LN Plays Down ‘Big Brother’ Stories

Live Nation UK chief ops officer John Probyn told Pollstar he was caught off guard by stories saying his company intends to tag fans attending its events, and his plans for a “smart-chip” wristband aimed at foiling ticket touts are still on the drawing board.

“The story was picked up from the Download Festival online fan forum and it’s gone global,” he said, adding he was losing count of the number of reporters wanting to know what other marketing purposes the RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip might be used for.

Various papers have voiced fears that the wristband chip could be used as a “Big Brother” device to snoop on fans’ buying habits, including their favorite concession stands and even which bars and eating houses they visit after a show.

Probyn says he’d rather have kept the idea under wraps until he’d fine-tuned it, and the cat only got out of the bag because he used a Download forum to test the festival-goers’ reactions to it.

He says he regrets the news came out that way but believes the point of holding fan forums would be lost if he didn’t use them as a platform for open and honest discussions about any possible improvements to the festival.

He told a BBC investigation into secondary ticketing that he was looking at developing a unique wristband that would have the fan’s name embedded on the chip, making it virtually impossible for them to be re-sold by touts. He says he believes that’s what triggered the “Big Brother” stories.

“We first floated the idea of using the wristband as a ticket and a way of setting up a festival account at a fan forum we held at the beginning of 2008,” he explained.

“They absolutely hated the idea and I remember it took us weeks to deal with the objections and adverse feedback. However, as a result of that communication, more and more fans are now embracing the idea and the reactions are very positive.”

He says he’s not interested in making Live Nation the first company to use an RFID wristband. He’s more concerned about making sure – if the technology is introduced – that he’s got everything right. He says part of that process is liaising with Download fans and getting their views.

Probyn began exploring the idea after visiting Live Nation’s Lowlands Festival in The Netherlands, where fans use tokens to buy food and drink and therefore have no need to carry cash around with them.

Since then he’s spoken to “every company in the world” that’s capable of making a wristband that could be used as a ticket and a way of charging purchases to a festival account.

He says the primary objective in putting a chip in the wristband was to make it nontransferable, thereby stopping it from being re-sold. He took a closer look at the idea when he noticed a sharp increase in the number of people using the fan forums as a platform to complain about touts.

LN has begun testing the technology in the UK but Probyn said that doesn’t mean it’s about to be introduced at all Live Nation’s British shows.

He also says he doesn’t know how long it will be before he’s happy with the wristband and the fans’ reactions to it, but believes it will only ever be used at LN’s major festivals.