My latest musings for The Stage on the legacy of the National Theatre Travelex scheme

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing on October 4, 2018 by richardhowle

How the NT’s Travelex scheme launched a revolution across Theatreland

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My view on Ticketmaster shutting Seatwave and Get Me In

Posted in Ticketing on August 29, 2018 by richardhowle

A welcome move, but this isn’t the end of the scourge of ticket touts as I write in The Stage

Shutting Ticketmaster’s resale sites welcome, but there’s work to do

West End Theatre Ticket Prices

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing on March 29, 2018 by richardhowle

We hear a lot about how expensive theatre ticket prices are. In this article for The Stage I reveal how and why tickets are priced the way they are and breakdown the cost of a ticket. You may need to register to view the article (but it is free to do so)

 

Link: The Stage – Think West End tickets are overpriced? Why a breakdown of the costs proves they’re not a rip-off

Questioning Polls 

Posted in Brexit, Current Affairs, Politics, Referendum, Society on June 19, 2016 by richardhowle

I don’t know about you, but I am fed up with this referendum campaign.  The campaigners on both sides have treated the electorate with contempt as if we are all idiots incapable of making a rational decision based on facts without being bullied, bribed or frightened. It has all been pretty distasteful, pathetic and quite frankly childish. It reached its nadir with the ridiculous spectacle of Bob Geldof and Nigel Farage trading insults each other whilst they floated up the Thames on rival boats. 

All this campaign has done is to expose the dearth of talented politicians that we have in this country. People complain about MP’s pay and their pay rises and whilst with this bunch it is easy to have some sympathy with those complainers, it does prove the old adage – pay peanuts get monkeys. I should qualify that statement by acknowledging that in comparison to most people,  MP’s are paid very well and is certainly not peanuts. But we put a lot of responsibility in the hands of those 650 odd people who represent us (it will be even more responsibility if we vote for Brexit)  so therefore, surely we want the very best people handling that responsibility? To attract the best, we need to pay for the best.  Unfortunately the best can earn far more working elsewhere and an MP’s pay is peanuts in comparison. Why would or should they take a pay cut to become Members of Parliament?

Anyway, I digress before I have even started.  In the last General Election the pollsters famously got it very wrong- throughout the campaign Labour were polling ahead of the Conservative Party and ended up being comfortably beaten. There was shock, not just amongst the pollsters but also the Twitterati – those that inhabit social media. In the lead up to the General Election, Labour supporters were shouting very loudly on Facebook and Twitter, so much so that it was easy to think that this was a true reflection of how everyone felt. But the reality of the situation is that there are vast swathes of the population who aren’t on social media – and of those that are , how many are expressing political opinions?  Think about your own Facebook account (if you have one) – let’s say you have 200 friends, how many of them posted about politics during the General Election? 20, 50, 80 – maybe even 100?  Probably for most people less than half of their friends posted about politics. Now of course many of those who did, did so a lot – and often quite forcibly and on my timeline it was largely in support of the Labour Party. Therefore it was quite easy to wrongly assume that this was what everyone was thinking, particularly combined with the polls which all pointed to a Labour victory. 

In reality, the silent majority spoke and the Conservatives won out, much to the consternation of the left. But why were they silent? I suspect that there are two reasons, and this is only my conjecture and not based on any research. Firstly the naturally more inclined conservative voter is less likely to be on social media (elderly etc), which as discussed earlier is a lot of people. My use of the small ‘c’ in that last sentence was deliberate – less likely to be radical or inclined toward change – supposedly what the Labour Party were offering. Secondly, for those on social media, the vitriolic rhetoric of a lot of the left meant that staying quiet was the best option for an easy life.  They chose to do their talking at the ballot box.  The pollsters claimed that their pre election polls were wrong because many people lied to them and were really secret  Conservative Party voters. I can understand that, such was the climate it is easy to believe that people were  wary or ashamed to admit that they were voting Tory. Although the polling companies will deny this, I think that the way many of the polls are conducted, primarily online, does not truly represent a lot of people – many of whom may be unwilling or unable to participate in an online poll.

