Top Music Festival Organizers Are Going All-In On VR And AR-Enhanced Live Experiences

The 7th Annual DEW Expo introduced a wealth of marketers ready to adopt immersive technology. 

Live experiences are quickly becoming the number one method for generating publicity and building fandom around a brand. On Thursday and Friday, the 7th Annual Digital Entertainment World (DEW) put it on record that there is a growing interest in VR and AR technology as a tool to enhance live experiences, drive results, and create memories for audience members that last a lifetime. 

“The next generation is blending the on and offline world. It is going to continue to happen with the proliferation of esports and Fortnite and the concerts that are happening there. It’s going to be huge and we are investing in things like that,” said Rich Goodstone, co-founder at Superfly

Superfly is behind events like Clusterfest, Outside Lands, and Bonnaroo— they specialize in designing live events that drive massive incremental value at a brand and revenue level. The success of these events all revolve around delivering an experience, and Goodstone realizes that immersive technology is about to drastically change an industry that he knows all too well.

As the VR and AR technology we’ve seen this past year begins to adapt to the needs of modern-day brands – a scalable, tangible and deep engagement offering – interest is piquing to scoop up these types of activations for large scale festivals. 

Although, Goodstone is conscientious of using technology only where and when it makes sense. “Our expertise is live [events] and we use technology to augment and support it, and only where it’s necessary for it to be a complete experience,” said Goodstone. 

In another session at DEW, the same message was echoed by fellow members of the immersive tech industry. “Why do you want tech, and we go from there,” said Ashely Crowder, CEO and co-founder of VNTANA, a company that builds large-scale interactive hologram systems.

From holograms to virtual and augmented reality, it’s the way that we consume these mediums that enable it to proliferate on scale. Just a few days ago, The Verge published an article that succinctly defined the limitations of many “cutting-edge” VR and AR experiences, that we otherwise highly commend, as intangible—the reason why mass scale live VR and AR events have been slow on the uptake. 

“Projects are getting longer, and many can only handle one or two people at a time. For context, the [Sundance] film festival had over 120,000 attendees….It’s part of a bigger VR and AR scaling problem — headsets are niche, relatively rare devices that enthusiasts are still figuring out how to build a medium around,” wrote senior reporter Adi Robertson.  

In the consumer context, the HMDs (head-mounted displays) we have today are already outdated. We can easily forget that HMDs are up against products like Steve Jobs’ stellar Apple fleet. His grand vision was for everyone, from doctors to construction workers, to have a personal computer in their homes, and now we all have one in our pockets because he understood exactly what consumers wanted and why they wanted it. As a frequent festival and live event goer, I personally believe that watching recorded content at home in a boxy, isolating, expensive piece of hardware isn’t the future. So what’s next?

As the VR and AR industry gears up for its entry into the live entertainment market and mass-consumer adoption, it’s also going to have to double-down on consumer-friendly aesthetics. I’m talking about AR headsets such as Letin AR, Nreal, OGlasses, and AM Glasses; perhaps in the future, we may even see devices like Mojo Vision’s AR contact lenses come into play. In terms of festivals and other live events, VR headsets like the Quest, GO, Vive, and PSVR were outdated before they even entered the market. Despite the Quest’s incredible sales these past few months (a massive achievement) it’s not the final form factor as a consumer good for public and large scale events. 

In gaming, film, music, streaming services and more, DEW introduced a wealth of marketers ready to adopt immersive technology, if we give them a reason to use it. “The most common question I get from high-end marketers or CMOs is how do you know what is the value of the experience when something is local or not big enough to move a needle on sales?” said Goodstone.

If experiences are not directly driving sales, it comes down to sentiment and retention rates. Live, shared, and unfamiliar immersive experiences are the most effective way of creating memories audience members will remember forever.

”Live experiences are a great backdrop for rich storytelling,” said Goodstone. “You’re not maximizing the value of live experiences if you’re not thinking of the PR story.”

This means developing VR and AR experiences that can satisfy enough reach at events to make a dent in social media (shareability), demonstrate the ease of production, and build a solid narrative as a backdrop for invaluable PR. If you break down social media, online content, and audience engagement, this growth revolves around a live experience that brought people together, and VR and AR reign over any other medium in its capacity to deliver on these points. 

At industry conferences like DEW, I often hear people talking about doing things because “they will be good for the industry,” but VR and AR can’t exist in a vacuum. We can’t look at VR and AR as fragile, like an endangered species, pouring money into preservation to satisfy investors and softly patting the products in corners at industry-only events. VR and AR rely on every other industry adopting this technology, and although there will be a fair bit of upheaval en route, we are well on the way to bridging these worlds.

Image Credit: VNTANA, Bonnaroo Festival, Mind Gaze

About the Scout

Anne McKinnon

Anne McKinnon is an independent XR consultant and writer. She is actively engaged in innovation at the intersection of music, the arts, gaming and tech. Anne is US project lead for the band Miro Shot.

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