Montrealers hardly know what to do with themselves anymore as festival season has just hit the city by storm and bombarded us with an intimidating slew of entertainment, music, art, film, dance, comedy—and, of course, the technology that goes with it.
Omnipresent at any major or minor event is the smartphone, shinning in the dark recesses of the late night concert with a ton of constant information and content. But who’s designing all these apps? Well, if you’re wondering about the apps for the Francofolies, Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, Festival des Nuits Blanches, PicNic Électronique, Rendez-Vous du Cinéma Québécois, Heavy MTL 2012 and Osheaga—to name just a few—meet Montreal-based Greencopper.
Now what is it that has scored them such a big chunk of the market? What do we all love in our festival apps? What makes them so darn hard to get right? And how are they making their money? I spoke to founder Gwenaël Le Bodic to find out.
Greencopper was founded a mere three years ago when Le Bodic, armed with a doctorate in telecommunications, decided he was interested in working on a project that would promote culture. With its jam packed year-long schedule of festivals and cultural events, Montreal seemed a natural pick.
“Montreal is just about the perfect incubator,” Le Bodic tells me. “The number of events to which we can be in close proximity in this city is amazing—I can be in an organizer’s office and pitching ideas within 15 minutes. The same goes for follow-up, support or corrections.”
As it turns out, the city’s organizers also played a big role in their decision. “We also noticed that organizers were willing to try things here, they weren’t too scared to step out of the box. The first time Pop Montreal took us on, these kinds of apps were considered a pretty outrageous addition to a festival. They really let us experiment.”
There were some festival particularities they had to consider while building their base platform. Firstly, when an event is hosting over 40,000 people or taking place in the middle of a corn field, internet connectivity might not be at its peak. Therefore, all of the data and information contained in the app has to be available and appealing offline.
“Having a background in telecommunications,” Le Bodic says, “that was a really interesting challenge to take on. In fact, our work was and still is more or less an experiment. It’s research according the MDEI.”
Second challenge: these days, almost every event has a sponsor that wants a piece of the app pie. Brands therefore need to be able to reach an audience and broadcast themselves through the platform without ruining the consumer experience.
After three years in the business and with dozens of dedicated festival organizers vouching for them, Greencopper has come up with a few solutions. “That balance between the festival-goer and sponsor always requires some pretty precise gymnastics,” Le Bodic tells me. “We definitely don’t want to turn it into an advertizing platform but we’ve found a few ways to do it. With this year’s Festival des Cinémas Québécois (a festival promoting the next generation of Quebec filmmakers,) for example, we had a little quiz about people’s movie tastes. When people completed it we offered up a list of four or five movies they might want to see and a wine that may compliment the movie-going experience…something that fit the mood of the movie.” It’s an interesting yet basic concept; app advertizing being transformed into added value for the consumer.
Yet another challenge imposes itself in the world of festivals and cultural events. Not all event organizers are working with massive budgets or have any previous technology and app experience.
This particularity is at the heart of the conception of their base model app. The Greecopper team spent its first few months creating a solid, minimally customizable and scalable application that could carry the needs of most events.
From then on, a list of basic add-ons (say colour schemes and page transition options) and subtractions (say GPS and Twitter feed) is offered to the event-organiser. He can then pick and choose the functions that most suit the event—a bit like a custom-built house to which you add on a wrap-around gazebo and take away the second garage spot.
“From then on, depending on budgets or how much they want to focus on the app, organizers can request uniquely designed functions,” Le Bodic explains. “We’ve had festivals want to add augmented reality elements, for example, which require a different level of technology and work.” No matter how complex the applications become though, Greencopper keeps its focus on its constant tech and design support in order to make the process as simple and painless as possible for their customers.
What does simple and painless mean to an organizer? According to Le Bodic, it means that all of the necessary information is contained in the app and is easy to transfer/update. It also means that all of the tools are set up to transform the festival-goer into an active promoter of the event.
And of course, it means that the platform offers potential sponsors and brands an interesting exposure space and communication tool. Complete information is also a top priority for festival attendees, he says, but beyond information, users want to be able to play, connect and communicate with one another while on and off-site. That, Le Bodic says, is the driving force behind the direction in which he believes most event apps are going.
Though the limits of apps now lie only within the constraints of our own imagination, a few trends are showing up in event app development. First: seamless integration of a slew of existing platforms and tools, such as music streaming and GPS. Moreover, accessibility and availability of on-site technology has become a huge priority. “Now that some of the technology like Ipads has become affordable,” Le Bodic tells me, “we’re looking at having interactive hubs where people who don’t have that technology in their back pocket can still experiment with it and experience some of its added value.”
The third and most important element supports a pattern occurring in most areas of technology and new media: the quest for community.
Users now want to be able to meet other festival-goers in accordance to "favourited" artists and common interests. They want to be able to find their friends in massive crowds thanks to GPS. They want to be able to interact with the artists directly or impact shows and performances through their phones. They want to be exposed only to advertising and brands with which they can relate and then they want to be able to spot and communicate with others who share the same festival-going goals.
Community and connection, ironically, will be shaping application technologies of the future. Greencopper has understood this, and is actively working on increasingly socially-oriented functions. This, it would seem, will assure them their fair share of the festival app market for years to come.
After all, festivals and cultural events are all about bringing people together, are they not? Who knows, in no time we might all be able to build apps for our very own birthday parties and summer barbecues. What would yours look like?