Roqu CEO details health passport innovation
In summer 2020, Ireland-based Roqu Group launched Health Passport Worldwide (HPW), a secure platform that combines mobile technologies with official Covid-19 tests and vaccinations.
The technology has been engineered specifically to ‘help curtail the spread of Covid-19’ and is enabling the safe reopening of events, travel and sports in nine countries worldwide.
Now, Robert Quirke, president and CEO at Roqu, tells IQ how HPW is now working alongside leading international events producers, live music organisations and ticketing companies to create solutions that will reopen events this summer.
IQ: Who is able to use HPW?
RQ: The app is free to be used by the public and also by official healthcare providers. The system is multilingual. Depending on the model of the smartphone, font sizes can be increased and text-to-speech can be enabled. The overall technology platform is being used by event producers, the travel industry, pharmacies and many more. The dependents feature means that people with disabilities can make full use of the tech if they wish.
In which countries has HPW established a presence?
The technology is actively being used in the UK, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa, Canada, Bulgaria, Kenya, Nigeria and Ibiza.
Where has it been trialled so far?
Extensive system trials have already been performed in Ireland, the UK and South Africa at healthcare centres, pharmacies, nursing homes for staff vaccinations, schools (staff), offices and more. In December of last year, the system was successfully used at the trial live music event in Cape Town called Recharge2020, working alongside Ticketmaster, the city and local production companies.
“The system was successfully used at the trial live music event in Cape Town called Recharge2020, working alongside Ticketmaster”
Has HPW received the stamp of approval from any governments?
The organisation focuses on successful industry adoption across various sectors. Our approach is to not wait, but rather to immediately support industries that urgently need solutions. The technology is being closely observed by many governments with a view to supporting their vaccines deployment initiatives.
The digital passport market is becoming increasingly saturated. How does your product stand out?
This is not a concept, it is a living breathing solution, and has been since last summer. There is currently no other health passport solution that has achieved the level of support and adoption compared to HPW. Our solution is already being used by some of the world’s leading organisations. Every minute, someone somewhere in the world receives their Covid-19 test result safely via our technology.
How does the app keep users’ data secure and private?
The founders of the technology have put user privacy as a priority because unlike some other mobile technologies, the HPW app does not track people’s location, does not use Bluetooth, does not use GPS and does not monitor people’s usage of the system. Data is not shared with any third parties. This function does not even exist within the technology.
“The technology also integrates with public health systems, festivals, airports, test centres, event ticketing platforms”
Does the app work in harmony with existing healthcare and tech systems?
Yes, the system can integrate where necessary with labs, hospitals and existing public health platforms. A special function is included to support various doses of vaccinations. You can also book a test directly within the app, making everything as easy as possible for the user.
The technology also integrates with public health systems, festivals, airports, test centres, event ticketing platforms and more.
For what purposes do you see HPW being used?
Enabling efficiencies at testing and vaccination centres, international travel, major sporting and music events with very large crowds. This platform will absolutely not be used for everyday life, such as going out for dinner or to the pub!
How could HPW facilitate the return of live music?
The technology enables event producers to scan high volumes of people in a very short period of time, the same as scanning your event ticket at entry. The system gives guests and producers the reassurance that people entering the venue are at a very low or zero risk of transmitting Covid-19. The HPW team has extensive experience in testing and can support events not just with the technology, but also with the end-to-end efficient and safe process.
“The solution to safely test 65,000 people within eight hours is already being deployed into Europe”
Can HPW integrate with event ticketing platforms?
Yes, for example, an anonymous code could be shared. But the system will not share medical information or personal details.
Festivals admit tens of thousands of people over a relatively short amount of time. Is HPW capable of processing a high volume of testing onsite?
Yes, the solution to safely test 65,000 people within eight hours is already being deployed into Europe.
Will venues and festivals have to implement any kind of hardware in order to use HPW?
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‘It meant so much to them’: Inside Saudi’s first music fest
On 18 July, Irish media company Roqu Media International achieved what many never thought possible: it staged a major, ticketed music festival, with big-name international headliners, in Saudi Arabia – arguably marking the kingdom’s emergence as a bona fide new market for live music in the Middle East.
The sold-out Jeddah World Fest took place at King Abdullah Sports Stadium in Jeddah, and featured performances from 50 Cent, Janet Jackson, Chris Brown and Steve Aoki.
Westmeath-based Roqu has now been awarded a contract to deliver the festival for the next three years, with the Saudi state – which is leading the development of a domestic live entertainment sector, ending decades of isolation – keen to capitalise on the event’s success.
IQ caught up with Roqu Media founder Robert Quirke, fresh off a plane from Tbilisi, to reflect on the pioneering festival and ponder its legacy, as well as find out more about Roqu’s work…
IQ: To start off, what is Roqu Media, and what do you do?
