Faster Than Sound: I Subscribed to Austin-Based FestivalPass and Got Confused: Few Discounts and Few Options in Austin on New NFT Concert Ticket Marketplace
Image by Zeke Barbaro/Getty Images
For a few carefree months in 2018, I went to the movies as many times as I could. A subscription service offering unlimited movies for just $9.95 a month sounded too good to be true, and it was. Now a memorable technological fable, Movie Pass bled money in a slow decline to shuttering and bankruptcy. (The company actually relaunched recently with a slightly terrifying new concept that ensures users watch ads using eyeball-tracking AI technology.)
A service of the same name, pass festival, popped into my inbox this month promising a low-cost concert subscription. Offering access to live events and hotel reservations, the new Austin-based company is positioning itself against ticketing fees, which have become widespread enough to inspire recent regulatory legislation in New York State. Founder and CEO Ed Vincent moved to Austin to develop festivalPass, attracting local investors Shelly Taylor of Alamo Drafthouse, Brian Sharples of Far from homeand Jason Dorseywho also sit on the advisory board.
I thought of lessons from yesteryear: get in early and maybe cancel later. I went ahead and paid $19 for a month’s entry-level subscription. After going down the rabbit hole of the festivalPass system to no avail, I found few discounts and few options in Austin overall. Unlike the legendary MoviePass Unlimited Access, which used a prepaid credit card, the festivalPass subscription doesn’t guarantee a free ticket anywhere – just store access.
I would only recommend it to those who have specific plans to attend high value events over the next month, as you can check ticket prices before becoming a member, or to people who really want to buy tickets with cryptocurrency. You cannot purchase more than two tickets for an event.
It’s a bit like planning a trip with credit card travel points – not the most intuitive system, inviting confusing calculations to ensure you get back what you pay monthly. The only way I managed to find a longer list of local shows was to type “Austin” into the search bar and again into the location filter. The area’s current offerings are very limited, listing only about 35 Austin events through the end of July at a dozen local venues, including the Moody Center, Primordial, Emo’sand Empire Control Room.
I was very confused as to how to say what is actually a discount. Ticket prices are largely the same as those offered on traditional ticketing platforms used by venues, such as ticket master, and some are even higher. Since tickets are sourced directly from other resale sites, prices for, say, a sold-out Keshi show this week at Emo’s, can range widely from $39 to $124.
In a phone call on Monday, Vincent explained that I wasn’t supposed to be looking for deals in dollars, but rather the price in festivalPass’ internal currency, which is “credits”. He explained that my $19 per month subscription includes 15 credits, so I pay $1.27 per credit. Members tiering over $99 per month receive 90 credits, so they only pay $1.10 per credit. “So what happens is the more you commit to [paying] on a monthly basis, the less you end up paying for the tickets,” he said.
Surprised that Vincent pointed out those numbers, I then compared the ticket costs listed by festivalPass in credits versus dollars. Indeed, the conversion is fairly consistent around $1.27 per credit. Basically, because I’m paying the same rate as the app, there aren’t many ways to get a discount in the lower subscription of $19 per month. I will probably buy a garden seat for 5 seconds of summer to moody amphitheater with my 15 credits – literally the only local event I could find that my credits would cover in several hours of site clicks – then cancel my subscription.
Vincent said the company is expanding its concert inventory through partnerships with concert venues as well as secondary ticket markets — the industry term for big names like StubHub Where SeatGeek. Rather than competing with these big platforms, festivalPass actually sources most of their tickets from them. Vincent says they are able to pass the ticket on to customers without the usual fees at checkout.
“For us, we’re happy to give most of that fee back to our members to commit to membership,” says Vincent. “I would prefer to have lower margins and predictable monthly recurring revenue, which will generally translate into greater business value for the business as a whole – compared to a transactional business model, which might have higher margins , but does not have an ongoing relationship with the member.”
For example, he works to land a supply of ACL Festival tickets, but has yet to partner with the Austin-based concert promoter. “I hope we will have a direct placement of tickets by [C3 Presents] themselves, but in the worst case, we will have tickets on the secondary market at no additional cost,” he explains. Despite a press release mentioning passes for ACL and bonnaroo (and choosing the name festivalPass), neither are yet available on the platform.
Among various entrepreneurial ventures, Vincent previously ran a data analytics company where MoviePass was a major client. The CEO says he’s spent a lot of time digging into the company’s data as a kind of “de facto chief data officer.” I asked if the festivalPass model would also rely on harvesting consumer habits, as MoviePass sells user data to theaters and studios.
“MoviePass had a lot of issues in the terms of their business model that didn’t allow them to really grow a stable, ongoing business, but the answer is yes,” he said. “As we continue to build more and more primary relationships, we’re happy to share some of this data. It’s something we’re looking at.
“Over time, as we [get] million members, we will have a good idea of how people act in different places. Because, the same festivalPass member can have gone to an independent room ticketed by TicketWebthen a Ticketmaster or a AEG venue.”
Like many current events, festivalPass also seeks to Web3 as a source of income. The company plans to launch NFTs offering lifetime membership to the highest plan, as well as a “University” tab on its website offering crypto education. The copy describing their first NFT character, a stoic man named Legendcontains an impressive number of ambitious rock stereotypes.
“Legend is a talented guitarist and frontman, who has toured in rock bands his entire adult life,” reads the festivalPass website. “He exudes confidence and sex appeal…He’s wild and carefree. Everyone who meets him can’t help but want to be him. He’s the rockstar character that dominates the Festival Family’s Tranche 1.”
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South by Southwest Music 2023 applications open this Tuesday, June 28 and close October 7 for all artists interested in participating in the annual Monolith. An initial registration fee of $35 increases to $55 on August 12. The festival will take place from March 10 to 19 next year. Applications are also open to panel proposals, as well as SXSW’s art and pitch programs.