Piing has a big idea for the future of live events
100,000 people in one place, playing the same game
I always get a kick when a startup we’ve featured tells me that investors have been in touch as a direct result of their PreSeed Now coverage.
And it’s not just investors. In one case, Piing (who I only wrote three short paragraphs about in late May) told me an introduction that came about thanks to this newsletter led to them bringing on board a former Real Madrid exec to source deals for them to build on their work with football clubs like Everton and Ajax, and events like the Commonwealth Games.
That sounded to me like a good reason to take a deeper dive into what they’re doing, so today Piing gets a full profile. As ever, PreSeed Now members get the full article, complete with the startup’s big vision, investment plans, and more.
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Piing brings 100,000+ people together with the same experience, in the same place
Whether it’s TV shows reading out viewers’ tweets on air, fans (authentic or not) rallying support to persuade a studio to make a movie, or settling down to play a marathon session of Fall Guys with a bunch of strangers online, we expect a lot more interactivity from our experiences these days.
The rise of social platforms has made participation an important factor in many forms to media. Piing’s bet is that this sense of participation is coming to live events in a big way.
“We believe that by 2030, all of the mass audience events on Earth will be participative,” says CEO Gareth Langley. “People will be taking out their mobile phones to join in with mass audience engagement and activities with everybody else in the stadium.”
Piing wants to bring this future to life with its games. Langley paints a picture of sitting in a stadium at half-time during a sports match or waiting for a concert to begin. A QR code or short URL appears on a big screen, or maybe you receive a push notification.
You pull out your phone, load up a web page in your mobile browser or embedded in an app, and suddenly you’re playing a penalty shootout game or interactive gameshow with 100,000 people.
And because it’s on the web, people watching live at home can take part too.
It’s a Piing thing
Manchester-based Piing has its foundations in a digital agency the co-founders previously ran. They wanted to create a mass-participation game, but found clients never had the budget. This led them to conduct their own experiment with a multiplayer version of Pong at a small event.
The demo worked, but what happened next was key, explains co-founder and chief creative officer, Ed Baldry:
“The thing that we weren't expecting was the crowd reaction. The people started getting excited and shouting and cheering. And we were going ‘okay, so maybe there's a bit more to this than just like a nice tech idea’.”
Baldry says this experiment led to Piing becoming a side-project through which they created an interactive experience for Deutsche Bank’s graduate recruitment programme. Later, a Premier League football team requested a 50,000-player game for use in their stadium.
“That was the moment where the penny dropped,” says Langley. “During the meeting, we did these back-of-an-envelope calculations… How much does a partner pay to put TV adverts on the big screen at halftime, or to have some fan trying to score a goal on the field at halftime?
“And whatever they pay, how much would they pay to have 20,000 fans pulling out their phones and directly engaging with that brand and then clicking the call to action at the end?
“Regardless of what that figure is, our assumption was that they will pay more. They might pay five times more or 10 times more to be able to have something that people actually participate in, rather than completely ignoring.”
Realising the opportunity, they turned their back on their agency and Piing became the team’s main focus.
Everything old is new again
Talking to Piing, I was reminded of sitting in Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park stadium 11 years ago with a startup called ScrenReach. They had an ‘interactive screens’ product, and that Saturday they were demonstrating the ability for 52,000 football fans to vote for ‘man of the match’ via their smartphones, with the result displayed on the big screen.
The video that made up the bulk of my report from the event has been marked as private at some point since, so I can’t watch it, but I seem to remember it was a successful demonstration, albeit with connectivity issues [update: thanks to TNW for making the video accessible again - the connectivity is discussed at 3.17 in the video]. A stadium full of people all trying to access the internet simultaneously was a serious hurdle at the time.
So, 11 years on from that, is Piing worried that venue connectivity will be a problem for them? Baldry says WiFi, 4G or 5G connectivity is table stakes for large venues these days, although things are better in the US than the UK.
“It’s accepted as part of the American stadium experience. They see it more as an all-day event. They want the whole family to come, and they think ‘you’ve got to have great WiFi, obviously, why would you not have it?’ That's the gold standard for a fan experience in a stadium.
“I think a lot of European clubs want to get that, because there's a lot more potential for income if you get a family in for a whole day, there's lots of things you can sell them.”
Langley adds that the situation in Europe is improving rapidly, with connectivity in some venues they’ve worked with far better now than it was even just 18 months ago.
So there’s clearly an opportunity here, but one that hasn’t really been seized yet. Companies like The Q have similar–although not quite the same–offerings, but Piing is clearly attracting some big names with its offering.
The startup–which presents its ability to support 150,000 concurrent players split between the venue and remote as a key differentiator–doesn’t want to disclose everyone it’s working with. But Langley mentions Everton FC, AFC Ajax, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Sport Relief, London’s O2 Arena, Euroleague Basketball, ASOS, and Superdry as some of the venues and brands that have used Piing so far.
Piing currently has two products in the market working at mass scale - a quiz, and penalty shootout game. A third, Buggy Race, will make its big-event debut during 61 matches at the Rugby League World Cup, which starts next month.
We’re all in this together
Piing’s investment and business plans:
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