The iBeacon: What It Is and What to Do About It

Let’s take a few minutes and talk about a technology that will be part of the live event experience very, very soon.

It’s called iBeacon. Developed by Apple, this technology makes it possible to set up very small, very low-power transmitters in a venue (or anywhere) that can find and transmit information to iOS (Apple) phones.

Los Angeles Dodgers. Photo Courtesy of: Re/code

Los Angeles Dodgers. Photo Courtesy of: Re/code

How might something like this work? I walk into Dodger Stadium with my iPhone 5s, and I have already downloaded a certain app (in this case the MLB.com At the Ballpark). The iBeacon more or less continuously sends out signals searching for compatible phones with the app installed. When it finds one, it can identify me individually — that’s right, individually — and send me a message.

This message could be something like: “Get $5 off at the souvenir shop in the next five minutes,” or “Would you like to check in on Foursquare automatically?” or “Click ‘buy’ to upgrade from the loge section to the field level for $40.” Or even just, “Thanks for supporting your Los Angeles Dodgers. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to make your game day experience more enjoyable.” Less optimistically, it could also blast out irrelevant messages pushing the fact that Coors Light is the official sponsor of whatever.

For now, 65 iBeacons have been installed in Dodger Stadium and at Petco Park in San Diego, but another 18 or so teams are lined up to install these as well.

At this point, all of this would be totally permission driven by me. In fact, I’d have to work pretty hard just to make all this happen, but as time goes on, given the natural course of this kind of thing, more and more permission will be given as a matter of course by consumers. I’m not saying that’s good, but that’s the way these things tend to go.

Is this a good thing? Possibly, but for me, it’s right on the knife’s edge. Will it be used in an audience-oriented way? Will it fundamentally be there to improve the in-stadium/in-venue experience, or will it serve the purpose of simply creating more unwanted advertising impressions that consumers have grown increasingly willing to tolerate by getting better and better at ignoring them?

No question, both will happen. Not only that, but some real opportunities for healthy revenue generation are there too, as well as the chance to generate real loyalty and love from your patrons and fans.

So when the day comes when your venue starts to think about this technology, whether that’s this week or in a few years, please do me one favor: Think first of how to improve the audience’s experience with this technology, and let the revenue opportunities reveal themselves later.

If live entertainment marketers don’t do it that way, they will collectively ruin another potentially valuable medium and give people another reason to stay home.

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