Features

How Do Festival Apps Monitor Your Behavior?

Interviews

By Dan Ozzi

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Photo by Jason MacDonald

Unless you’re still folding the paper guides they give out at the entrances of music festivals like some sort of caveperson, chances are good that you’re using festival apps. Over the last few years, apps have become invaluable resources for festival-goers to navigate the often labyrinthine layouts of the grounds, subscribe to reminders about what times artists are performing, and create customized daily schedules according to their tastes. But what happens to all the information that users put into the apps? Aloompa, a company that provides app technology for most major festivals, including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Electric Forest, and more, has been compiling this data to monitor the behavioral patterns of users. Not only are they able to ascertain which artists are the most popular and most in-demand, but by using Bluetooth beacons with proximity sensors and geofences, they can also track how many minutes attendees are watching them.

Using data collected from the top 50 music festivals, Aloompa recently put together a report that ranks artists based on overall user demand at festivals in 2015. Each artist was assigned a score that “was created using a formula that takes into account the number of attendees that added an artist to their personal schedule, the number of total schedules created, and the total number of festivals,” according to the report.

Miranda Lambert dominated the country chart in 2015, while Lauryn Hill and Kendrick Lamar held the top spots in hip-hop. Modest Mouse, Cage the Elephant, and Kings of Leon were at one, two, and three, respectively, in rock. And on the overall 100 chart, Mumford & Sons held down the number four spot, with Girl Talk hanging in there at number 99.

Data compiled by Aloompa has the potential to drastically alter the future of festivals. Organizers can determine which artists are worth their asking price and also how to cater their future festivals to the needs and demands of attendees. By tracking user patterns, they can determine where to implement extra security, concessions, facilities, etc. But should festival attendees be monitored? Do they not have the right to do molly, possibly wear horribly offensive/cultural appropriating clothing, and pass out in their own vomit behind the Porta Potties in peace?

We recently talked to Drew Burchfield and Kurt Nelson, Aloompa’s co-founders, about the report and how Aloompa compiles its data.

Noisey: Explain what Aloompa does. You create festival apps?
Drew Burchfield:
Yeah, we started in 2009, a year after the app store came out, and found events to be the main thing we ended up doing, so we made mobile event guides for big festivals like Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, and Outside Lands. We’ve exponentially grown since then and we have a system where we show the data on the web as well. In the past 24 months, we’ve started to see the shift towards data and insights so the novelty around having an app was really cool, but the data side has become a big focus.

So you’re collecting data from the app users?
Drew:
Yeah, part of the experience that event producers get to have by having an app is having a relationship with the fans through that mechanism, and data has become a big focus. We’ve been leading those efforts with them and getting them to understand what people are doing while they’re using the app, and what people are doing while onsite as well. When people would buy a ticket to an event, once they get inside the gates, the festival doesn’t really know what that person did, so now, the ability to tell that story of what your $250 meant against the festival’s budget is an interesting thing that they’d never been able to track.

What specific data are you collecting about festival-goers?
Drew:
We’re mostly focused on aggregate behavioral data—the things people say that they like or they’re gonna go see, or the things that they go listen to. There’s two mechanisms we can use for doing that. We can use behavioral data in the mobile appwhat you do and how you click around in the app, and we also have a component where we deploy proximity sensors outbeaconsonsite to get a deeper level on behavior so the event can reprogram, make the event better, make operational changes.

Can you explain specifically what you mean by deploying beacons on site?
Drew:
We program functionality into the mobile apps to be able toif the user gives permission to the appto be able to detect proximity sensors, beacons. So if you think of it in the context of a festival, if we placed 250 beacons around a festival, then we actually can send people messages when they walk by a particular beacon, based on their walking behavior, and use it to track what their general story was while they were there.

Are you able to monitor how much time each user is actually watching the artists?
Drew:
Yeah, that’s one of the metrics we’ve found that the event is really looking for and that we think is really interesting for the industry.


The top five artists by audience retention time.

Once you’ve compiled all the data over a year, what do you do with it?
Drew:
We’re getting into the frame of mind where we really want to help the industry. So this kind of data in these charts, we haven’t really seen something like this before. We work with promoters specifically to help monitor wait times, or how their attendance split, or which show people left early and went and got some food.

What do you think is the most valuable asset for an artist in the eyes of a festival? Is it engagement time? The volume of people watching?
Kurt Nelson:
We’ve heard feedback from of our friends in the industry that they keep festival apps on their phone year-round to see how an artist is trending up or down with the data we present to them.

Drew: We rolled out a consumer feature in 2010 that was festival-specific leaderboards for that app. So if you go to the Outside Lands app, there’s a tab that says “what’s hot.” It has “most scheduled” and “most liked” in there. And when we rolled that out, we started to hear that talent bookers and managers and all the people who were negotiating over the value of an artist were looking at this aggregate behavior and comparing the information.

What was the most surprising thing you found when compiling this report?
Drew:
I think the main thing is that we as people that are, or at least were, in the industry didn’t want to publish data that just wasn’t true. One of the things we did as part of building this report was go out and verify in the market that the data was correct. One of those stories was around Odesza because they had a meteoric rise this year because of a variety of factors. So we said, “What does the data in our report say?” It projected a 438 perecent growth over the year and we were able to independently verify that with a few sources that that was how Odesza’s value grew over the year. So the attendance factor and the engagement factor are tied to a real-world metric, which, you know, is a bit subjective, but it did follow a similar pattern.

Do you think there’s a correlation between an artist’s festival draw and their payscale?
Drew:
The payscale thing, we’re aware of that information but it’s not something we have access to. I think that’s the main thing this data is potentially going to disrupt. There’s nothing that’s going to be a silver bullet that kills the process of how they book artists now, but I think data-driven decisions are going to become a norm in the future.

One of the notes that came out of your report is that EDM was the most popular genre as far as festival acts.
Kurt:
When we looked at it, we found that EDM was about 31 percent. It was pretty even keeled across the board, but I think it’d be fair to say that EDM has grown pretty quickly here in the past couple years and is a big draw at festivals. And multi-genre festivals are getting more and more into booking those types of artists.

Calvin Harris topped the EDM charts among festival acts, with Skrillex at number two, DeadMau5 at number six, and Jack Ü at number ten.

Does this data make artists and bookers very competitive over each other?
Drew:
They already are. And I don’t know that we’re trying to make everyone feel good. We’re trying to deliver facts.

Do you think that app users might not like being monitored via their app? Is there something invasive about their fun festival outing being collected as data?
Drew:
Privacy is a huge deal around here and with our clients as well. The data that is being tracked here is completely de-identified so we don’t know who tracks what. Do you have an iPhone or Android?

I have an iPhone.
Drew:
Yeah, so anytime the app wants to use information that the state of California or the European Union would deem as private information, you get prompted: “Do you want to use your location?” “Do you want to send notifications?” All those permissions are key to us collecting the data.

So do you not have information on age and gender and things like that?
Drew:
Those are things we’re working with clients to figure out the right way to use that information. If you’ve ever been to Coachella, they make you register your wristband, put in some information. The event wants that information and you’re probably already giving it to them. So I do see a future where, at your election, you’d be able to give that information in a way where the event would be able to tell a more complete story about you.

I notice Mumford and Sons was among the top five most popular festival acts. Was that a mistake on your end?
Drew:
No, man, I mean, did you go to Bonnaroo this year? When they play, they play in front of a lot of people. I’d argue that they have a good force in the industry, just relative to their demand in the app.

Do you have any data on which is the most popular Son?
Drew:
The word “popular” is not necessarily something we can define. [Laughs]

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