Bonnaroo, iBeacons, and a better concert experience

Bonnaroo music festival uses iBeacons to enhance the concert going experience and capture big data

Bonnaroo, the annual music festival in Tennessee, used a new technology called iBeacons for the first time last year not only to push concertgoers relevant information throughout the four day festival but also to capture huge amounts of data on attendees so as to improve future festivals. One can even imagine using such data to provide an optimized experience in real team.


iBeacon is the colloquial term (derived from Apple’s specific brand of device) for a low energy, wireless Bluetooth device. iBeacons can detect wireless phones and other wireless devices in close proximity to the beacon and can communicate with the devices. Beacons are very cheap – usually $10 or less – and so can be placed in great number through public spaces. The initial and primary use cases for iBeacons have largely been to “enhance”the retail experience – for example, placing iBeacons throughout a department store and pushing shoppers notifications relevant to the department in which they are standing.


Since 2002, Bonnaroo has hosted music fans on a farm outside of Manchester, Tennessee. The festival was originally known for folk and americana music, though it has branched out into most genres at this point, with performances by icons such as Elton John, Paul McCarney, Kanye West, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. In 2015, Bonnaroo attracted 90,000 fans. Many fans camp on the farm during the 4-day festival.

iBeacons and the concertgoer

In 2014, Bonnaroo (with the help of partner Aloompa) placed 100 iBeacons throughout the grounds of the festival at major traffic points. Using these iBeacons, festival organizers could push relevant messages to the the right user at the right time. For example, if an act on one particular stage was delayed only those users standing in that part of the festival would receive a push notification. The company also floated the idea of providing festival goers with a “retrospective itinerary” – a list of everywhere you went – after the event as a sort of memento.

iBeacons behind the scenes

Beyond providing more content to the end user, the iBeacons deployed at Bonnaroo offer a unique data capture and analysis opportunity.

  • Crowd Control: By placing 100 beacons throughout the festival, the organizers were able to create a real time “heat map” of the event which showed them were attendance was light and where things were backing up. The festival therefore could intelligently redeploy ticket takers, security personal and grounds staff to where they were most needed at that moment.
Bonnaroo Festival Heat Map
  • Future Festival Optimization: Bonnaroo officials spoke about capturing this big data and harnessing it to improve the festival year-over-year. This might include placing more or fewer bathrooms in certain places, revising attendance estimates for different types of acts, adjusting concert hours, altering the mix and locations of vendors and so forth.
  • Real Time Optimization: While this wasn’t discussed in the press, presumably the festival could make real time optimizations to the concert experienced based on data as well.  If a concert looks like it is going to be overcrowded as people filter in beforehand, notifications could be sent highlighting alternative acts or maybe barriers could eventually be adjusted on the spot to make more room. Additional inventory could be dispatched to restaurants and shops based on the people lingering inside. They could implement a surge pricing model based on the popularity of a certain concert, and offer special VIP experiences to the fans who came earliest to see a certain act.

Value Creation

Value here is created in two ways. On the consumer side, value is created by delivering the most personally useful information to a given user at the right time. On the enterprise side, value is created by generating far more data and therefore potential intelligence than would be possible without this technology.

Value Capture

The concert organizers are not on record indicating that they are capturing any value directly. Nonetheless, you can presume that targeting the right users at the right time allows the company to drive incremental revenue (e.g. “You’re right next to the merchandise tent and the lines are short!”). The data being generated also allows better value capture in the future through an improved experience, for example knowing the most popular types of acts one year lets you craft a better festival next year (all else being equal). Finally, using this data in real time could allow value capture through a surge pricing model as mentioned above.




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Student comments on Bonnaroo, iBeacons, and a better concert experience

  1. Great post! Love the application but agree value capture is difficult. Beacons could be highly effective at context specific advertising (coupon for Crest when in toothpaste section of grocery store).

    1. Agree completely, locational advertising is a great use case for iBeacons. With the introduction of 5G and universal connectivity for all sensors, their applications could explode.

  2. Great post! Another cool way this technology could be useful and create value is with regards to the artists. These beacons could be placed at specific stages and could give great data on how many people came to see a particular artist at a particular stage. If these iBeacons also knew some data about you as a user, maybe through a complementary app, then they too can know what type of demographic the particular artist is popular with. This data can help Bonnaroo not only create optimized lineups in the future (thus attracting larger crowds), but can also be sold to the artists in some capacity so that they have a better sense of their own demographic.

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