble Band is a simple wearable social distance alarm, worn as a wristband or on a lanyard

SmartXcan
Production Resource Group (PRG) has designed a temperature scanner that can easily be installed in entertainment venues, convention centres and workplaces. PRG’s SmartXcan is a portable thermal scanner that provides instantaneous feedback on up to 700 people per hour.

“The SmartXcan is much more accurate and faster than other devices that are being modified to meet current needs,” says Mark Peterson of PRG Scenic Technologies. “We use a diagnostic tool that measures temperature in the sinus cavity and behind the eyes in 0.6 seconds.”

The SmartXcan leverages advanced fever-scanning technology developed by Kentix, a German company that develops smart building security. The temperature data is protected and not connected to identifying technology, to meet privacy laws. “We wanted to ensure that people feel comfortable using the SmartXcan, so it does not have facial recognition capabilities,” adds Peterson. “Who you are is not important to us, we are just trying to assist in reopening as safely as possible.”

Portable SmartXcan options include a wheeled pedestal, kiosk, countertop, or built-in turnstiles for automated entry control. The devices can be plugged in or operated using a built-in battery that provides up to 24 hours of continuous use. Each scanner offers hands-free scanning that quickly notifies individuals via a green or red light that they are okay to proceed.

SmartXcan “measures temperature in the sinus cavity and behind the eyes in 0.6 seconds”

London Palladium pilot event suppliers
On 23 July, London’s iconic Palladium venue held a pilot event, featuring singer Beverley Knight, to test the theatre’s readiness to deal with audiences and overall safety, ahead of a mooted return for indoor shows in England in August.

In addition to limiting the venue’s capacity to 30%, attendees were given staggered arrival times and had to pre-order drinks to allow staff to organise in-seat service.

Assisting the Palladium in the trial were:

Purehold has designed a range of hygienic door-handle covers that fit over existing handles

CrowdBlink Protect
CrowdBlink Protect has been used by essential businesses during the shutdown to assess employees daily for symptoms of Covid-19, allowing them to safely continue operating. Now, as economies start operating once again, other organisations are beginning to use the same system to reopen safely.

From construction, manufacturing, and retirement/senior care facilities to childcare centres, office buildings and more, CrowdBlink Protect is an easy, affordable solution to help keep communities safe. The company charges $49 per ‘screener’ per month, with screeners being individuals who assess others, or who can scan QR codes for people who have completed CrowdBlink’s self-assessment procedures.

The CrowdBlink plug-and-play system also allows event organisers to create and sell tickets to their events, scan tickets as people enter, and use CrowdBlink’s point-of-sale facility to sell items during the event.

On the attendee side, fans can use the Patron app to buy tickets, enter the event, add funds to their cashless accounts, make purchases on-site, and even interact with sponsors. Patron allows attendees to use the app if they lose Internet connectivity. And for anyone that doesn’t want attendees using an app, CrowdBlink can run events via NFC or RFID wristbands or even traditional printed tickets.

Screeners can scan QR codes for people who have completed CrowdBlink’s self-assessment procedures

Watch the recent IQ Focus virtual panel featuring Seats.io, Realife Tech, Megaforce and Biosecurity-Systems, The Technology of a Pandemic, back here.


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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IQ Focus to spotlight the technology of a pandemic

This week’s IQ Focus virtual panel will shine a light on the various technological solutions helping to get live back on the road and enabling venues and events to operate within coronavirus-related restrictions.

The panel, The Technology of a Pandemic, will be available to watch on Facebook and YouTube on Thursday 30 July at 4 p.m. BST/5 p.m. CET.

The recent pandemic has changed the face of our industry as we know it, almost overnight. Since March we have seen complete closure of venues, festivals, tours and all live music operations. Overtime we have seen the relaxing of those restrictions and in some countries venues are open, albeit with certain restrictions, and more countries will follow.

However, until powerful anti-virals are in play or ultimately a vaccine, we will need to put into place technology and systems that allow venues to function at their peak with social distancing in mind.

The Covid tech panel looks at these technologies, whether they be software solutions, access control and biometrics or automated disinfecting systems, with individuals presenting various technology across all genres, the panel will present ideas of what can work for your venue or event.

Joining chair Steve Machin of LiveFrom.Events, is Adam Goodyer (Realife Tech), Brigitte Fuss (Megaforce), Joren De Wachter (Seats.io), John Sharkey (ASM Global) and Paul Twomey (Biosecurity Systems).

To set a reminder for The Technology of a Pandemic panel on Thursday head to the IQ Magazine page on Facebook or YouTube.

 


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Nerves of steel: Staging and steel review

Business is booming for the event infrastructure and staging world, with new markets cropping up all over the world and an ever-higher number of shows each year.

