Technology / 03.26.19
Barriers to Entry: Patron Technology’s Nathaniel Minto Talks Mobile Ticketing Issues
There’s always excitement about the next big thing: the new technology or pricing system that’s going to “revolutionize ticketing.” But of course, nothing happens overnight.
The harsh reality is that progress comes in incremental steps. That’s the truth for something as “old” as mobile ticketing, which is still being tweaked and refined to optimize — as everyone in ticketing is intimately aware. To explore bumps in the road with mobile ticketing, and how they can help us think about future ticketing tech progress, we spoke with Nathaniel Minto, Vice President of Product Integration at Patron Technology. While they introduced mobile ticketing in 2012, it was far from a smooth road.
Moving to Mobile – The Bumps
“We’ve been sending tickets, that are redeemed on phones, for six or seven years at most of our events,” Minto said. “First of all, a lot of device-specific stuff can get hairy. If someone has a screen protector on, for instance, the scanner might not get a good read; the brightness on the phone must be up a certain amount. Of course, though, things are advancing. When an attendee pulls up a ticket through Apple Wallet, for example, Apple Wallet automatically boosts the brightness of the screen as high as it can go so it makes it easier to be scanned. Coming up with ways to get around some of those quality-of-life user experiences takes time and trial and error just like introducing any other product into the wild.”
Another problem with mobile is — and has always been — the issue of network overload. Minto recalls a venue that underwent an entire infrastructure makeover to accommodate the growth of mobile data usage; and since this is an issue of scale, that might just be the best way to go about things.
“We do a lot of events in the Javits Center in New York,” Minto said. “Three or four years ago, if you had shown up in the building, your phone was basically a brick. When you put tens of thousands of people all in one place where you’re shoulder to shoulder, and everyone has a device or two in their pocket and they’re all trying to access the network, you've so much congestion that you may as well have no data. It’s a scaling problem. So, the Javits Center underwent some major infrastructure projects roughly three years ago and installed a very sophisticated wireless network in the building that they provide for free to address any problems with speed.”
Sure, so let’s say the venue has done its due diligence with ensuring the most resilient network. What if someone arrives for a concert but their phone has died? Should venues have rows of charging stations at the ready?
“The immediate thing is that you want to validate whether someone should or shouldn’t be in the venue. So charging stations are fine, but they’re more inconveniences for the attendees,” Minto said. “You want to be able to get them into the event, so you don’t want to create queuing issues outside the event. The events I see that do this the best have the charging stations inside the venue, but you can’t cause congestion with loitering, so it’s a tricky issue. Something charging stations do provide, though, is a sponsorable asset. You're providing a service and that is appealing to sponsors.”
OK, so let’s say any attendee can access their ticket and get it scanned just fine. Who’s to say the ticket is authentic?
“You can send a mobile ticket to someone, and they can screenshot it and send it around,” Minto said. “You’ve got an item that’s very easy to copy. So, that’s why you see solutions moving toward models similar to what Google Authenticator does — a barcode that refreshes at a set time interval. That and other methods of identity validation can eliminate a lot of the fraud issues.”
Neat! But what happens with staff, perhaps volunteer ushers, aren’t overly familiar with scanning and reading mobile tickets? What does the staff training for mobile look like?
“We do tend to do more training with onsite staff that do not have a familiarity with those form factors,” Minto said. “We’re really just making a digital form of the same information on previous ticket forms, so once you get people familiar with where the data is on screen, they should be good. One difficult thing I’ve seen at some reserved seating venues is that you present your ticket at the door, and then you put your phone away, but then you have to show it again to ushers to find your seat. In some cases, venues print a separate slip that has your seat on it for you to carry around for you to do just that thing. That's one solution.”
Moving Beyond Mobile – The Future Bumps
The move to mobile obviously took place to meet customer demand. Now that technology is advancing exponentially, though, it’s crucial to not get too excited that you neglect to move at the proper adoption speed. In three words: Not so fast!
“Google has done a big push, and this includes YouTube and their search functionality, and then Facebook is doing a similar thing, where they want to get their hands more directly around the commerce that their channels are serving. They’re facilitating that transaction because Facebook is where people are. They’re using their events pages and functionality to start to get visibility in that ticket process as well. Is that a good thing in the long term? I don’t know. But, in the short term, it’s a helpful user experience, because that’s where most people are going for these things anyway. But that is also indicative of the move toward this kind of ‘deep-link’ connectivity between applications. Facebook pulls inventory through whoever the ticketing vendor is, who has the relationship with the event organizer; but the purchaser at this point may not have as much of a relationship with the event organizer or the ticketing vendor as they used to, so does that disrupt the customer service outreach? Who becomes the trusted authority for dealing with chargebacks and fraud? You’re adding a middle layer, which increases the transaction complexity, and that has implications. Of course, there is a lot here that still needs to be worked out.”
When my mind went to blockchain after the topic of complexity was brought up, Minto gave pause.
“Blockchain is an interesting technological innovation with some really interesting applications, especially with identity validation,” he said. “The problem on the ticketing side is that there’s more lightweight, efficient ways to accomplish all the same stuff. The promise of the single ledger ticket would require some way to onboard all these different ticketing sources into one blockchain. Everyone would have to agree and say, ‘We’re going to use this crypto standard,’ and that would allow you to transfer and maintain this chain of validation across the whole lifecycle of the ticket from initial purchase to secondary market to potentially transferring it to the friend who is showing up at the event venue. But, we’re nowhere close to that. And in the meantime, using that type of a database is just super inefficient on the transactional side right now. There are a lot of hurdles to get there. From my perspective, you’re seeing a lot of companies getting into ticketing, and say they’re bringing a blockchain system to it, and in some cases, it can be an innovation looking for a problem.”
So how should ticketing professionals think about new tech adoption? Minto shares a few words of cautionary wisdom.
“This is something that’s happening across the ticketing industry in general. There’s a lot of excitement for new solutions and new applications and better-looking experiences. But there are reasons why some of these old ticketing platforms are still very dominant in certain places. Ticketing has a very low barrier to entry. But when you get into the actual characteristics of managing an event, things get really complicated very quickly, and it’s not easy to do well. And there’s a lot of inertia once your organization has based a substantial portion of its business around a certain way of doing things to changing to a new model, even if there are newer advantages to that model. Because the deep ticketing features are hard to replicate, and they just require a lot of time to do so.”
Tags: Paperless , Social Media , YouTube , Security , Blockchain , Mobile , Facebook , Secondary Ticketing , Consumer Preferences