Feature Story

The best technology for safe, seamless live events

by Kevin Delaney

The best technology for safe, seamless live events

From U.S. stages to Abu Dhabi, Cisco supports live entertainment that’s secure, interactive, and fun.

After months of lockdown, people are ready for some face-to-face fun! 

And they expect their experiences to be engaging, enjoyable and safe.  

Digital technologies make fun possible.  

The city of Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena, and the concert production company Live Nation are all on the cutting edge of innovation. Each has partnered with Cisco to create the most secure, interactive, and seamless experiences possible.  

That’s great news for fans eager to return to the immediacy and excitement that only a live event can deliver.  

When it comes to Covid-19, one size does not fit all, and across the world, people’s experiences vary dramatically. While in some locations lockdowns continue, in others restrictions are beginning to lift and life feels as though it is finally returning to normal. In the UK, for example, Live Nation sold 170,000 tickets for summer music festivals in just three days. In the United States, Las Vegas welcomed nearly three million visitors in June - a 179 percent increase since the previous June, 2020. The Yas Island entertainment complex, which includes Etihad Arena, has received numerous safety certifications and awards as it prepares for a big influx of tourists this year.  

However one thing is certain, No matter where in the world you live, technology will deliver the the foundation for a return to fun. And fans are eager to experience it all.  

Las Vegas: In the epicenter of fun, safety is paramount 

According to the old cliché, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But the new Las Vegas is about much more. Millions of tourists, many of them families with children, are returning to the city this year for a dizzying assortment of activities. Giving them the safest and most friction-free experience is paramount.  

That’s why Las Vegas, a cutting-edge smart city in its own right, has invested in the most modernized cybersecurity, public safety, transportation, and traffic management technologies available.  

“All travel is built on trust,” said Michael Sherwood, director of technology and innovation for Las Vegas. “It’s built on you feeling safe. And there’s no safer place to come to than the city of Las Vegas.” 

The city’s longstanding partnership with Cisco is key to enabling that safe, highly engaged experience. And it has future-proofed Las Vegas for the changes to come.  

Managing traffic — and ensuring pedestrian safety — is one cornerstone of that effort. In a city where a constant flux of cars, trucks, bikes, autonomous shuttles, and, of course, pedestrians interact minute by minute, keeping it smooth and orderly is essential. Digital technologies make it possible.  

“We’ve always had a fascination here of being able to move people safely using technology and innovation,” Sherwood said. “And Cisco’s been a major part of those efforts. We wanted to find new ways of having data available so that we could work with different partners and agencies throughout Las Vegas to make the streets safer. We’re looking for a zero-fatality rate.”  

Supporting law enforcement agencies is another key initiative. For example, Las Vegas has very popular parks, but overseeing them can tax human resources. Keeping parks safe starts with a having a precise picture of how they are being utilized.  

“In our smart parks we’re leveraging technology to gain data insights about how the assets are utilized,” he said. “So, we use Meraki access points to provide free Wi-Fi, but we also use them to see how many people are coming to the park, and when.” 

“From a public safety aspect,” Sherwood added, “we also allow our marshals to use those same video cameras. Not only do we collect the data, but we also use them to keep the park safe, because our marshals can’t be in the parks 24/7.” 

Of course, cybersecurity is just as critical as physical safety. And Sherwood considers it one of the most important aspects of his job. 

“Again, it’s that trust factor with the community,” he explained, “in keeping those digital assets, 

safe and secure — and being able to deliver provide the mission of this city to keep things running for not only the community, but for everyone who visits Vegas, all of you that are our citizens while you’re here. Because we all want you back.” 

Cisco technology underpins security — and all digital transformation — in Las Vegas.  

“Las Vegas rides on a Cisco foundation,” Sherwood said. “We’re pretty good at placing bets here, and who else are you going to trust with your network?”  

Etihad Arena: Leveraging technology for a first-class live experience 

Located at Yas Bay in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the iconic Etihad Arena is a new state-of-the-art multipurpose venue, and one of the most modern and digitally sophisticated in the world. With a capacity of 18,000 guests, the venue offers an exceptionally seamless and engaging experience for fans of sports, music, and entertainment, all of which dependon a robust digital infrastructure.  

After pausing for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Etihad Arena opened officially in January for its first event: the UFC’s Holloway vs. Kattar fight, with limited seating. But as Abu Dhabi steps towards the post-pandemic era, the Etihad Arena is ready for full-scale events, while maintaining safety at all times.  

“The appetite for live events has definitely come back strong,” said Brint Jackson, General Manager of Etihad Arena. “We obviously have a duty to our guests to make them feel safe and comfortable. We have done extensive research and assessments to map out the guest journeyfrom the time the event is announced till after the show, as they return to their cars — to create the safest, most enjoyable experience.” 

