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Partnership and understanding are the key for digital ticketing suppliers. Roger Tomlinson assesses the options.

If we had believed past predictions, ticketing would be dead by now, replaced by virtual ways of gaining admission. Instead, as one theatre manager summarised recently, “The ticketing systems don’t really do what we want, the way we want to do it; our customers complain we don’t offer up-to-date online sales; most of the suppliers don’t appear to understand our real needs, or be able to provide effective help; and we cannot afford what they think are solutions. I understand where she is coming from, and the kind of partnership she expects with a supplier of mission-critical tools.
For many ticket purchasers, finding out about events, booking tickets, managing their visit, would be achieved online as their preferred method, if they were offered the right solutions. Indeed, in these cash-strapped times, some customers see the switch from print and the box office to the web and online sales as being cost effective. They want more joined up solutions, so they can sign up for personalised e-Newsletters, take out and renew memberships on-line, book seats live off the seating plan, purchase interval drinks and merchandise, print tickets, book car parking vouchers, check their ticketing history. This has reversed the situation: instead of terrestrial systems trying to reach out, managers want systems on the net connecting
back to in-venue systems. E-marketing makes
the database of customers from the web the primary resource; if ticketing systems cannot integrate then they become secondary. Web software developers are increasingly proposing solutions to usurp the role of the traditional ticketing system.

I find this dangerous, because of the sophisticated functionality a ticketing system needs to provide. Venues need affordable solutions today. There are only a handful of suppliers who in my view seem to be able to work with venues to achieve solutions and that offer affordable partnership. Two of them have a not-for-profit ethos, and while one is a huge co-operative network, with many advantages from that, the other is a small private operation offering a personal and individual service, both satisfying users on cost.
Tessitura broke the traditional supplier model, and sustains sophisticated users across the globe, ensuring joined-up tools at all sizes and scales, perpetually licensed. Similarly, PatronBase confounds the usual supplier financial equation, with a small dedicated team delivering optimised solutions, matching, sometimes exceeding, the functionality needs, and at truly affordable costs. But it is an intriguing irony that Pitlochry Festival Theatre chooses Tessitura and its near neighbour Horsecross (Perth Theatre and Concert Hall), with which it used to share a system, chooses PatronBase. Ben Jeffries, Director of Marketing and Communications, says, “It has been great to work with PatronBase: a supplier who is keen to develop their product around our needs, and we have really seen the benefits in having an off-the-peg system tailored to fit. I look forward to developing the partnership further. All in all, PatronBase is shaping up to be just what we wanted – truly a next generation system without a next generation price tag.” You don’t hear that very often. Horsecross joins the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, Derby Quad, the Bluecoat in Liverpool, RichMix in London and Llangollen International Eisteddfod in choosing this solution, which originated in New Zealand. PatronBase pays personal attention to tackling the interfacing and ensuring that the whole solution works.

Of course, some of the other suppliers are satisfying users too. The ENTA system from Seatem continues to meet high end users’ needs. World class marketing and sales teams such as Glasgow Concert Halls demonstrate just what it can deliver through ENTA Connect and the back end marketing tools. Seatem is also offering its ‘managed service’, which brings a top end system at low cost pay-as-you-go charges. Equally, AudienceView from Canada brings a very ‘digital’ browser-based solution, which has some great web tools. It can be obtained with an Enterprise Licence, bringing costs down and competing on those pay-as-you-go charges. Forget previously high per-ticket fees: we are talking pence here. Contrasting operations such as the Dublin Theatre Festival and the Victoria Palace Theatre in London join Norwich Theatre Royal and Symphony Hall in Birmingham using AudienceView.
There are other systems, but too often I hear: “I liked such-and-such but I could not believe the total cost over a few years.” Even big established suppliers don’t yet seem to understand the economics of the not-for-profit sector. HQ Theatres recently looked at 16 different options. There are always new suppliers with new ideas, but rarely really new solutions. In terms of what the software does and how it does it, Spektrix is one to look out for in 2010. And in the US there is a project to develop an open-source low cost ticketing and Customer Relationship Management solution jokingly dubbed ‘Restitura’ – Tessitura for the rest.

Roger Tomlinson is is an independent consultant who specialises in marketing and ticketing technologies for the not-for-profit sector. He is a partner in ACT Consultant Services and a Senior Consultant with Baker-Richards.
e rtomlinson@actconsultantservices.co.uk
T 07973 397136

For more information:
http://www.patronbase.com - Andrew Thomas: andrew@patronbase.co.uk
http://www.tessituranetwork.com/products.aspx - Jack Rubin: jrubin@tessituranetwork.com
http://www.audienceview.com/default.asp - Jeff Koets: jeff.koets@audienceview.com
http://www.seatem.net/companies/enta.html - Steve Riley: steveriley@seatem.com
http://www.spektrix.com/ - Michael Nabarro: michael.nabarro@spektrix.com

Other suppliers:
Blackbaud Patron Edge: http://www.blackbaud.co.uk/products/ticketing/bbe_ticketing.aspx
CTS Eventim: to come
IRIS: http://www.ticketingsolutions.com/
Nouveau Solutions NEAT: http://www.neat-ticketing.com/
SEE Tickets Three Sixty: http://www.seethreesixty.com
Tickets.com: http://provenue.tickets.com/uk/
TicketSolve: http://www.ticketsolve.com/


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Photo of Roger Tomlinson