RQ: Roqu Media is the culmination of almost two decades of personal experience. Before Roqu, I led a number of organisations in the corporate sector, ranging from online media to data analytics. The highlight of my previous career is undoubtably when I was with IDA Ireland, an Irish government agency specialised in foreign direct investment and job creation.
I was responsible for launching Vevo into the Irish marketplace, developing their first-ever advertising solutions for brands here, which ultimately became a successful revenue stream for the organisation. During that time I also worked closely with MTV, managing their revenue from the Irish advertisers.
All through my previous career, I have had a passion for music and creativity, which I believe ultimately brings people together and can break boundaries. I decided it was time for Roqu to take full flight. The organisation was formed from a desire to make a positive difference in the world though live music experiences.
In Ireland, we worked to deliver MTV Crashes Cork, which was a fantastic project for the city, being broadcast to over 100 countries and promoting Cork in a new and innovative way. Ireland is wonderful, but it is a small territory, I knew that we had to expand globally to achieve the social and economic goals for the organisation.
I set out to win bespoke projects with three main objectives through live music and media: Promote the region to a massive international audience in the most positive way, create a direct economic and social stimulus to the regions, and inspire, motivate and connect the young people of the region.
“I have never before in my life seen an audience so joyous, grateful and full of love and appreciation”
What came next?
Next on the project list was MTV Presents Varna Beach [in Bulgaria], which was a phenomenal project on many levels. The project ran for two years, and we built the live show directly on the sandy beach in Varna city. This was the largest festival staged ever produced in Bulgaria, and the first time that global icon MTV were live in that country.
Again, the TV show beamed worldwide, spawning a double-digit growth in tourism and stimulating job creation. We even managed to negotiate with airlines, which triggered more international flights to Varna.
Jeddah World Fest was your first event in the Middle East, and the first major music festival in Saudi Arabia…
Many firsts: it was also the first televised in Saudi for international broadcast. Entering into the project, we knew there would be challenges, we knew there would be some controversy, and we knew to expect the unexpected.
But we also knew that we are making a difference, and that the relative importance of the project on an international level is unmatched.
How did it compare to previous events you’d staged in other territories?
Being the first at anything means a steep learning curve for all sides. However, as we say at Roqu, a rising tide raises all boats, and never was a statement more true than at Jeddah World Fest. Everyone involved in the project rose above the call of duty to deliver something life-changing and overwhelmingly successful.
Working with the young people in Jeddah was fantastic – incredible support and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Roqu assembled the best teams in Europe to deliver the project, and we shared knowledge with local partners every step of the way to bring international standards and experience to all operations.
Do you think the success of Jeddah World Fest will help open up Saudi Arabia more for local music fans?
I have never before in my life seen an audience so joyous, grateful and full of love and appreciation: 40,000 young people celebrating together to enjoy one of the greatest nights of their lives like never before. It was such an honour for Roqu to have delivered this. Our event teams were overcome with emotion on the night, the crowd coming up to our teams, hugging and thanking them over and over again…
I’ve never seen that before. It meant so much to the young people of that country, and you can see this in the hundreds of thousands of comments and posts on social media. There is absolutely no doubt that this is a turning point in Saudi youth culture and live entertainment. The future is incredibly bright and full of hope for the new generation.
You lost a headliner, Nicki Minaj, at the last minute, but luckily had a replacement on hand. Presumably, that was something you were prepared for, given the controversy that surrounds the Saudi regime…
Correct, we try to be a step – or two – ahead. The line-up was secured earlier, but we did not announce until closer to the live show.
The artists who came to the show immediately saw the positive energy and responsiveness of the crowd. All believed they are contributing to positive change, and they are. The only way to make a difference is to support, not isolate. I was called backstage by one of the headliners after his set and he looked me in the eye and told me, “Keep doing what you’re doing”. We intend to.
“When one of the headliners pulled out, the young people of Saudi felt abandoned”
On that topic, what would your response be to those who say the Saudi government is engaging in “culture-washing” to improve its image, and that companies like Roqu are complicit in that?
We are there for the new generation. We are there to build bridges between the young people of Saudi and the global community. Inclusion is the key, not isolation.
When one of the headliners pulled out, the young people of Saudi felt abandoned. That performer could have gone out there and made a difference. I find it elitist and outlandish to slam young people just because of their nationality.
I’m Irish – born on an island. Building social bridges is how we connect with the world.
How many tickets did you sell, and what proportion of those were bought by non-Saudis?
In total, 40,000 people attended. Approximately 15% were non-Saudis, and we expect this number to grow in 2020.
The new online e-visa system [used to sell Jeddah World Fest tickets] is fantastic.
Where and when will the festival be broadcast?
The TV show is currently in final editing, I’ve seen it and we have some incredible and inspirational content. The first broadcast will begin in early September in the USA. I’m not allowed to say where…
After the premiere, it will be opened out to additional broadcasters and networks around the world. Remember, this is the first ever televised music festival in Saudi Arabia – what a moment in music and media.
