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President of Live Nation Network on Why the Mobile Device Has Replaced the Lighter at Concerts

The year was 1983. The air was thick and the crowd was raucous. Lighters swayed side to side and lit up Madison Square Garden. The band was Cheap Trick, and it was my first concert.

Reminiscing about this experience brings back a flood of memories for me – it was personal, it was special and it is now a part of my life story. What I did not know then that I’ve since learned in my 20+ years in the music and live event industry, is that concerts are not just a fancy way for fans to experience their favorite music. At their core, concerts are social, emotional and personal experiences designed to bring communities together to create lasting and unique memories for all. The lighter represented more than a smoker’s tool, it was a ubiquitous symbol that transcended practicality and became the quintessential icon of the concert experience: unity in time, place, and purpose. You never saw just one lighter in a picture; you saw a sea of them illuminating the darkness, bringing thousands of strangers together.

cell phone light
Thomas Northcut | Getty Images
cell phone light

The twenty-first century finds concerts as popular as ever.

A new generation of fans flock to many of the same clubs, arenas, amphitheaters and stadiums their parents did to experience the latest in popular music.

Step into the venue; wait for the house lights to go down. As the lead guitar wails through the intro, you see a familiar sight: thousands of little lights flickering to life all around you. No, not yesterday’s finger-burning, butane-laced constellation of lighters, but billions of digital pixels, tethered by 3G, 4G, and wifi, glowing brightly and coolly.

Concerts have entered the Mobile Age.

Today, the fundamentals of the concert experience – hearing about a show, rallying your friends to buy tickets, going to the show, and recounting the experience to everyone you know – are the same, but the means are greatly modernized through mobile technology. Mobile has opened up myriad opportunities to instantly connect fans to their favorite artists, their friends and each other, and, by extension and association, connecting brands to consumers (the fans) before, during and after the show.

Below are four trends I see shaping the intersection of mobile and the live music experience:

1. Music-lovers will lead the charge in mobile commerce.

While mobile commerce in general is starting to gain traction, it’s already a staple for music purchasing. Between ringtones, digital downloads and music videos, consumers have been buying music over mobile devices comfortably for years. But what about the bigger ticket purchases that have been slower on the uptake? There is ample reason to believe that live events consumers will be at the forefront of mobile commerce in this regard as well. After all, 80 percent of concert tickets are already sold online. Mobile is just the next device evolution. Last year, we surveyed our ticket buyers and 30 percent of them said they would buy concert tickets through a mobile app.

2. Mobile is the ideal platform for ticket purchases.

Mobile apps (like the Live Nation one we launched last year) continue to evolve and offer more opportunities for fan engagement. You can browse, search and research the artists that you want to see, and of course, purchase tickets. The Live Nation app links to your iTunes library – every time an artist in your library is playing in your market, you get an alert about tickets and are now a click away from purchase. No longer will you have to be tethered to your PC when that hot show comes on sale. You could be in a taxi, at a class or waiting at the dentist’s office. Because consumers keep their mobile handsets nearby at all times, ease of information and access will help eliminate one of the key barriers to purchasing tickets: lack of knowledge. We have research that shows that 30 percent of fans don’t buy a ticket because they didn’t know about the show. Mobile is changing that paradigm.

3. Location-based mobile marketing will lead the way for brands to target fans at concerts.

QR codes and location-based services such as Facebook Places and Foursquare make it possible to identify specific consumers that are at a show. Txt2Win provides a spontaneous and instantaneous way to engage fans. Having pinpointed time, place and context, you can easily see how brands have a targeted and efficient channel to reward and engage their customers. For instance, Citi can provide access to a VIP Club at the show. Coke can offer concert-goers discounts at concessions and State Farm, meanwhile, can invite audience members backstage to meet the band – all through a mobile device.

4. Today’s fan is actively mobile at concerts.

In a recent survey, we found that 47 percent of ticket buyers said they texted or emailed their friends during shows. Sixty-six percent of core concert-goers use their phones to take pictures during the show and 32 percent make Facebook updates or Tweets from the show. Mobile technology has increased fan content creation and participation in the concert community while extending the walled garden of the live experience beyond the confines of the venue. Mobile devices have also created a way for individuals to contribute to the show experience through apps such as Txt2Screen and Pix2Screen. Mobile even empowers fans to communicate with the band. For example, concert-goers can text vote for a song they would like the artist to play during the encore.

In its essence, the mobile experience is a multi-dimensional one: equal parts push and pull. Equal parts create and consume. It is inherently social and interactive. Today, concerts are a perfect storm for mobile: a time, a place, a shared and sharable social experience that uses all features of mobile technology and will continue to provide endless opportunities for brands to connect to their desired consumers.

Like the lighter before it, mobile devices are bringing people together through live music in more ways than we ever thought possible.

Russell Wallach is President of Live Nation Network , overseeing all sponsorship programs across venue, online, social media, mobile and artist platforms at Live Nation Entertainment, the world leading live entertainment and eCommerce company. Under his leadership, his team has successfully developed a broad range of multimillion-dollar, integrated marketing programs with some of the biggest global brands, including Citi, Coca-Cola, HP, UPS, Diageo and Starwood Hotels.

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