Which brings me back to the referendum. It is easy to forget that your social media timelines are unique to you. Your friends are likely to be from a fairly similar demographic.  I work in theatre, many of my Facebook friends or the people that I follow on Twitter do as well.  The social media posts that I read are therefore  not representative of the wider population. With the majority (of those expressing a view) on my Facebook and Twitter feed supporting the “remain” campaign I thought I would conduct own poll on Twitter to see how my followers felt on the subject. Although my followers choose me rather than the other way round, I thought it was reasonable to expect that they were likely to be of a similar bent to the people I follow / am friends with – so I expected a remain victory.

However the poll was quickly picked up by “leave” campaigners, retweeted over 30 times by them and quickly dominated by leave votes.  In the end, Leave comfortably won with 82% of the vote. 


It immediately reminded me of the General Election – where Labour voters dominated social media, creating the impression that it was on course for an easy victory.  So although the “leave” campaign seems to be winning both in the polls and on social media, will the silent conservative (with a small ‘c’) majority do their talking at the polling booth once more  and produce a “shock” win for remain? I for one do not believe the result of my Twitter poll. Leave may very well win, but not by such a large majority.  Polls are not to be trusted. 

Who knows? But one thing is for sure – that I think the majority will be in agreement about – I’ll be glad when it’s all over 

Grassing us up

Posted in Fun Stff with tags , , on August 15, 2015 by richardhowle

Yes, we could have tiled it. Perhaps even gone for decking. But where is the fun in that? We decided that the only thing to do was to grass our balcony. After all, we are on the top floor of our block of flats and it is a long way down to the gardens.

Ok, so its not real grass – but that’s even better – it doesn’t need mowing. And it will match the fake flowers and plants we have decided to put up there as our gardening skills are more Monty Don’t than Monty Don – everything horticultural we touch turns to death.

Wanna see how it was done? Watch this……..

Friendship not Fences

Posted in Current Affairs with tags , , , , on August 2, 2015 by richardhowle

It strikes me as a somewhat of a paradox that the people who rail against those migrants trying to enter into the UK are often the same people who rail against the UK International Development programme.
Over the past few weeks the UK Government has given France millions of Pounds to help boost security in and around the Channel ports and Eurotunnel, but just think how much more effectively that money could be if it were spent in the countries where these poor souls were coming from.

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What can they be fleeing from that means that they are risking life and limb, undergoing horrendous conditions in order to cross two continents to reach this small island? Surely we would be better off trying to address those issues, the root cause of the problems around the Channel ports, rather than dealing with it once they have battled their way to get here. Quite frankly, if migrants have endured the treacherous journey to get here, then a few extra fences are not going to stop them.

By not addressing the root cause of why these people are wishing to leave their countries we are only creating a vicious circle. We need to ensure that there is more reason for people to stay in their country of birth than to leave it, because this situation is fast becoming critical. Not for the wealthy nations of Europe (despite what you may read in the Daily Mail), but for the countries where these migrants are coming from. With thousands of (mainly young) leaving, these countries are being stripped of a generation who, if they were to stay, could build and develop their countries into thriving and prosperous nations. Because, (and perhaps most importantly of all), the people who are leaving the country are amongst those who are best equipped to undertake that rebuilding – the educated middle classes.

It is too easy to dehumanise the migrants, we are encouraged by our politicians and our media to view them as inferior. We all know the name of the lion that was killed this week, but how many of us can name one of the migrants who died trying to cross the Channel this week? But these people are intelligent and (relative to their country-folk) prosperous individuals -it costs thousands of dollars for them to make the journey. The people who are camped in and around Calais are not the poor and the destitute, they are the educated elite, who can speak a foreign language, who have been schooled, who have been sent by their families over here as they have the best prospects of making a better life for themselves.

That is why International Development is so important, in order to avert “crisis” over here (and really in World terms, a few extra hours waiting to catch a ferry is not really a crisis) we need to avoid a proper crisis in the countries where this brain drain is occurring. We need investment to create development programmes so that there is an alternative and opportunity for those people who currently see no other option than to travel thousands on miles in search of a better life. Let us help them to create a better life for themselves and their families and their country and to put an end to the vicious circle.

