Ideas from the team


Is Wearable Tech in Theatre a Fact, a Fantasy, or Too Far off to Matter?

The buzz around wearable technology just keeps getting louder. Forecasters estimate we will see adoption at an annual compound rate of 35% over the next five years, with anywhere from 148 million to 200 million smartwatches, smartglasses and other smartwear shipped by 2019.

What does that mean for the arts?

A 2014 study by Carnegie Mellon University looked at how wearables are being used by the creative industries, and considers how they’re likely to be used in the not-too-distant future. Many of the predictions gel pretty neatly with the kinds of queries we’re taking each week from arts organizations about the possibilities of wearable tech.

Take smartglasses for example. Google Glass may be currently on hiatus, but in the arts industries, smartglasses are still generating loads of interest. In field trials, Google Glass was used 54% of the time for media and entertainment purposes, so the arts industry could well be where smart glasses find their most enthusiastic early adopters.

From our perspective, they hold the promise of accelerating the shift towards a truly digital box office. Imagine if you could equip front of house staff with smart glasses at multiple points in the lobby to cut ticket collection lines, or use facial recognition technology, barcodes or QR codes to make checking in really simple? It could be a complete game changer. The first brave theatre team just needs to take the leap.

What are other industries doing?

Look to other industries and it’s already happening. Virgin Atlantic recently experimented with Google Glass as an alternative to airport check-in desks. It allowed staff to access all the information they needed to about a passenger’s booking, freeing them up to provide more attentive service. The response from customers was overwhelmingly positive.

The next step would be to imagine a CRM app for smartglasses that discreetly displays sophisticated customer insights (for example, donor status, genre preferences, frequency of attendance) right in front of your FOH staff’s eyes. It could spur the development of new techniques for improving service and deepen the relationship with customers.

Glasses aren’t the only wearable format, of course. What if you could have real-time ticket sale data, ROI reports and email marketing stats delivered to a screen on your wrist? Salesforce, the cloud-based CRM platform, is already making this possible by making its enterprise software accessible via an app for the Apple Watch. It allows users to access data, request reports by voice and take action on notifications, straight from their wrists.

With more enterprise apps on the horizon for Apple Watch, the idea of using smartwatches to improve the way we work in the arts is intriguing.

We’re already using cloud apps on our devices to stay on top of emails when we’re out and about, so the transition to doing the same thing on a small wearable device doesn’t seem so far fetched. Salesforce says that its app “bridges the last mile between insight and action”. Extend that idea to the box office, and it’s not hard to imagine a CRM app on your watch could help marketing, FOH and fundraising teams react quickly to notifications and demand signals as they happen in real time.


We think so. Notifications would alert you when something important happens, for example when you sell out a show or cross a milestone in your fundraising goals. You’d have key stats enabling you to react faster to data in real time; for example, the number of open opportunities in your fundraising pipeline. Access to stats could be far easier with a single swipe or a voice command.

Of course, we’ve thought about our own software and how it might work on a smartwatch. Perhaps, like a health tracker, it could nudge users towards better behavior through regular updates on marketing campaign metrics, congratulating you when you achieve a higher email open rate than usual, or prompting you to make a correction quickly when something doesn’t go quite as planned.

Used in tandem with iBeacon technology, you could market extra services or products to customers, or ask them for feedback on a specific aspect of the venue or service, based on where they are in or around your building.

Front of house teams could use smartwatches instead of a radio when dealing with customer issues and potentially broadcasting sensitive information, for example VIPs, major donors or people with access needs. It might also be useful for venue management by pushing notifications to your watch to let you know how seats are filling up in the auditorium, for instance.

Your Google Glass-wearing digital box office team could, meanwhile, make check-in even easier by helping customers ‘tap in’ when they arrive at the venue.

Is it practical to use?

When it comes to actually making this a reality, software suppliers who want to adapt their arts CRM and box office software for wearable devices would need a reliable cloud infrastructure first. Making the most of these opportunities will require a massive shift in perception and changes to infrastructure. Bandwidth in general needs to increase and arts organizations need to invest in reliable in-house Wi-Fi – none of which comes cheap.

Even if we can get the infrastructure in the arts industry up to speed, adoption of wearable technology still has a long way to go. But it’s important that arts organizations begin to prepare now for a sudden shift in acceptance. A recent incident on Broadway shows just how much theatregoers’ behavior has been altered by the arrival of the smartphone.

This post was originally posted on The Stage.