A recent meeting I had with the theatre ticketing company London Theatre Direct (LTD) was a timely reminder that not all organisations are operating at the bleeding, or even the leading edge of technology. That’s not LTD itself, a customer of TIBCO Software’s Mashery API management solution and therefore one already walking the walk. The theatres are a different story, however. Most still operate turnkey ticketing solutions of various flavours, making LTD’s main challenge one of creating customised connectors for each.
That work is now done, at least for London theatres, with the most obvious beneficiary being the theatre-going punter. “Customers could never find the tickets they wanted — they didn’t have much choice and there was limited flexibility on price” explains LTD’s eCommerce head, Mark Bower. “With APIs in place, we can access millions of tickets. Every ticket is available, right up until show time.” As a result, more tickets are being sold, to the equal delight of producers and venues. Jersey Boys saw a 600% uplift in sales when LTD was plugged in, for example.
LTD haven’t just created a more straight forward booking facility however. This is the API economy, in which everything is a platform — so third parties, such as hotels and transport companies, can also plug into LTD’s service. These are early days but such tie-ups are inevitable. “30% of people coming to London will want to go to the theatre,” says Mark. “We can plug our service directly into in-room systems, avoiding the dark art of the concierge booking on a customer’s behalf.” And indeed, charging a premium to do so.
So far so good, but LTD believe that something that could be seen as simply online ticketing is actually far more profound. A theatre production is at its core a creative act, with no guarantees of success at the outset. “Theatre is not a one size fits all,” says Anne Ewart, marketing director at LTD. “You can’t walk into the ticketing industry and say, ‘I want a show to do this,’ that’s not how it works.” Rather, there needs to be a balance between the aspirations of the producer and the hard-nosed realities of getting punters in through the door and taking their money in return for their entertainment.
The world of theatre is not very forgiving. “Venue owners want bar sales and rent, and the minute the rent and incremental sales fall below a certain level, they are able to give a few weeks’ notice to a show and they are out,” says Mark. Such is the case for many celebrated and critically acclaimed productions. The ability, therefore to generate higher demand for tickets is of huge importance, as is reaching out to previously untapped demographics such as younger audiences who would tend to purchase the less accessible, cheaper tickets.
Better ticketing doesn’t just mean an uplift in sales therefore, it also means that producers and venues are able to put on shows that might previously be seen as higher-risk. This is all before even thinking about the nuggets of insight that will lie inside the ticketing data itself — who is going to what kind of show, when, using what form of transport and so on. As we discussed this, I was reminded of how farmers are taking soil samples so they know how to target fertilisers more accurately — I couldn’t help wondering if the same principle applied to incentivisation of theatre goes to ensure all seats could be filled.
Perhaps the takeaway is that the ticket itself is a consequence of past models, which worked as well as they could in the analogue world. Even as our interactions become more digital, we have an opportunity to make them more about the very human relationship between producer, customer and venue, all of whom are looking to gain from the deal. The opportunity exists to move beyond the blunt instrument of the paper ticket and towards deepened relationship, manifested for example as event-led packages, loyalty programmes or even patronage models.
In the world of theatre and in many other sectors, technology enables us to move above and beyond the dark arts. Of course, the opportunity for abusing such tools also exists — there we face an ancient choice. But the stage is set (oh, yes) for a more direct, transparent relationships between participants. Cue applause.