That, for me, is why is why the International Development budget is so important and why those who are complaining about the migrant issue should be supportive of it. Now, how that budget is spent and used is a whole different subject – why we continue to give aid to countries that have a space programme (India) is a mystery to me. It is this that should be at the heart of international development debate – not the budget itself.

And, finally, how do we solve the current situation, which isn’t really a crisis – but more of a tragedy? Because what I have spoken about here is a long term fix and doesn’t address the current problem of thousands of migrants who are currently at the mercy of ruthless people smugglers. It isn’t going to be solved by the French paying British holiday makers compensation (thanks for that helpful intervention, Harriet Harman), it can only be solved by an EU wide effort – putting proper investment into processing migrants when they first arrive in Europe and arranging for the fair and safe relocation of them across the whole continent. At least by controlling the situation at the point of arrival we can protect migrants from exploitation, injury and death and start treating them as human beings.

Why we should end booking fees. (And why we probably won’t)

Posted in Ticketing on January 18, 2015 by richardhowle

Last week I wrote about why booking fees are important where I explained how booking fees brought a transparency to ticketing that helped the consumer to make informed purchasing decisions. So it seems a little contradictory to be writing this week that we should end booking fees. But, whilst I stand by what I wrote, I really don’t think that it is enough to gain the confidence of the ticket buying public. Although that explanation may help consumers understand why there are booking fees, it won’t convince them that they aren’t being ripped off. As I said, no one likes booking fees – given the choice ticketing companies would get rid of them, after all why have a policy that so infuriates your customers if there was another way?

As I have discussed on these pages before, Ticketing never receives positive headlines. It is never going to be a popular industry, at best it is just a necessary evil in order for fans to access their favourite artists, sports people, shows or events; And when demand outstrips supply, it is the Ticketing Industry that bears the brunt of the public’s wrath.

The perils of being the gatekeeper are just something the Ticketing Industry will have to put up with, there is nothing that it can do about that.  But it can and should eliminate some of the other practices that make it so unpopular. There is no need to unnecessarily alienate so many people with outdated policies and unjustifiable charges.  Ticketing is a service industry and we should always remember that. Whilst the Ticketing Industry is never going to be popular, it would be considered more favourably if we adopted the following:

End the no exchanges and refunds policy. This is a policy formed entirely out of self interest. The theory behind it is that once a ticket is sold decisions about marketing and pricing as well as operational decision are made on the basis of that sale.  I.E. If an event has sold 1,000 tickets then the organisers will make financial decisions based on those sales. If 500 of those tickets were to be returned then those decisions may no longer be the correct ones and may cost the organiser money, particularly if those tickets are returned at a time too late to resell them (or after the advertising budget has been spent). This is all well and good and are legitimate concerns but there must be an alternative that can meet those concerns without alienating customers. Because, for customers, this is a serious issue. In most other areas of retail a customer can return an unused product if they have changed their mind – as a minimum to exchange it for another product or a credit note.  The Ticketing Industry is already given protection in the form of exclusion from the distance selling legistlation that allows consumers a 14 day window in which to change their mind and get a refund, its refusal to allow exchanges often leaves consumers with an expensive purchase that they can no longer use. Rather than a blanket ban, if customers are allowed to exchange their tickets for an alternative date, for a fee (recognising that there is an admin cost) within a set time period (recognising the concerns of the event organiser) then not only is the customer happier, but it might also make them more confident about booking in advance. When there aren’t alternative dates there should be a resale option which offers to resell tickets on behalf of customers (provided that all other tickets are sold etc).

Be transparent about the secondary market. Currently the refusal  to provide exchanges or refunds only provides fuel for the secondary sites such as Stubhub or Viagogo. By offering official resale channels (at face value with nominal admin charges) they would eliminate the need for people to operate on these sites.  This is important because the Secondary Ticketing market is one of the biggest causes of public resentment towards the Ticketing Industry.

In a free market economy people should be free to buy and sell tickets at whatever price they wish to. But there needs to be transparency about who is selling the tickets, particularly if they are coming from event organisers or  primary ticketing companies. Those event organisers who do not wish for their tickets to be sold via these sites should stop the supply of them, not punish the customer who bought the tickets by cancelling them.

