When standalone festival apps were first introduced around 2010, they helped to usher in an era of tech modernization for music festivals. The ensuing decade saw events harness the ubiquity of smartphones in a variety of keyways, and custom apps were a welcome replacement for the costly and environmentally unfriendly printed guides.
Festival app leaders including Appmiral, Greencopper and Aloompa came to market with near out-of-the-box iOS and Android apps, which used intuitive, familiar templates wrapped with a festival’s unique brand aesthetic. Their initial aim was to create a single source of truth for everything the fan would need to know about the festival on-site. Over time, they would capture data, introduce push notifications, and add myriad bells and whistles to their offering to deliver value to app users.
But fast-forward to 2023, has the buzz around festival apps simmered? In this article, we put festival apps under the microscope to weigh up the pros and cons giving you the opportunity to determine whether they are worth the investment.
Let's start with the cons...
Building and maintaining festival apps can be EXPENSIVE
The cost to build a festival app is not insignificant. It can range from the low thousands of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars for the initial build (and sometimes even more).
Often forgotten is the cost of producing the content that goes inside the festival app, whether that is after movies, lineup graphics, or your event brand’s mobile style guide. Then, of course, there is the ongoing cost of maintaining and updating the festival app each year.
However, on the positive side, the savings of eliminating printed collateral cannot be ignored (both from a financial and environmental impact), so that can often offset a significant portion of the app development cost. In addition to this, there are ways to monetize festival apps which can start to make the ROI look pretty attractive (more on this later in the article).
It’s REALLY hard to get people to download apps
The average number of apps people download each month is close to zero, according to reports. And yet, every year, festivals pay to have their apps updated and refreshed once again, so they can be used for a few days and possibly then deleted post-festival.
With the rise of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (the second and third most downloaded apps respectively) could there be an opportunity to build on top of existing platforms, to remove the barrier of downloading yet another app? Something we will explore in a separate article.
Cell reception is required for some key app features
Once downloaded, festival apps generally work perfectly fine without cell reception. In saying that, a significant benefit of festival apps is how they can be updated at a moment's notice. This could include set time changes and artist cancellations.
Everyone knows how patchy cell reception can be at festivals, and this could mean that any updates to the app may not get through when onsite.
Many festivals are now investing in infrastructure to improve cell reception on-site at festivals, which would completely eliminate this problem.
Festival apps often have a very limited shelf life
There is a big upfront effort that festivals must put into pulling off a successful festival app. You invest time, money and work into producing and maintaining a festival app just to have your fans promptly delete the app once the festival is over.
This may be an unfortunate cause of the app’s apparent function. Or perhaps fans are not fully aware of the app’s complete set of functionalities. In the future, which we will visit in another article, festival apps may serve an extended purpose that lasts beyond the 1-3 days of the festival.
What about the pros?
Dynamic maps, timetables
Initially, at its core, a festival app is a timetable and a map. The timetable gives fans a detailed breakdown of which acts are playing where and when, and the map shows them how to get there. These are crucially important features, particularly for bigger festivals with more than three stages and a large physical footprint.
That being said, something we are seeing a lot more frequently is fans taking a screenshot of the schedule and making it the wallpaper on their phone. This is simple, clear and with a negligible impact on battery usage—something which is a key consideration for the savvy festival fans.
Now, best-in-class festival apps such as Coachella’s 2019 app, offer up a lot more than just a simple schedule and map. Fans are encouraged to download the app ahead of the festival to explore the new lineup the instant it’s announced, create a custom schedule of their favorite artist and get notified when they are about to go on stage.
While Coachella’s mobile site allows fans to view the lineup, learn about additional activities beyond music, and see what food and beverages are being served up - the mobile app is where fans can take action prior to and during the event. The mobile app provides the functionality that enhances the fan experience such as:
- Wristband activation - which is required before you enter Coachella
- Push notifications and updates
- Real-time lost and found
- Onsite food ordering
One huge advantage that the app poses is that the schedule can be updated quickly. Anyone that has worked in the festival industry knows that everything is subject-to-change at any time. Artists cancel, flights get delayed, sound conks out etc. One delayed start time can impact the entire schedule for that stage, and the app enables alterations or updates to be made on the fly.
