At Ticketmaster’s first fully digital-ticketed show in Dublin, we spoke to MD Keith English about its new ticket resale platform, and concerns about digital tickets and data collection.
On Wednesday (20 November), Rex Orange County played the second of two sold-out shows in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre. This event was Ticketmaster’s first ever fully digitally ticketed show in Ireland.
Rather than printing tickets at home, receiving them in the post, collecting them at the box office, or using the most traditional route of buying the tickets from a Ticketmaster outlet, all of Rex Orange County’s fans accessed last night’s show with e-tickets.
If you’re somebody who regularly attends concerts, plays, football matches or other ticketed events, you’re probably already familiar with e-tickets, or at least fumbling to turn up the brightness on your phone when you get to the top of the queue so that a PDF can be scanned.
But Ticketmaster’s new system would mean dealing with an even more digital departure.
— Ticketmaster Ireland (@TicketmasterIre) November 19, 2019
As Ticketmaster walked us through its new digital ticketing system last night, it became clear that the company’s digital tickets are slightly different to the ones you may be used to, which each have a unique QR code.
Going forward, that’s set to change for Ticketmaster users. The QR code will remain, but the company has introduced new ‘moving parts’ to the ticket, which prevents the use of tickets that have been photocopied or screen-grabbed by purchasers. This may offer some reassurance or security for people who have bought a ticket second-hand from a stranger.
At the moment, this feature hasn’t been introduced to the Ticketmaster app, so QR code screenshots will still work. Ticketmaster’s managing director, Keith English, said that the app will be updated to include these moving parts in early 2020.
Transferring and reselling tickets
Naturally, with these moving parts, the way that we exchange tickets is going to change. With Ticketmaster’s digital tickets, you’ll no longer be able to print off one of these tickets and give it to a family member or friend as a gift. Any exchange of tickets will have to take place between two Ticketmaster account holders.
Tickets can be transferred from one account to another for free when these tickets are gifts or if you have decided at the last minute to send the ticket to a pal because you can’t make it to the concert any more.
‘What we want to be able to give to event organisers is the ability to have a one-to-one conversation with the patrons that are actually in that building, and that’s where this is ultimately leading’
– KEITH ENGLISH
When it comes to reselling these tickets, things are also going to change. Tickets will be able to be resold on a new marketplace – for face value only – through Ticketmaster, from one fan to another. This is a step Ticketmaster is taking to tackle touting. However, customers who buy tickets through the resale marketplace will be charged a 15pc service charge.
Last night, we asked Ticketmaster what would happen if you sold a ticket for above the original price on a third-party selling platform, such as Adverts or Gumtree, and then transferred the ticket to the buyer as if they were a friend or family member, using the system mentioned above to avoid paying this 15pc charge. The company does not yet have any measures in place to prevent this happening.
While this system may prevent the fraudulent resale of copied tickets, it’s not necessarily going to be the death knell of touting.
Concerns about access
At the beginning of the week, the Irish Government signed a contract to get the ball rolling on the National Broadband Plan, once and for all.
While this may represent a step forward, it also highlights the huge disparity in technology access across the country. The National Broadband Plan is set to connect 1.1m people in 540,000 homes, businesses and schools in rural Ireland to high-speed broadband.
What has this got to do with Ticketmaster? Well, in the case of last night’s gig, all ticket purchases were made digitally and none were bought in Ticketmaster outlets.
If the company is going in the direction of holding more events that rely entirely on digital tickets, a significant portion of the country may be at a disadvantage when it comes to purchasing tickets, due to poor broadband speeds or a lack of suitable internet access.
When asked if customers would be able to get digital tickets from traditional outlets, English said that the company is “not closing our outlets – they’re still there”, but that digital tickets will not be able to be bought at these locations “at the moment”.
While technology can often help things run very smoothly, there’s always going to be days when something goes wrong. What happens if your battery dies while you’re queuing? What happens if there’s a problem with your phone when you get to the top of the line? What if you don’t even have a smartphone?
We asked what the back-up plan for customers would be in those instances. “Yes, there are some lovely people in the box office who can access the database and if you can identify yourself, they’ll be able to give you a printed piece of paper that will get you into the building,” English said.
“Box offices are not so much sales portals anymore, they’re customer service points. Even tonight, we had a few people who instead of accepting a transfer of the ticket, they had taken a screenshot from their parents’ phones and they were coming in and realised the screenshots didn’t work. We just printed them a physical ticket and in they went.”
In a prepared statement ahead of the event, the managing director said: “Our aim at Ticketmaster is to make the ticket journey for fans as easy and frictionless as possible and digital ticketing is a major milestone on that path. Digital ticketing takes convenience to a new level for our fans, allowing them the smoothest entry into a show.”
John Johnson, general manager of the Olympia Theatre, added: “We have already seen our audiences embrace it in huge numbers for quick and seamless entry.”
The company is using a digital platform that’s widely used in the US at NFL games.
English said: “Where this is ultimately going to be leading us to is [knowing] the identity of the individual patron that is actually coming into the venue. A ticket is getting associated with an individual. That transferring around is done by giving over a name and contact details.
“What we want to be able to give to event organisers is the ability to have a one-to-one conversation with the patrons that are actually in that building, and that’s where this is ultimately leading. If you go to the US, 97pc of tickets going into all NFL games are on this exact platform. They’re now working out what their communications strategies to the patrons will be.”
The company will be collecting data, for advertising purposes, from users who buy or transfer tickets on this system. The platform that manages this data will be run out of a European data centre, according to English.
Ticketmaster will be using the data it collects to see real-time information on how many people have shown up to an event, where they’re sitting etc. This is of interest to a venue from a health and safety point of view, as well as offering the venue the opportunity to send customers targeted messages.
“They like to be able to give targeted messages or conversations that are relevant, as opposed to big mass messages. In a lot of ways, it’ll be up to them to decide what they want to do with it, or what’s relevant,” English added.
“I think what we see in the short term is messaging along the lines of, ‘The lines are shorter at this bar’, or ‘We advise you to use this bathroom, rather than that bathroom’. We’re not really thinking about embedding advertising in the middle of it.”
Updated, 3.34pm, 21 November 2019: A previous version of this article said that Ticketmaster would take a 15pc cut from resale tickets. This article has been updated to clarify that users buying from the resale marketplace will need to pay a 15pc service charge.