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That's the Ticket

That's the Ticket

Ticketmaster brings the concert hall to your desktop.

Everybody knows Bruce Springsteen is coming to town this summer, but nobody knows when. If you happen to be a big enough fan to own an entertainment centre stuffed with the Boss's bootleg concert tapes, you can appreciate the value of knowing precisely when those sacred cardboard ducats will go on sale. And you'll probably feel less guilty forking over US$ 150 for a ticket if you can be assured that the seat you get won't induce nosebleeds. Assuming all this, fans might just be interested in news that Ticketmaster Corp. now provides both these services to ticket buyers who log on to my.ticketmaster.com.

The service, called My Ticketmaster, lets customers find out about upcoming attractions and purchase tickets through their own personalised Web sites. Site users list their names and addresses, local entertainment venues and what types of events they'd like to track: sports, music, family shows, dance. (Within categories, page owners can further specify areas of interest, such as baseball versus basketball or The Beach Boys versus The Beastie Boys.) Whenever they log on to their site, the page will then showcase attractions tailored to their stated interests. The newest attractions get pride of place at the top of the page, followed by complete listings for shows that match the specified areas of interest and geographic location.

An optional push feature called Event Ticket allows users to download an applet that runs on the desktop and notifies them by e-mail as soon as tickets to events high on the user's interest profile become available.

For those lucky enough to live in cities that are popular on the concert rounds, like Los Angeles and New York City, My Ticketmaster also allows users to check out interior views from the best available seats at more than 75 venues across the country and to take virtual tours of the venue.

Robert Perkins, executive vice president of ticketing for Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch Inc. in Pasadena, Calif., says that building My Ticketmaster "was an easy decision to make." He explains that Ticketmaster is in essence a distribution company, acting as a central aggregator of ticket sales for thousands of performance venues nationwide. The Web represents a distribution channel worth millions, and the company has sold tickets over the Web since September 1996. (Ticketmaster also sells tickets through www.ticketmaster.com, which requires less PC power and technology know-how than does My Ticketmaster.) So deciding to extend Ticketmaster's brand by adding online bells and whistles didn't tax Perkins' brain overlong. "The ultimate goal is to give consumers choices," he points out, and says that My Ticketmaster's features were choices that customers clamoured for in focus groups. "Ticket buyers didn't want to wait until the newspaper's calendar section came out," he says. "They wanted to know about tickets as soon as they became available." More distribution channels also mean more sales. A recent Ticketmaster survey of 8,000 online purchases revealed that 10 percent of consumers would have bypassed Ticketmaster by purchasing tickets at the box office, and another 12 percent would not have bought tickets at all. Perkins says he's hoping to generate 10 percent of Ticketmaster's total ticket sales through the company's Web sites. In fact, Perkins says that more than a million different customers have used the original Ticketmaster Web site. He notes that it is too early to talk numbers for My Ticketmaster, which debuted in February 1999, but says "we're satisfied with the number of users we're getting." The point of My Ticketmaster is to augment, not supersede, the original site, and Perkins clearly views it as a work in progress. "This was done because we wanted to get familiar with new technologies and techniques," he says. The site, to its credit, does showcase some pretty smashing technology. It uses two technologies to show the seating arrangements. One is VRML, which uses virtual reality renderings of venues. Larger stadiums with configurations that change with the events (basketball, hockey, circuses and so on) tend to appear in VRML, since it's easier to simulate all those different looks virtually with VRML than with the other technology, IPIX. Smaller venues that don't change as much get the IPIX treatment. It uses a special camera and lens to take a 360-degree photo of the venue that the user can move around in.

Given all the cool technology, it's not surprising to find that Perkins bills this as a "high-end site" for the "higher-end user who's familiar with some of the most robust capabilities of the Internet, such as downloading plug-ins." The site's technical restrictions do tend to self-select the audience, and it's not simple for the average curious-but-untutored viewer to get things to work.

We gave it a try in the office. First we set up a personal Web page, which was simply a matter of filling out a form outlining categories of preferences; for example, we could choose concerts as a category. Under that we could choose different types of concerts, such as adult contemporary rock or country. So far, we were cooking with gas.

Things got more complicated when trying to download the applications that run the snappier options, like 3-D viewing of entertainment venues and the Event Ticket, which promised to push new concert announcements to the desktop. In fact, we couldn't do it using a Netscape browser; we got repeatedly bumped into "not found" limbo. CIO Communications Inc.'s webmaster had better luck, however. He downloaded both apps, which took about 20 minutes. The viewing option proved a slight disappointment. We found only one viewable venue in our area, and it offered a general virtual tour, not a seat-specific view. We visited Radio City Music Hall with similar results. My Ticketmaster is definitely titillating but may need to wait until all that high-end technology is more of a commodity before gaining a wide following. Perkins, however, hopes that will change as fast as anything else does in Internet time. "As the technology improves or becomes invisible, the site will get more use," he predicts. "Or maybe, someday, features of My Ticketmaster will become part of our regular site." Music to Your Ears Telephone technology gets an upgradeWhat's the biggest reason people dislike buying tickets over the telephone? The interminable drone of the busy signal, telling you that faster diallers are getting your great seats. But Brian Delaney, vice president of call centre operations at Ticketmaster Corp. in Los Angeles, is working to make the busy buzz a thing of the past. "We're trying to improve the level of service through technology," he says. He cites the following examples as successful improvements.

Connected call centres. All 17 U.S. call centres are linked with T1 lines so that if one centre is busy, the network will ascertain which centres have available operators, at the proper skill level, and route the calls accordingly.

Interactive voice response. Ticketmaster has installed over 1,000 ports that let a caller buy tickets using automated responses. When a customer calls, the system requests that she say the name of the event of interest. A human operator then routes her into the voice response script that handles that event, and she orders the tickets without ever talking to a live operator. This processes orders faster, says Delaney. "An operator can route 100 calls an hour rather than handling 15 or 20 live conversations," he says.

Customised service. Delaney plans to use a database to offer service tailored to each caller. As a call hits the switches, operators will use the incoming phone number to pull a history from a database of each customer's previous buying habits and guide the call accordingly. For example, if a buyer has a history of buying Red Sox tickets along the first or third base line and wants to visit Fenway Park again, the operator could start the conversation with, "We have tickets available for both the third base and first base lines. Which would you prefer?" Editor Carol Hildebrand can be reached at cjh@cio.com. Senior Editor Alice Dragoon contributed to this article contributed to this article

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