What’s new in online ticketing (Cybercultural Daily Update 5-22-2019)

Cultural sectors discussed in today’s newsletter: performing arts; GLAM; music; movies

For those cultural sectors that rely on events for a big part of their revenue – the performing arts, museums and galleries, movies, music – ticketing is a key part of doing business. Ticketing is also an area where digital technologies are playing an increasingly vital role.

In today’s newsletter, I’ll look at two news announcements this month that I think are significant developments for online ticketing. One involves a large, global, market-leading (a.k.a. dominant) ticketing company: Ticketmaster. The other is about a lesser known ticketing app for theatergoers, which launched in 2013 and recently announced a hefty US$73 million investment round: TodayTix.

TodayTix Banks $73 Million to Boost Theater and Arts Ticketing App

That was the headline last week in Variety, which went on to explain that most of the funding will “go toward expanding TodayTix’s proprietary data-driven audience feedback technology platform to enhance its personalization and discovery features, as well as to expand the lineup of shows, arts and cultural experiences available in the app.”

What is TodayTix? As the name implies, it’s a mobile app for purchasing last-minute tickets to shows. It was founded in December 2013 by two Broadway producers, Brian Fenty and Merritt Baer. Initially, TodayTix was focused on just buying Broadway tickets. A snapshot of its homepage in January 2014 recalls the tagline on launching: “Broadway, meet iPhone.”

Today, the company works with 1,300 venue and producer partners in 15 cities around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Seattle, Sydney, Melbourne, and Toronto. TodayTix says it has sold more than 4 million tickets in total, representing 8% of annual Broadway ticket sales and 4% for London’s West End.

TodayTix has also expanded the type of tickets it sells. Co-founder and CEO Brian Fenty told Techcrunch that a little over 10% of the tickets sold now fall outside “theater and performing arts, narrowly defined,” by which he means things like comedy shows and experiential theater.

TodayTix claims its a media company

What struck me most about the news coverage TodayTix got for its investment round, was CEO Brian Fenty’s insistence that TodayTix is now a media company. I’d thought the ‘tech company says it’s a media company’ refrain had gone out of fashion after Web 2.0, after it backfired for the likes of Facebook and Twitter (“Wait, so being a media company means you have to take responsibility for the content your users post? No, no – we’re a tech company again!”).

But apparently TodayTix is willing to accept that sacred responsibility. That is, if you can decipher its press release. 

The following quote in Variety was rather vague:

The next great generation of media companies will be built around data and transactions.

That could be applied to just about any internet company. Thankfully, Fenty elaborated for Techcrunch:

We’re actually a media company, with our own content and perspective — not on the quality of the shows, but to have a point of view on how users should and could engage with this content.

So what TodayTix means by calling itself a media company is that it wants to give its users subjective recommendations. It wants to have a “point of view” about which events its users should go to – presumably depending on what TodayTix’s recommendation algorithms surface for each user.

This is almost certainly modelled after Netflix, which also adopts a “point of view” on what you should watch next – based on your previous selections and what statistically similar consumers choose to watch or have rated highly. Right now, for example, Netflix wants me to watch ‘The Circle’, the Tom Hanks drama about a “powerful internet company” that has a “troubling agenda”…hmmm, has Netflix been reading my tweets too?

In any case, it’s a good move by TodayTix to want to offer its users more choices. I’m not convinced that makes it a media company, because ultimately its content recommendations will be influenced by what is most likely to sell to any given consumer.

Speaking of sales, TodayTix also wants to use its store of consumer data to help show producers sell more tickets. According to Techcrunch:

Fenty is also hoping to work more closely with show producers, providing them with data about which shows are selling, as well as helping them use data to find the most effective ways to promote themselves.

Ticketmaster launches new digital tickets

The other piece of ticketing news that caught my eye was global behemoth Ticketmaster unveiling its next-generation digital tickets, which it calls “SafeTix.”

According to a Techcrunch writeup:

[SafeTix] are tied to the ticket holder’s mobile device through an encrypted barcode that automatically refreshes every few seconds. The tickets will also support NFC technology, allowing fans to enter venues through a “tap and go” experience.

