The Washington Post taps the power of beacons to enrich the concert experience

City and Colour has awarded prizes at three shows based on where fans are seated, thanks to location data from Estimote beacons. City and Colour has awarded prizes at three shows based on where fans are seated, thanks to location data from Estimote beacons. (

Tish Traskowski bought tickets to a City and Colour concert last week to give her 4-year-old daughter her first concert experience. It was a last-minute purchase, and Traskowski ended up in the top row of Edmonton’s Rexall Place, which seats 16,839 guests.

After the opening band wrapped up, Traskowski heard her smartphone buzz and figured the battery was dying. Instead she had a message instructing her to head to the concourse and get two free tickets.

Traskowski and her daughter had won a seat upgrade to the front row and happily arrived in the new seats before City and Colour took the stage.

“We were probably 10 feet away from the band. It was fantastic,” Traskowski said.

Traskowski’s experience, made possible through City and Colour’s app, offers a window of the potential for beacons to enhance the live-music experience., which creates apps for musicians, integrated 30 Estimote beacons into three City and Colour shows in Canada this month to help the band better connect with fans.

“Beacons are basically the biggest game-changer since the iPhone as far as we’re concerned,” said co-founder Shawn Cooper, who goes by Cooper S. and has spent a decade helping artists attempt to leverage the Web.

With a well-deployed network of beacons, a musician’s app can know within a few inches where a fan is located at a venue. This allow bands to best target prizes and offers, such as a ticket giveaway to the upper reaches of a stadium, where Traskowski was sitting. City and Colour has also given away signed guitars to fans in the upper level.

Because the Estimote beacons are inexpensive, run off an internal battery and are roughly the size of a golf ball, a band such as City and Colour can take them on tour and reuse them at each venue. If one disappears, the replacement cost is manageable. Cooper says that in one or two nights his staff can get a band’s crew up to speed on how to deploy them before each show.

The success of beacon-enriched apps relies on ensuring that users download the app and have Bluetooth turned on. To do that, recommends giving away free stuff.

“Bands essentially trade merchandise for a strong relationship with their fans,” Cooper said.

Traskowski recalled being handed a paper encouraging her to download the app as she walked into the stadium. After an initial hesitancy, she installed it when her sister reminded her of the chance to win a prize.

Seat upgrades and giveaways may be just the beginning. According to a 2013 Nielsen report, the most dedicated music fans spend $422 a year on music activities. wants to help bands get the largest slice of that pie. It plans to expand its beacon usage into in-app sales in the next six months. A fan at a concert could initiate the purchase of a hoodie through the app, and it would be waiting at the merchandise table as he or she walks up.

(XX) City and Colour gave away a signed guitar at a recent show. (

“Because we already have a beacon at the merchandise table and we know you the fan are walking up to the table — because you’re ranging — we can actually display to a person at the table, ‘Hey here is Cooper’s merchandise; he’s 20 feet in front of you,’ ” Cooper said.

He also envisions being able to tell whether a fan waited in line but left because the line wasn’t moving fast enough. After the show concludes, the app could send a push notification offering the user a chance to purchase discounted gear online through the app.

So how is this possible? Well, a beacon mounted on a merchandise table uses Bluetooth technology to sense that a fan is, say, 15 feet away and has been there for 40 seconds. Then the user moves about a foot closer and stands there for a minute. But the user never actually moves within a foot or two of the beacon on the merchandise table. The app could crunch that available data and realize someone was waiting in line and interested in making a purchase before leaving out of frustration.

Cooper is also bullish on enhancing outdoor musical festivals, where multiple bands play at once. If fans almost universally adopted a given app, the experience could dramatically change. Provided beacons were deployed throughout the festival, they could track the location of everyone present. Then visitors could check on their smartphones to see which stages are most crowded, or which bathroom or beer lines are worst.

If fans can be convinced that giving up some privacy in the form of location data is worth the return, the concert-going experience might undergo a major shift.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.



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