However, as designs become more complex, driven by the ambitions and desires of artists and promoters to stand out from the rest, stretched resources and soaring costs are pushing companies to their limits.

As 2020 begins in earnest, IQ talks to major figures in the staging and steel world about the hectic 2019 season, the growing demand for bigger production, the cost of ensuring safety at events and the uncertain future of a post-Brexit Europe.

‘Busy but challenging’
Sebastian Tobie, CEO of Event Europe at global event infrastructure supplier eps, describes 2019 as a “very strong year in Europe.” Major international artists embarked on stadium tours in every country that eps serves, including – but not limited to – the UK, Germany, Italy and countries across Scandinavia.

This year, the supplier has worked on tours for the likes of Rammstein, Muse and Pink, as well as providing infrastructure for all major festival and show promoters in Europe. In the United States, however, business was more pedestrian. “We had the major festivals as usual,” says Tobie, “but from an open-air touring perspective, almost everyone was in Europe.”

Elsewhere, the Middle East is becoming a “stronger and stronger” market for the German company, as countries in the region attempt to secure their place on the international events map. However, navigating uncharted waters can involve unexpected obstacles. Tobie notes that local resources and supply networks are not as strong in Middle Eastern countries as in other markets. “We need to plan much more intensely and prepare to be extremely flexible,” he says, explaining that “surprises” can crop up at any time.

“From an open-air touring perspective, almost everyone was in Europe”

UK-based Brilliant Stages has also enjoyed a busy 2019 so far, working on many “technically challenging” shows for artists including Take That, Spice Girls, Hugh Jackman, Shawn Mendes and Rammstein, as well as events such as Reading and Leeds festivals, Wireless Festival, the Brit Awards and the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend.

The main challenge for the stage manufacturer has been “time and risk management.” The process from interpreting the brief, to setting out a plan in accordance with the technical scope, and finally working with all parties to meet deadlines, remains the most difficult aspect for the Brilliant Stages team.

Figuring out the “whole picture” has proved a challenge for fellow staging company Megaforce, with CEO Michael Brombacher noting the difficulty of co-ordinating materials and staff across all projects. Both “busy and challenging,” 2019 saw Megaforce provide ambitious staging for tours by Phil Collins and Andreas Gabalier, and for festivals including Trondheim Rocks and Firenze Rocks.

UK-based Star Live, the brainchild of events specialist David Walley, perhaps had the busiest year of all, albeit in a very different sense. The result of a merger of four Walley-owned businesses, Star Live officially launched on 1 August as a full-service business for the live industry.

Since its inauguration, Star Live has worked on shows for Spice Girls, Pink, The Who and Stereophonics, as well as for events including British Summer Time in London’s Hyde Park and Download Festival.

“The need for ever-more engaging shows has produced the need for individuality”

In addition to providing staging infrastructure, Star Live now partakes in design and brand activations, enables sponsorship and partnerships, and supplies staff and structures such as ice rinks and grandstand seating. However, the staging aspect remains the most challenging, with “late rigging information” and “ever-shorter venue rentals” causing particular headaches for the team this year.

Staging the impossible
The oft-talked about experience economy continues to ensure the rude health of the live industry and the staging sector is certainly reaping the rewards of this. Yet, the growing penchant for the all-encompassing, hyper-immersive experience is also proving a sticking point for suppliers and stage manufacturers.

“The need for ever-more engaging shows has produced the need for individuality,” explains Brilliant Stages’ senior project manager Alan Carradus. “This is driving the technical design to levels not seen before.”

The company has had to widen supply chains and “really think outside the box” in order to keep up with the demands of the creative brief. Evolution within the industry has also led to the development of new ways of working and of new technology, in addition to considerable site investment, to satisfy both current and future demands.

For Carradus, “the real explosion has been in the use of LED screens and large-format projection systems to enhance shows.”

“Artists want to give fans not only a concert but an experience too”

Megaforce boss Brombacher also notes the predilection for more visual shows, as well as the demand for a higher calibre of audio experience. “The weight of light and sound equipment is increasing and therefore we have to adjust the capacity for heavy loads in the roof and in other constructions,” he explains.

The increasing weight and size of infrastructure has required Germany’s eps to make significant changes in recent years.

“Artists want to give fans not only a concert but an experience too,” says Tobie, “and currently that has a lot to do with the size of production.”

As an infrastructure supplier, this means eps has had to put a lot of work into growing its inventory and decentralising its warehouse network, facilitating easy access to different markets and venues.

All this signifies additional expense but, for Tobie, human resources are the most problematic.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 86 2019, or subscribe to the magazine here