Connected Wristbands, Inclusive Lineups and Intelligent Discovery: Festivals in 2019

This article originally appeared in Access All Areas, accessaa.co.uk

It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to the end of another amazing year of festivals. One of the hottest summers on record got more people than ever out and enjoying the music here in the UK, while cheap travel options helped take fans to festivals in locations from Bulgaria to Brazil.

Looking into our crystal ball, 2019 looks set to be even bigger. Each year, more people book a festival trip, and new audiences bring with them different needs and expectations. Going to a festival is no longer purely the preserve of the hardcore music fan who knows exactly what they want — though it goes without saying that this type of fan is still very important. The big challenge for festivals is to provide an unforgettable experience for this varied and demanding audience while retaining a distinct identity and vision.

The good news is that festivals are taking adapting to the challenges of the late 2010s very seriously. We recently ran our very first Festival of the Future Awards, which were designed to celebrate innovative moments from the industry in 2018. What we learnt was that festivals across the globe are already doing incredible things, moving their events into exciting, unchartered territories.

These special moments from 2018 set the agenda for future festivals, and give us an idea of what is likely to come. Here are a few trends that I believe will take centre stage in 2019.

Connected festivals

Like many people that love live music, I get attached to the analogue mementos that come along with it. Think of all the paper tickets pinned to noticeboards up and down the country, or the armful of wristbands that people proudly display to prove a summer well spent.

That’s why I am excited to see tech coming through that doesn’t do away with iconic festival traditions, but rather transforms them into something infinitely more useful for the modern day. Take wristbands, for example. Festivals are taking wristbands to a new level with smartly-designed digital bands that can also be pre-loaded with money and used to pay for everything safely and securely on site — so no more need to carry around a ton of cash or have to dash across site to use the ATM. And they look good enough to be kept as a memento, too.

Apps have also come a long way to keep revellers connected, from the moment they buy their ticket to sharing on social media afterwards. We saw this in our Festival of the Future winner in the Technology category: Pukkelpop, with their next-generation app. It offered not only lineup and scheduling news, but also augmented reality features that served many different uses on-site, like being able to find friends nearby. It just shows how technology in 2019 will be embedded into the festival in ways that do not change the overall experience, but rather augment it.

Action, not just words, on inclusivity

There has been plenty of talk about improving inclusivity in the music industry over the past few years. We’ve seen great initiatives like KeyChange come into effect to promote gender equality in lineups. But I think 2019 is the year when we’ll see the actual impact of this, especially for the world’s biggest festivals, who are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Primavera Sound in Barcelona, for example, recently announced their first ever gender-equal lineup for 2019, branding it “the New Normal”. Last year, Iceland Airwaves were the first ever festival to do this; now it is hitting the mainstream, which is fantastic.

We’ve also seen festivals making an amazing effort to improve accessibility on-site. Sign language interpreters made regular appearances on stages across the world in 2018 and much work has been done to increase accessibility for those that cannot move so easily across sites. I’m looking forward to seeing more festivals in 2019 where accessibility provisions will come as standard, rather than just special cases.

New methods of discovery

There are now thousands of festivals out there; we have over 1200 on our platform alone. Many festival goers would like to try something new, but faced with all these options, it is increasingly difficult to know where to start!

Like many other music fans, I have always used magazines and blogs as sources to discover new events, but increasingly I’m seeing how technology will play its part in this discovery journey. More people than ever before are being introduced to their next festival through intelligent technology that anticipates your future likes and dislikes based on past habits.

That’s one reason why we launched our Festival Finder in 2018 — an intelligent integration with Spotify, where members are shown new recommendations from across the world based on their favourite Spotify artists. 2019 will see more people using technology in this way as their trusted advisor for new events.

Beyond the music

We know that people are travelling further to go to new and exciting festivals. It’s all part of a bigger trend towards buying experiences and events rather than consumer goods — three quarters of millennials would prefer to spend money on an experience or event than an item or possession, according to a survey by Ipsos. The challenge in 2019 will be ensuring the whole trip around the festival is just as good as the music and lineup.

Festivals will need to consider what makes their audience tick and provide accordingly. This means creating bespoke offerings with accommodation, travel and hospitality options that will appeal to their fans and elevate their event beyond, well, the stereotype of music plus tent in a muddy field; unless of course a tent in a muddy field is exactly what they are after (I hear there’s a farm in Somerset that specialises in this kind of experience).

What is sure is that there’s plenty to look forward to in the coming year. I for one am excited to see what new innovations and visions the festivals we work with bring to life.

By Zack Sabban, CEO & co-founder, Festicket