A common discussion amongst attendees, presenters and delegates at the recent STAR AGM (https://www.star.org.uk/star-agm-seminar-2022/) and then the 10th anniversary Ticketing Business Forum (https://www.ticketingbusinessforum.com/) was how the various ticketing industry congloms, service providers and sector support agencies were going to successfully emerge from the pandemic, and implement business strategies in an attempt to get themselves back to pre-coronavirus trading levels, and enterprise valuations.
2019, that ‘golden era’ when the chief concerns for operators within the ticketing sector was the competition for prospective client contracts; the ongoing commodification of ticketing technology (with clients and consumers seemingly always demanding more functionality, features, and services for static-per-unit revenues); creeping sector consolidation; and the economic authority of Rights Owners (whether Artists, Attractions, Theatrical Producers or Sport Franchises etc.) bullying ever-higher commissions, and/or rebates, is viewed by many as their key short-term future business objective i.e., to ‘go back’, or to re-establish a new ‘normal’.
Unfortunately, one clear lesson the pandemic revealed was how little control the ticketing industry has over its own collective well-being.
As ticketing is essentially a supply-side led sector – where ticketing platforms, apps and agencies all attempt to incentivise inventory supply, in order to then earn a margin off the original ticket face value and/or inventory volumes, by delivering event manifest management, experiential attendee insight and/or incremental retail, marketing & distribution – it could not survive without those attractions, events, experiences and spectacle.
Whilst there were few new events during the pandemic, the industry was kept busy implementing PaaS (Postponement-as-a-Strategy) or CTD (Convert-to-Donation) where customers holding tickets for events were not granted a full refund for non-delivery but were instead directed to retain their FOMO-tokens and wait, then wait a little longer, or to consider donating their original purchase to the ‘worthy’ arts organisation rather than collect a refund which arguably they were morally, if not contractually due.
At best consumers who had previously bought tickets for major events, festivals, and tours in 2019 are still expectedly waiting for the once, twice, three-times delayed performances finally occurring in 2022, or even 2023. Meanwhile, some promoters crow about pent-up demand and highest ever seasonal attendances, neatly ignoring the impact of event congestion i.e., three years’ worth of events compacted into twelve months.
And as if COVID-19 and the ongoing festering Omicron variants weren’t bad enough, now live entertainment and the ticketing industry faces a set of new globally deteriorating macro-economic and cultural conditions: British Brexit-fuelled stagflation and international inflation driving up event costs alongside a tightening squeeze on consumer disposable income; the ongoing war in Ukraine; and the long-Covid cultural impact of audiences retrained away from attending live events i.e., those who had spent the last couple of years sitting on their sofas, consuming supermarket-priced alcohol with door-delivery fast food, watching endless streams of the latest long-form televisual series, subtitled movies, in-studio operatic performances with up-close n’personal musician profiles; or, for the more adventurous masked & immersive walk-throughs of brush-stroked name-your-favourite 20th Century artist.
Old Skool Thinking
The live entertainment sector has responded to the Covid-interregnum and the impending recession by attempting to clawback the ‘lost’ years of revenues with the top-loading of premium ticket prices, the widescale implementation of yield-management strategies and the drip-feeding of high-demand, low-supply inventory to maximise prices for VIP & experiential bundles & packages.
Alongside which, rather than back-fill with a full complement of experienced operational staff, companies have opted to prioritise selective client support i.e., ‘more with less’, and the wholesale externalising of formerly in-house functions including event concierge and production staff, or downsizing customer services with the increased utilisation of post-your-query automation (where the AI technology calculatingly frustrates rather resolves, with the resulting breakage dropping to the bottom line), and the growing use of (white-label) agencies, freelancers, and zero-hours contracts – causing one industry commentator to state: ‘Leaner, dumber and more dependent on others’.