Some of the key focus areas include sanitization, guest entry, offering a contactless experience based on facial recognition, managing capacity, and real-time information for guests. From start to finish, the experience is seamless, interactive, and highly connected, whether by individual devices or via the many screens that surround the venue.  

“When you walk up to the venue,” Jackson said, “you see our gigantic 32-meter by nine-meter LED screen out on the plaza, and all the content management is driven through Cisco Vision. That’s in addition to the 270 screens located inside the venue. For us, the benefit lies in how scalable and flexible the system is. All the screens are individually controlled, but they can also be controlled by sector. This allows us to react in real time — whether for an emergency message or for a limited-time promotion or sponsorship.” 

The Middle East’s largest state-of-the-art indoor entertainment venue, Etihad Arena is part of Miral Asset Management’s Yas Island portfolio. Yas Island also features attractions such as Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World, Clymb, and Warner Brothers World. For Miral, digital transformation has long been an essential priority across all these assets. n 2018, it began working with Cisco on a digital modernization initiative across the island.  

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, no one was fully prepared, but we were fortunate to have this big digital transformation in place,” said Ali Nimer, Miral’s Executive Director, Digital and Technology. “We built all the backend systems, from the user experience to the B2B, the B2C, and the e-commerce, and we connected all these platforms. It is a very unified, interconnected system that keeps the customer at the heart of it.” 

With a unique digital identity, each visitor can plan their trip, explore options, purchase tickets, food or merchandise, and journey through the island’s many offerings with great ease. At the same time, the resulting troves of data are leveraged for precise customer insights. 

“Data is a key value proposition for our platform,” Ali Nimer said. “We collect it with the right consent and GDPR measures in place. It enables customers from B2C channels or via the mobile app to customize and personalize their experience. As such, we can help our business partners get the right insights to make fact-based decisions.” 

As a core partner for Etihad Arena and Miral, Cisco continues to guide a never-ending quest for great experiences. 

“With Cisco, we want to draw the future together,” said Ali Nimer. “And we have the right technology platform on which to build it.”  

Live Nation: Big tech for big sounds  

Nothing beats the excitement and immediacy of a live music event. And no matter how good home entertainment options become, fans are still itching to get out and see their favorite stars — especially after many months of pandemic-driven lockdowns.  

The good news is that Live Nation Entertainment is once again supporting a live concert experience that’s second to none. Digital technologies (and Cisco) make it possible.  

“Everything that we do in the venues and festivals ultimately rests on a strong network infrastructure,” said Jon Glickstein, Senior VP, Enterprise Partnerships at Live Nation Entertainment, “and Cisco has been able to not only provide that to us over the years, but also to help us innovate and expand as our business grows and the needs of our fans, our artists, and our company change.” 

After all, the days when even well-known bands would hire a few roadies to set up their amps, drums, and lighting fixtures before launching into their sets are long gone. Today’s shows demand massive arrays of high-tech equipment, along with elaborate digital connections and interactivity between fans, artists, operations, merchandizers, security, and so on.  

Live Nation has proved their mettle in the high-stakes world of live music production for decades, supporting a vast range of artists, from U2 and Justin Timberlake to Billie Eilish and Alicia Keys (to name but a few). And Cisco has played a key role in many of those biggest tours, from start to finish, Glickstein said.  

“Cisco has always been a trusted partner in the early stages of those discussions by helping us to innovate and provide the right solutions,” he said. “They play an important role in all areas of our business from our venues to our offices to our festivals to our tours. That includes some of our largest global tours, like U2’s The Joshua Tree tour, where Cisco developed an innovative back-of-the-house production with a Wi-Fi package that was really beneficial. And on Justin Timberlake’s The Man of the Woods tour, where we used Meraki cameras in new ways.”  

Cisco has also worked with Live Nation to install Wi-Fi and other solutions in a number of amphitheaters around the United States. That connectivity is supporting everything from onstage operations and ticketing to ordering food and merchandise sales. And, of course, for connecting fans, who increasingly expect a more interactive experience, including through the Live Nation app. With that foundation in place, Live Nation is continuing to innovate and explore new ways to enhance the fan experience with technology. 

Looking forward, Glickstein is excited about the promise of new technologies like AI, Internet of things, and Wi-Fi 6, which Live Nation has installed at a revamped Irving Plaza in New York City, and will be deploying in September at the BottleRock Festival in Napa Valley, Calif. The technology is tailor made for dense environments like concerts and is primed to deliver faster speeds for immersive-experience applications, more bandwidth (4x greater capacity than the previous Wi-Fi standard), and higher reliability, all while being less taxing on each device’s battery. 

“We’re always looking to enhance the experience for fans and artists,” Glickstein said. “And that’s why these new technologies that Cisco has been able to present to us are so interesting. Because with them as a trusted partner, we’re able to pilot and evaluate those technologies in real time and really understand how they might be deployed on a broader basis in the future.” 

 

 

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