Make it cheaper online. Although, as I explained last week, it does cost money to sell tickets, it is undoubtedly cheaper to do so online. A ticket is one of the only products where it is more expensive to purchase online. There is no excuse for savings not to be passed on to the consumer

Stop the fees altogether. One of the bug bears of consumers isn’t the existence of booking fees, per se but it is the layering of fees (facility fee, booking fee, print at home fee, transaction fee). The reason why ticketing companies do this is to make the individual components appear smaller, rather than just having one, bigger fee. They should just bite the bullet and be honest about what it costs to sell tickets. Or rather still we should just eliminate fees altogether.

Ticketing fees should all be absorbed into the ticket price with ticketing companies buying tickets from event organisers at a negotiated wholesale price and sold at or around an agreed recommended retail price. Ticketing companies can negotiate their margin based on a mixture of volume and distribution opportunities, without it being played out in public – confusing and causing disillusionment in ticket buyers.

This is what the public wants and as a service industry this is what we should give them. However, for the public it will be a question of being careful of what you wish for because there will be two direct consequences.

1. It will make ticket buyers more vulnerable to being ripped off by rogue companies (see my previous post), the industry will also need to be much clearer about who are legitimate, authorised sellers and what consumers should expect to pay for different tickets.

2. It will put prices up for everyone. By eliminating booking fees it wont eliminate the cost of ticketing. By absorbing the cost of ticketing within the ticket price it will only raise those prices for everybody. This will particularly be felt by those who buy tickets via sales channels that don’t currently incur booking fees now (such as in person sales at the box office). The current face values would likely become wholesale prices with retail prices being 10-15% higher.

The higher ticket prices would then mean that a lot of the wrath of the ticket buying public would then move to the event organiser. Which is why, in reality, none of these things will actually happen.

You see, whilst not perfect, the Ticketing Industry is really the fall guy for event organisers. They, rather than the public, are its paymasters. They are the ones for whom the Ticketing Industry provides a service. The Ticketing Industry takes the blame and the public flack for the decisions of the event organisers.

Refunds and exchanges. It really makes very little difference to the Ticketing Companies whether there are refunds or exchanges. Yes there is are some administration costs to doing so, which can be covered, but actually they pail into insignificance compared to the cost of dealing with the consequences of that policy from handling complaints right through to the reputational damage. A senior executive at a ticketing company told me recently that after a customer had complained so much they decided to refund the customer (at their own cost) in order to resolve the issue.  The customer then tweeted that they had received a refund. Having read this, the promoter contacted the ticketing company demanding to know why a refund had been made without his permission. From a ticketing company’s point of view it would make life easier, enable them to have better relations with their customers and gather more data from additional customers (a consequence of reselling tickets) if event organisers allowed refunds / exchanges.

Secondary market. It is an open secret that some event organisers supply tickets directly to the secondary market in order to boost their income. The cloak of anonymity then allows them to decry the practice in public and lambast the Ticketing Industry that allows this to happen.

Booking fees. All ticketing companies would choose, if they could, not to have booking fees. It is the event organiser that decides otherwise. They are presented with the costs of ticketing and then choose to pass those costs on to their public (blaming the ticketing industry on the way). Of course, they should view the cost of ticketing as just another cost of putting on the event – they wouldn’t expect the customers to buy a ticket to an event with an additional lighting charge to pay for the costs of lighting that event.

So whilst the Ticketing Industry may wish to better serve the public it will often find that its hands are tied by policies which aren’t theirs but those of the people who have engaged them to sell tickets.

Many event organisers will say that they don’t have any choice and are unable to change the way tickets are sold because they don’t have enough clout on their own to take a stance. That may well be true but if we, as a live entertainment industry, continue to alienate those people who support our businesses by buying tickets, then we risk biting the hand that feeds us. And, if the Ticketing Industry really wanted to make a difference it could take a stance and demand a better service for their customers from event organisers.

Whoever takes the lead, it is time for us all to engage in some sensible, adult, conversations and to make some changes that ensure that it is the events that make the headlines, not the ticketing.