Donnie Dinch is GM of Consumer for Ticketfly. Donnie was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, and was the CEO and co-founder of WillCall, a music discovery app that Ticketfly acquired.
Last week, I walked into Walgreens just like I have hundreds of times before. But this time, I walked out without ever reaching into my pocket for my wallet. I didn’t even need to grab my phone. Instead, I paid for my toothpaste with my watch. Did I feel like a bit of an asshole? Sure. But the truth is, it’s just so damn easy and delightful to pay with a flick of the wrist. That’s what Apple’s betting on. And Google, and Samsung, and all the other major mobile players. They’ve realized that the number of fans their product stands to gain is directly correlated to how effortless their offering makes someone’s day-to-day life.
Going to a concert is far more exciting than walking into a drugstore — so why aren’t we giving people the same thrill, not to mention ease, when it comes to purchasing at a live event? When we start building remarkable mobile experiences for people, we’ll gain more fans, and more revenue. At a time when live events are the last bastion of not just dependable but growing revenue for the music industry, this couldn’t be more crucial.
If you haven’t realized it yet, mobile isn’t going anywhere but up. In May, Google announced that mobile search has surpassed desktop in more than ten countries, and YouTube has more viewers on mobile alone than any cable network has at all. Across online and traditional retailers, mobile accounts for 50 percent of traffic and 40 percent of commerce. Recently Myntra, an online fashion retailer in India, completely shut down its ecommerce site and became a mobile-only merchant. Bananas.
None of this should be a surprise. Think about how attached you are to your phone — you probably sleep right next to it. In a world where people take their phones with them into the bathroom, they definitely aren’t going to check them with their coats when they go to a concert. Like a new track blowing up Hype Machine, phones blinking around a venue are pretty much inescapable. Despite some holdouts, like Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles and its no-phone policy, mobile prevalence at live events is in our future because fans want it that way.
We asked our friends over at Harris Poll to find out how — and how much — fans are using their phones at events, and the results were pretty staggering. Close to a third (31 percent) of 18-34 year olds who own a smartphone and go to live events say they are on their phone during half of the event or longer. Less than 15 percent of that group said they “never” use their phones during a live event.
While I’m not interested in watching FKA Twigs through the tablet someone in front of me insists on holding up for the entire show, there are awesome experiences mobile phones can facilitate during live events that are both great for fans and money-makers for venues. They’re virtually untapped right now, but we can change that. By pairing mobile with technologies like beacons and proximity-aware notifications, venues can create a night out for fans where the only thing they have to do is enjoy the show, while everything they want — like drink discounts and VIP access — is delivered directly to their pocket. There’s significant money to be made in the process: A 2013 Nielsen study said fans would be willing to spend up to $2.6 billion more annually for opportunities like behind-the-scenes meet-and-greets with artists and exclusive content.
According to our Harris Poll, right now all those phones inside venues are mostly being used as recording devices and vehicles to spread FOMO. This trend is most salient among millennial women: 40 percent of females 18-34 use their phones to snap pictures and videos (compared to 24 percent of males their age), and they are 59 percent more likely than their male counterparts to share their experiences via social during an event. But what’s happening on cameras and social media apps is old hat at this point — it’s what’s just over the horizon that has serious revenue potential.
We also asked folks that attend live events not only what they’re doing with their phones now, but also what they’d most like to do with them in the future. The results are staggering. For example, today only three percent of smartphone owners attending live events use their phones to pay for items like merchandise or drinks. Meanwhile, 66 percent of respondents ages 18-34 said they’d be interested in using their phone as a payment device. On any given day, a typical fan has already used her phone to pay for coffee, a ride, and groceries. Why can’t she use her phone to pay for stuff during live events? It’s insane that other industries are capitalizing on the growth of mobile while we sit idly by.
This isn’t about spamming people with push notifications and text messages. For this to work, it has to be all about contextual engagement. Beacons are key here, helping us identify what people are doing right then and there, and allowing us to put whatever it is they want to buy, see, do, or experience…right in their laps. During a show, a beacon could trigger a push notification for 30 percent off merch — or even better, a t-shirt signed by the band — to the diehard fan standing in the front row for three hours. It could trigger a two-for-one bar deal to the person who brought three friends to the concert, and let them place their order in a single tap. Smart, exclusive offerings like these are how venues will be able to unlock the billions of dollars in revenue fans are willing to spend.
It’s easy to point a finger at the music industry at large and say it’s been resistant to new technologies like these, but the truth is more nuanced. When it comes to concerts, specifically, the opportunities are only just becoming visible. Napster existed 16 years ago, but mobile phones did not. We’ve had nearly two decades to evolve how we listen to music; now we can finally start iterating on how we experience it live. The other missing ingredient has been competition — it’s rocket fuel for innovation. For years, the live events business had essentially been a monopoly. Now, we have new players in the game, mobile phone ubiquity, and an incredible opportunity to embrace new technology, instead of block it.
Done right, mobile phones have a lot more to offer the live event experience than a flickering virtual lighter. Plus, live events are the perfect interactive testing ground for this type of technology: they attract the right demographic (millennials with smartphones), and they’re casual, spontaneous occasions where people are open to what’s new and fun. We can afford to experiment. We need to experiment. Live events are ripe for innovation. To find the answer, you don’t need to look any farther than your pocket.
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