Features December 4, 2016

Feature: Using RFID to counter the counterfeiters

Former Editor

When counterfeiters and ticket resellers cashed in on Iron Maiden’s upcoming UK tour, marking up ticket prices and swiftly selling them on third-party websites, the rock icons responded accordingly.

The band’s 2017 tour through the UK will be paperless, while a dedicated team is monitoring ticket sales in real-time to ensure “all suspicious activity is reported and investigated.”

According to Allied Market Research, the worldwide anti-counterfeit packaging market for security document and event ticketing was worth around US$22.8bn in 2014. It’s reportedly rising at 9.5% each year and is predicted to reach US$38.3bn by 2020.

That’s just one reason why Eventbrite, the world’s largest self-service ticketing platform, has made sure it’s at the forefront of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

At the end of 2015, Eventbrite announced it had acquired Scintilla Technologies, a Canada-based Entry Management RFID hardware and software company that built the foundational access control technology used at large-scale music festivals internationally.

“As a company we’re always looking at what the next step in technology is,” says Eventbrite Australia & New Zealand general manager Phil Silverstone. “We’re either building that ourselves or we’re looking at who’s doing that in the marketplace. There are a whole bunch of people – including myself in Australia – that are actively building a network to understand who’s doing what and what opportunities there might be.”

In Eventbrite’s case, RFID is being used to transform the ticketing industry and counteract the rising issue of counterfeit tickets. RFID’s most basic uses sees tags implanted into tickets or wristbands and used for identification, payment and security. The tags can hold anywhere from 20KB of data to 1MB, depending on the type of tag.

On top of access control, which makes it make it easier and quicker to get people in and out an event, RFID wristbands can be programmed to give people access to certain zones within an event, can make an event entirely cashless, and keep access reliable, so that if the WiFi network goes down or organisers are working with no power, access points continue to run smoothly.

Eventbrite launched its RFID technology at events in the US throughout 2016, and its powerless application was considered a saviour at SnowGlobe Music Festival, the largest three-day winter music festival in the world.

Taking place amidst 10°F temperatures at Lake Tahoe, California from December 29-31, SnowGlobe played host to more than 18,000 attendees, 99.4% of which successfully used their RFID wristbands to gain entry. Testament to the tech’s efficiency, at the entry’s peak time organisers were scanning over 20 wristbands per minute.

Jeffrey Lesan, CMO at SnowGlobe, says the technology decreased fraud – both internal and external.

“It was clear how many tickets were comped, and we could find people who had tried to cheat the system. It gave us an amazing window into how many tickets were sold and given out, and how many people were inside the festival,” says Lesan.

Lesan was perhaps most thankful for Eventbrite’s technology when the festival experienced a 30-minute power outage. Because Eventbrite’s RFID chips hold their own data, the readers didn’t need to connect to a central source, meaning the tags themselves aren’t transmitting in a traditional sense like your mobile phone or radio would. Because of this, SnowGlobe’s gate security and technology remained streamlined throughout the power outage.

“There was literally no light at the place except for the green light where people were tapping their wristband against the entry point,” says Phil Silverstone.

Incredibly, the technology for RFID dates back to the Second World War when radar was refined and used to determine the position and speed of an object. However, it’s only been on the last decade that we have seen more widespread application of the technology.

Now, 68 years after its invention in 1948, RFID is used for arguably thousands of applications, including preventing theft, managing traffic, automating entry and parking, controlling access, tracking purchases and consumer behaviour, and dispensing goods.

Eventbrite’s solution to alleviate long entry lines, and combat fraud doesn’t stop there.

“We’re just getting started,” says Silverstone. “We’ve been focused on entry management and making sure attendees get in every time without any failures. 2017 and beyond represent the future of RFID and all of the opportunities this technology opens up for us to help organisers create and enhance revenue streams, including sponsorship activations and social integration.”

One of those opportunities lies in data collection. The growing popularity of RFID technology is being used in the management of consumer data. For music events specifically, RFID systems can capture data surrounding which ticketholders have arrived or not, the time of entry, and help define staffing needs in real-time or even analyse which artists/areas drew the biggest crowd.

Throughout its analysis and case studies of the RFID system’s US roll-out, Eventbrite found incredible traction specifically around ‘cashless’, where RFID wristbands can either be pro-loaded with cash or linked to your bank account.

“We pulled some data around cashless usage and one highlight is that on average, cashless users spent close to two times what non-cashless users spent per day at music festivals,” says Silverstone. “the convenience of having a cashless functionality in the wristband make it much easier to spend. From an organisers point of view, the revenue opportunity is huge.”

In fact, 84% of those surveyed said using RFID as opposed to carrying cash was less stressful than using cash, and 64% said it was less stressful than using credit or debit. Roughly 75% said it was easier than cash or credit.

In 2014, TomorrowWorld in Atlanta, US went entirely cashless. The world’s largest dance music festival hosted 340 point of sale sets and 70 top up stations to kick off its use of the technology. Its 160,000 attendees made more than 500,000 cashless transactions that year, using TomorrowWorld ‘tokens’ – where for every US$20 is equal to nine tokens.

TomorrowWorld

Eventbrite is expecting to debut the RFID tech in Australia during next year’s festival season. It’s currently talking to local event organisers but as the world’s technological evolution moves at lightening pace, social evolution is slower to catch up.

“The thing that strikes me about the Australian market is that we are fast adapters for things like ‘Tap and Go’ on your credit card, smartphones, digital music consumption… but we just haven’t seen RFID in the market that prevalent yet, particularly in music. So there’s a real opportunity to improve that experience,” says Silverstone.

RFID technology has been increasingly expanded by major tech players such as Apple, Samsung and Sony to develop NFC (Near-Field Communication) technology. The Apple Watch includes NFC so that wearers can make Apple Pay contactless payments, Samsung’s mobile payments service Samsung Pay will launch in Malaysia and Thailand by the end of the year, and almost all mobile phones are now NFC capable. This means they can be used as a virtual wallet to make contactless payments, share files or contacts by touching together two smartphones and read passive NFC ’tags’ that are built into posters and advertisements.

Our generation is approaching what futurists are calling ’singularity’, where human civilisation has undergone a series of significant changes that man and machine are indelibly linked.

Silverstone says Eventbrite is looking to enhance the event experience both for the organiser and the attendee, through the use of RFID.  

At this year’s BigSound conference in Brisbane, Eventbrite presented a mini-keynote on Australian consumers’ entertainment habits. The Australian Music Consumer Report found that for younger generations, consumption of music is almost exclusively digital. The report notes 75% of Millennials and 86% of Gen Z use new media as the primary channel for consumption of recorded music. Yet, many music fans still turn up to a festival with a printed paper ticket. 

“Maybe the RFID wristband will help that transition [from paper tickets] because it is more physical than something on your phone but it still has much greater application than a piece of paper,” he says.

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