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How the explosion of festivals is driving demand for advanced technology

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A magical moment occurred at the Glastonbury Festival last month when Sir Paul McCartney was reunited with his old partner, John Lennon, to duet on one of their classic songs. It exemplified how advanced technology is taking live outdoor events to a new level, introducing unexperienced heights of sophistication and immersion.

As the festival season is now in full swing, we spoke to Paragon SME Lending Technology Business Development Manager, Jon Openshaw, about the latest trends in the live music scene and its impact on the technology sector.

What has been the key trend you have seen in the festival sector since the pandemic?

There has been an explosion in the number and scale of festivals in the UK. Fifteen years ago, festivals were centred on the stalwarts of the scene – Glastonbury, Download, Isle of Wight and Reading and Leeds – but today there are festivals, or outdoor events, to suit a broad range of demographics and tastes.

Most provincial towns today hold some form of festival, whilst the likes of Victorious in Portsmouth, Latitude and Truck are serving families or older festival goers. From food festivals to pub concerts that have grown into an annual mini-festival, there is so much choice for the consumer.

This choice was growing before the pandemic, but 2022 has certainly been a year where we seem to want to reconnect with people at live shows.

How is the live experience evolving?

It’s not just about the music anymore, it’s the audio-visual package. Artists are integrating film and animation into their shows, as you saw with Sir Paul McCartney’s performance at Glastonbury. A well-crafted piece of video can elevate a performance to something different, introducing a new element to a live performance.

People were blown away by that at Glastonbury and it seemed natural; not gimmicky or false. That was enabled through technology, through better LED screens that are bigger and have more clarity than ever before. Sounds systems have improved considerably as well.

And it’s not just at the major festivals where we are seeing this, it’s filtering down right to the smaller festivals. Consumers don’t just expect to see a performer on stage now, they expect a show.

How is the growth of the festival sector and the demand for more immersive experiences impacting demand for technology equipment?

For the industry, that means more equipment is required than ever before and more sophisticated equipment.

Consider all the elements required to put on a festival - sounds systems, LED screens, mixing desks, lighting, staging, camera equipment and editing equipment, to name but a few. Then consider the growth in the number of festivals and how the requirement for more sophisticated equipment has grown.

It is a massive industry now and it’s not just consigned to summer. There is greater demand for outdoor winter events now, from lighting shows to outdoor cinemas, this is an all year-round industry.

How do festival organisers secure the equipment?

The organiser won’t own the equipment. They will typically work with a production company, which will then outsource the AV requirement to a systems integrator or a specialist hire firm, depending on the size of the festival.

A systems integrator will bring all of the elements of the project together so that the production company has one point of contact and they usually work on the major festivals. For a smaller, more local festival, the production company may work with a handful of hire firms, or even own the equipment themselves.

We have seen system integrators grow significantly in the live sports sector, where a sports club will outsource all of their AV requirements to a single operator.

What is the market like for used assets in the sector?

You will typically see the major festivals demanding the best and the latest AV equipment, which creates a strong used market as the equipment will usually flow through to the secondary festivals and local events.

If the equipment is well looked after, the asset values tend to hold up well.

Is the technological advance just related to audio visual equipment?

No, it captures everything we do at festivals. Ticketing, how we use our phones to communicate and engage with social media, how we pay for goods and services at the event, even how the festival generates power. Technology is elevating the festival experience across all levels, although I’m not sure even technology can do anything about the toilets at this stage!

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