Status Quo Bias
So still feeling its way back, the ticketing industry instinctively reaches for what it knows, i.e., tried-and-trusted / more-of-the-same, but that’s arguably not going to be enough.
The world has moved on. The past is a place, but we’re not there anymore.
[*Where Ticketing 1.0 was The Box Office & Seat, Row, Block. Ticketing 2.0 – The Internet, the PC, & the Smartphone. And, Ticketing 3.0 – Digital Experiential Connected-Commerce]
The distressed nature of the traditional ticketing industry following almost two years of zero, or at best low revenues, leaves many commodified service providers unable to easily bounce-back, having exhausted their cash reserves, typically unsuccessful in various government grant applications and forced to utilise furloughs and then redundancies to survive.
So, we shouldn’t expect many sector incumbents to be able to move forward with confidence, or with easy access to capital, or still retaining a skilled & experienced workforce, and/or the historical levels of commercial creativity.
Rather, it is more likely that there will be a number of new entrants, plausibly from the vibrant and highly capitalised e-tailing and connect-to-consumer technology service providers, who typically all experienced a good-pandemic, and whom operate in areas adjacent to event ticketing and may seek to disrupt future market opportunities.
Its Digital Baby!
In the near-future i.e., now, Ticketing 3.0 is simply part of the digital Spectacle – Commerce – Technology interface.
Live entertainment i.e. Spectacle (with apologies to Guy Debord) is increasingly digital by nature (AR & immersive experiences, or Jumbotron & LED screens relaying the (distant) stage performance, Livestreaming & VOD, Metaverse, or Swedish popstars digitally re-imaging 1977 in a ‘virtual concert residency’); Commerce & Technology solutions are also enabling the growing ‘creator economy’ ($104.2Bn annually and counting!) to utilise new digital media formats with celebrity influencers, brand partners & creators disrupting the traditional entertainment structure ‘Artist > Management > Promoter > Venue > Audience’ to become ‘Creator/Influencer > Platform > Consumers’ with the overwhelming majority of content creators deriving little monetary gain for their creations, and with most of the benefits retained by the platforms – so what’s not to like?
Further tickets themselves are now almost entirely digital, with Blockchain, NFT & Web3 evangelists for decentralised databases, rules-based sales protocols, unique digital assets & artworks, or advocates for cryptocurrencies all gleefully claiming ownership of digital ticketing, whilst also aiming to subvert the traditional live entertainment business relationships by empowering the apparently disenfranchised Artists & Audience. But these solutions are not necessarily the only way to secure tickets.
Rather Ticketing 3.0 will be increasingly reliant on digital commerce platforms and technologies i.e., mobile-based ticketing and accreditation secured by identity verification including health status (e.g., COVID-19 test results, proof-of-vaccination); contactless payments & wallets; API’s enabling the bunding of tickets with 3rd Party products e.g., Insurance, F&B, Merchandise, Travel & Accommodation etc. and ‘tickets’ that enable real-time messaging from event organisers & Rights Owners to end-consumers regarding venue access, traffic flows & queue-avoidance, changes in event line-ups, F&B flash sales or loyalty-based merchandising offers.
Further, the new Commerce & Technology solutions that will be adopted are already typically consumer-orientated platforms that encompass activities, events, games, messaging & merchandise within a slick UI that ‘intuitively’ identifies the user, incorporates personalised search & recommendations, with seamless integration of in-house content & 3rd Party inventory. They are typically already global mass market players with a minimum of 300M+ monthly active users**, with deep access to capital and are oft-valued as a multiple of future earnings, and who will fundamentally impact the event ticketing experience even if they never take any direct ownership stake.
So, welcome to summer ’22 and the future of ticketing.
(**Name the usual tech suspects: Apple, Meta (Inc. Instagram & WhatsApp), Microsoft (Inc. LinkedIn & Skype), Only Fans, Patreon, Spotify, Substack, Tencent (Inc. WeChat), TikTok, Twitter, YouTube etc.)