How was artist reaction to the Jeddah World Fest? Did Janet Jackson, Liam Payne and co enjoy playing for the local fans?
One hundred percent yes. Just look at the smiles in the footage. Liam Payne’s on-stage statement of “music unites us” is testament to the emotion and positive energy on the night – and 50 Cent [pictured] had such a good show, he decided to change his name to ‘50 Halala’!
The local fans knew every rap and lyric, singing along loudly. Thumbs up from artists and agents.
Besides Jeddah, what’s next for Roqu Media?
Roqu Media is not a traditional promoter, or agent, or production company, or media organisation… like most things Irish, we do things a little differently. We want to innovate and make positive change in the world.
We don’t do ‘concerts’. We work exclusively with governments, heads of state and cities, and each bespoke project is centred around music and media, produced specifically for global TV broadcast. They carry a specific meaning and purpose. Our team walks away from every project feeling they have made a difference, and they have.
I can’t divulge too much information ahead of time, but 2020 will see important and really meaningful projects in Russia and Georgia. The other side of our business is in tech development, and a Roqu streaming platform will be launched to the world in Q1 2020. It’s a bit hush right now, but very exciting for our team.
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Saudi Arabia festival “turning point” for youth culture
Jeddah World Fest, the largest music festival to take place in Saudi Arabia, has been dubbed as “overwhelmingly successful” by organisers Roqu Media International.
The sold-out festival, which took place on 18 July, saw performances by 50 Cent, Janet Jackson, Chris Brown and Steve Aoki. Nicki Minaj, originally billed as a headliner for the event, pulled out a week before following pressure from human rights organisations.
The Ireland-based Roqu Media now has a contract to deliver the festival for the next three years. The media production company is also preparing similar events to take place in Russia, Georgia and South Africa.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Roqu president Robert Quirke says the Saudi festival was “overwhelmingly successful [but] extremely challenging given the local circumstances.”
“[Jeddah World Fest is] a turning point for all youth culturally”
According to Quirke, Jeddah World Fest is helping to change perceptions of the country, serving as a “turning point for all youth culturally”. The event, like all those produced by Roqu, was broadcast live on television in countries across the world.
The international live entertainment market in Saudi Arabia is still in relatively early days. Many acts have faced criticism for adding the country to their touring schedule due to human rights’ concerns.
The kingdom hosted its first-ever mixed gender music festival in December last year. Korean pop stars BTS will become the first international group to play a solo stadium concert in the country in October.
Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority has said it plans to spend US$64 billion on the sector over the next decade.
Nicki Minaj to headline Saudi Arabia’s first major music fest
After hosting its first-ever gender-integrated concert series at the Formula E ePrix last December, the rapidly liberalising kingdom of Saudi Arabia is preparing for its first major music festival, which debuts this month.
Part of the Jeddah Season festival, Jeddah World Fest, organised by Ireland-based Roqu Media International, will take place at King Abdullah Sports Stadium (63,241-cap.) in Jeddah on Thursday 18 July, and feature international performers including Nicki Minaj, Steve Aoki and former One Direction member Liam Payne.
It is the latest and most significant move by Saudi Arabia’s rulers to open up the conservative Islamic kingdom – which until recently considered secular music haram, or sinful – to touring live entertainment, and comes nearly two years after the General Authority for Entertainment (GEA), the body tasked with driving growth in the entertainment sector, announced a US$2.7 billion fund to attract international partners.
Commenting on the line-up, Roqu’s Robert Quirke says Minaj (pictured) is “an absolute global icon. She has 130 million followers on Instagram, she is considered one of the top 10 female performers of all time, she’s had multiple awards and she’ll have her new album come out this year.
“She is going to get a lot of attention for Jeddah in the most positive way you can imagine. She’s going to be actively on her social media, she’ll be posting right from the stage in Jeddah and at her hotel in Jeddah. Everyone is going to know that Nicki Minaj has landed in Saudi Arabia.”
“Everyone is going to know that Nicki Minaj has landed in Saudi Arabia”
Other performers include Ministry of Sound-signed DJs R3wire and Varski, who “will make sure that the crowd stays absolutely pumped” between artist sets, adds Quirke.
The event will also be streamed live internationally, according to Raed Abuzinadah, the director-general of Jeddah Season, who says Jeddah World Fest is set to be “the largest musical festival of its kind in the region, that will be broadcast to a global audience in more than 100 countries,” reports Gulf News.
“There is a stereotype of the kingdom all over the world, and today it is disappearing,” Abuzinadah told reporters recently. “In its place is a new picture of the kingdom that accepts everyone. “This is the first global music festival of this scale in [Saudi Arabia] and is sure to absolutely wow the lucky audience in Jeddah like never before.”
Tickets are being sold via the website of Sharek, Saudi Arabia’s new e-visa system.