Later this year the technology will be supported by Apple Wallet, including “the use of proximity-based technology which automatically selects the tickets when the phone is held near the ticket reader.”

It looks like SafeTix will only be available in the US for now, “across NFL stadiums for the 2019 season and for a variety of touring artists.”

Ticketmaster is positioning SafeTix primarily as an anti-fraud innovation, which is smart considering how much ticket reselling fraud is going on these days. 

In my own home country, global ticket reseller Viagogo has been a regular source of consumer horror stories in local media. It also lost a court case in Australia last month. According to Stuff.co.nz:

Live event ticket reseller Viagogo has breached Australian consumer law by misleading the public on ticket prices, availability and the nature of its services.

Regardless of what happens to Viagogo going forward, it’s been clear for a while that if digital tickets are to succeed then a solid identity-based system is needed. This is what Ticketmaster is trying to do with SafeTix.

It does however raise another, perhaps just as sinister, concern about digital tickets: how much information should a powerful corporation like Ticketmaster have on you? SafeTix will give not only Ticketmaster, but event producers too, a lot more data about ticket buyers. 

Here’s the process for how to transfer a SafeTix to someone else, as explained by Techcrunch:

For fans, the change means they’ll have to transfer tickets to friends, or anyone else they’re selling a ticket to, using the recipient’s phone number or email address. As a result, Ticketmaster gains visibility into the custody chain of each ticket, it notes. And that data can then be turned over to event owners, who will now have information about both the original ticket owner and the actual attendee, as well as anyone else who had access to the ticket.

This will result in ticket-buyers being bombarded with advertising, special offers, and the like. Or as Justin Burleigh, Chief Product Officer of Ticketmaster in North America, spun it:

Because a new ticket is issued every time there’s a transfer or sale, event owners have the ability to develop a unique relationship with each fan, leading to in-venue personalization and future communication while increasing their known fanbase.

Of course, what event owners call a “unique relationship” might be viewed as a damn nuisance to theatre patrons, who already have too much noise and distraction coming at them every day via their mobile phones.

The risks to our privacy aside, SafeTix is a much needed development in the performing arts industry – especially to help stamp out unscrupulous ticket scalpers. I just hope event producers are mindful of not abusing the new direct line of communication to consumers that digital tickets open up.

Melbourne’s Forum goes all-digital ticketing

To round out this discussion on the state of the art in digital tickets, The Music Network had a story this week about Melbourne’s Forum going all-in on digital ticketing:

The 2,000-seat music and theatre venue, operated by Marriner Group, will become the first in Australia to switch towards a fully mobile ticketing service.

Tickets will be delivered to the fan’s mobile phone and easily transferred to a friend using their Ticketmaster account.

It was a run-of-the-mill PR story, but expect to see more of these ‘going all in on digital’ stories about ticketing during the rest of 2019. I doubt we’ll see anywhere near as many stories about the privacy risks to consumers and what the performing arts sector should do to avoid those downsides, but I will certainly stay on top of that issue here at Cybercultural. 

That’s it for the main part of this daily update, but do check out a new feature below…

Cybercultural Bits

This is a new, experimental section for the daily update newsletter. Each day I’ll pick out a few links from Twitter, that I hope are fun and useful for people who work in the cultural industries and/or digital mavens with an interest in culture. Let me know what you think of this feature.

New report on how museums should steward their digital cultural artifacts. 👀

MIT held its Media in Transition event this week. I’m looking forward to the audio highlights. 👂

Sesame Street in podcasting form. 🎧

Cybercultural is a new email newsletter that covers the intersection of technology and the cultural industries. It was started by yours truly, Richard MacManus, in May 2019. Think of this as the beta period, since I’m currently working out the best formula for paying subscribers (starting 1 July 2019). All content is free until then.

Your ‘likes’ and shares help get the word out about Cybercultural. Please hit the heart button whenever you see it (including on Substack), and share by email and/or social media if you enjoyed this article.