Push notifications, communications
Through your festival app, push notifications can serve as an additional marketing channel to reach fans. When they are done the right way, push notifications are a great way to engage your audience. Treat push notifications like any other form of marketing communication - make sure to provide value and the information they need to enhance their festival experience. Push notification examples include:
- Changes to the lineup schedule or performance times
- Their favorite artist is about to go on stage
- Today’s lineup schedule
- Exclusive content like on-site vouchers or sponsorship giveaways
- Post-show surveys
Data collection and insights
Festival apps provide promoters with the opportunity to collect valuable data about their audience. For example, Appmiral gives you a real-time app analytics dashboard. Track promotional efforts, usage acquisition, fan engagement, and app usage.
Bonus! The data you collect from any festival app can be imported into the Audience Republic platform. Get all of your data in a single view with Audience Manager to further build out your audience database and unlock customer insights. In turn, use your audience insights to help you sell more tickets to future events.
Making waves across the technology space, augmented reality is technology superimposes an image onto a user’s view of the real world and enhances it with sound, touch, and even smell. In this way, AR is blurring the lines of reality and fantasy. Some festival apps are jumping at the chance to offer fans a fun, new way to interact with their surroundings.
In 2019 Pukkelpop, a four-day festival in Leopoldsburg, Belgium, offered fans a unique AR experience with their app powered by Appmiral.
Festival heatmaps help promoters understand real-time mobile location data to enhance onsite marketing opportunities and improve crowd safety and security.
Appmiral’s app technology integrates with Crowd Connected’s software known as Colocator. This technology offers promoters a whole new way to communicate with fans with location-based messaging. A prime example of how to use location-based messaging is if queue times are growing in a certain area, send a push notification letting fans know where there shorter wait times.
Ordering food and drinks onsite
Modern festival apps now provide fans with a quick and easy way to order food, drinks, and more onsite in a few clicks. For example, Aloompa’s LiveOrder is a fully integrated solution for festivals to sell anything before, during, and after your festival.
This feature of in-app ordering providers benefits that extend beyond the festival producers. Fans have a better time at your festival when they can order anything directly in your app by skipping long food and ticketing queues.
BottleRock 2019’s festival app (built by Greencopper) is a great example of in-app ordering done the right way. Here’s how it works: festival attendees select their location, order food and drinks, and then pick up their order at the location and time that is convenient for them cutting down on long lines and helps increase revenue for organizers.
Additional monetization opportunities for festivals to cash in
Aloopma’s LiveOrder feature supports products of all kinds including digital, physical or experimental - opening up new, potential revenue streams that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Festivals should capitalize on in-app ordering as a means to further monetize through selling more merchandise, providing VIP upgrades on-site, and sponsorship offerings.
Sponsorship opportunities, like the options that Appmiral supports, get your sponsors’ brand in front of your audience while they are engaged on-site. Festival producers can derive more value out of current sponsorship deals by extending branding activation points in-app. You can also offer new, higher-value partner opportunities such as an exclusive, fully-branded app sponsorship. Check out Appmiral’s comprehensive guide on how to elevate your digital sponsorship here.
We see people spending a lot more time on their devices, also before and during the event. It only makes sense to embed your sponsors in this new digital experience and give them some digital stage time as well.
Robin Van den Bergh
Managing Director at Appmiral
Find my friends
If you have ever attended a festival with a group of friends, you have most likely gotten split up from those friends. One feature we really like is “Find My Friends” powered by Appmiral.
A great example of this feature in action is the 2019 Pukkelpop app which made it easy for fans to find their friends via the app.
So, are festival apps still worth it in 2023?
To put it simply, yes. But only when they are done the right way. There is no question that festival apps are useful to festival promoters and fans alike. They have largely saved money on paper guides and massively reduced waste, something all festivals should be mindful of.
If you’re considering an app for your festival, make sure you work with the experts from app companies like Appmiral, Aloompa, and Greencopper. You want a strong platform that is purpose-built for festivals. The key to move beyond just timetables and maps. Your app should improve your fans’ experience and provide ways for you to generate revenue beyond ticket sales.
And while their functionality is still developing and their value is continuously evolving year after year, festival apps could really come into their own when they cease to be considered disposable and start providing value year-round.
If you're putting on a festival in 2023 and want to sell more tickets, request an Audience Republic product demo today.