Arts organisations in Northern Ireland are set to benefit from a new funding scheme that will provide financial support for the installation of new computerised box office systems.
The scheme, launched earlier this month by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), is part of a wider project to create an integrated online ticketing system within the context of a new audience development agency. Successful applicants for funding will be required to install box office systems capable of integration with all the other organisations taking part in the scheme across the whole of Northern Ireland. This will enable the public to purchase tickets not only from the venues’ own websites, but also through other sites, such as Tourist Information, which will be linked via a web integration portal. Arts organisations will be permitted to choose the ticketing software for their venues and the ticketing inventory will be combined at web level. The Arts Council will fund 100% of the hardware costs, but applicants will be expected to raise partnership funding towards installation, software and training.
The integrated online ticketing project is a first for the UK, though a similar approach has been taken by theatres in Sweden, and by Major League Baseball in the US. As well as creating wider ticket distribution, it promises to generate benefits both for the arts organisations involved and for ACNI. It will produce data to improve audience identification, and this will mean that statistical reports can be generated to provide an overall picture of arts attendance and audience profile in Northern Ireland.
The online scheme is the first element in a programme of activity in Northern Ireland that includes the establishment of an audience development agency to take overall responsibility for the ticketing project. Those who receive grants for new systems will be required to join and contribute to the costs for the first three years of the new agency, which will be set up later this year and run by an independent consortium.
At Belfast Festival at Queen’s, which intends to be among the first to submit a funding application, Marketing Manager Anthony McGrath said “This will enable the Festival, and other organisations whose developments in this area have been at a standstill for several years, to progress and to capture marketing information more effectively.” Mary Trainor, Head of Marketing and Development at Ulster Orchestra, added “We have seen the benefits of shared systems in our current box office structure; however, the technology is now proving very limiting… A new system, combined with the establishment of an integrated box office network, would create some exciting possibilities in relation to the expansion of our audience.”
However, the new scheme may raise concerns for others, such as Belfast’s Grand Opera House, where a ticketing system is already in place and ticketing services are provided on behalf of other arts organisations, including the Ulster Orchestra and the Lyric Theatre. Colin O’Neill, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Grand Opera House, said “We intend to update our current ticketing system and have been assured that the systems that we are looking at are compatible with the proposed online system… The Grand Opera House is 100% behind the idea of an audience development agency scheme for Northern Ireland, but as for the individual elements, we will just have to wait and see.”