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May 1, 2007

TECHNOLOGY 3: The future in your hand

“In 10 years’ time, all events, regardless of size, will offer mobile phone interactivity as standard, in much the same way as email and the internet is now an integral part of running and promoting an event.”

So says Barry Houlihan, UK managing director of Mobile Interactive Group (MIG), which was recently named Innovative Business of the Year at Growing Business magazine's Fast Growth Business Awards 2007.

Launched in May 2004, MIG has been providing interactivity for events since May 2005. But not just any old event. “First up was the Live8 ticket lottery in May 2005,” recalls Houlihan, “where the objective was to create a competition mechanic for the organisers to distribute thousands of tickets in a two-week timeframe, while raising revenue to offset some of the costs of putting on the event and distributing the 130,000 tickets quickly and securely, at low cost.”  

The competition received more than 2.1 million text entries and raised in excess of £3 million. The 66,500 winners were quickly notified by text and sent a unique PIN, redeemable on the O2 website, which enabled them to collect their tickets from any O2 store.

In the picture
Just over a year later in June 2006, MIG took its technology to the O2 Wireless Festival, which took place in London and Leeds. Services included ‘VIP barcode ticketing’, ‘bluescreen’ technology, where O2 customers could have a picture of themselves superimposed onto their favourite pop video and sent to their handset, ‘backstage reporting’ to keep avid music fans up to date on current news, ‘O2 Active® Info Site’ to help people find their way around the event, ‘Bluetooth® Stations’ for festival goers to download their favourite videos, and ‘Blogging and User Generated Content’ allowing people to send their messages and pictures to screens strategically placed throughout the venue.



MIG's managing director Barry Houlihan

“We also managed and delivered barcode ticketing for O2 customers at the Six Nations at Twickenham in 2006 and 2007,” says Houlihan. “This is where O2 customers, who are avid rugby fans, can access the VIP blueroom by texting ‘blueroom’ to the shortcode 64202. In response, they receive a 2D barcode that is scanned to enable access to the blueroom. Once in there, they benefit from an interactive questions-and-answer session with England players before and after the game and enjoy complimentary refreshments.”

Size implications
This is all impressive stuff, but it sounds like this technology is best suited to large-scale events.

“You’re right in that it is ideal for large-scale events that attract millions of participants who regularly use and are happy to use their mobile phones to interact with services,” Houlihan replies. “In fact, barcode ticketing could be adopted in large sporting venues through out the UK, reducing distribution and administration costs of tickets that are currently sent via post. There is the potential for barcode ticketing to allow entry to pop concerts, sporting events, conferences, entertainment centres and VIP areas. They could even be used to redeem products in stores through out the UK.

“However, our technology can be applied to a range of events and budgets. For small events, such as conferences, people can licence the technology and manage the experience themselves. This can be done for ticketing or simple competition and comments services. The key to this kind of application is that it gives companies a new communication channel either on the day or for later engagement.”

Money and measurement

New technology doesn’t usually come cheap, so what are the cost implications of mobile interactivity? Some of the experiences, Houlihan readily admits, are expensive, such as the interactive video installation at the new O2 venue, previously the Dome, in London’s Docklands. However, he claims that the same experience can be replicated through a cheaper manual service. “For any size budget there is always a set of products and services that will work for that company,” Houlihan insists.

“Any long-term strategy by a venue or a brand is specifically suited to our approach,” he continues. “By integrating a range of services and constantly analysing them allows us to improve experiences and also evaluate the value of the investment.”

This suggests that mobile technology can also be used to measure the effectiveness of events.

“This is an important part of what we offer,” Houlihan stresses. “Our Nucleus product is a key tool for this. During the course of the event you will inevitably gather many mobile numbers and much consumer data. This can be used in a number of ways to measure event effectiveness, including running SMS surveys to gather user feedback on the event itself, analysing demographic information to profile the attendees, and soliciting attendees’ opinions and suggestions on the event format and content.”

Just the beginning
What’s amazing is that this is only the start. Mobile phone interactive technology hasn’t been around that long, so it has got a lot more development potential.

“Key technologies for us are video and RFID [radio frequency identification],” explains Houlihan. “We have pioneered video developments over the last two to three years, and as more handsets get broadband connections and the resolution of screens improve, we expect to see in and around the venues streamed video being used to create very engaging experiences. We also expect to see video uploads and live interactive videos being shown from the audience as part of the experience. A lot of this is being developed for this summer’s UK festivals.”

In fact, RFID chips (Oyster-card style technology) is already being embedded in mobile phones. Over the coming years, this will enable all UK mobile phone users to simply hold their phone over entrance points/rewards points to receive offers or entry to venues.

So the future’s bright, the future’s mobile…

What do you think of this $type?





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