Ticketmaster Gives Contactless Tickets a Bad Name (Pt. 1)


by Andy Kowl

Successful, market leading corporations – especially those that cater to the tech-obsessed youth culture – must not just stay on top of the latest technology trends, they must try and keep a step ahead.

Don’t they?

When a major corporation decides to bring new technology to a highly visible, trendy, consumer market, it takes exhaustive research and astute strategic planning.

Doesn’t it?

Not if you use the leading, nearly-monopolistic U.S. concert promotion company as a benchmark.

What in the world would prompt a company to pass off an already dated, soon-to-be-abandoned technology, as a new innovation? How many executives did it take to make this decision?

Ticketmaster is far and away the market leader in ticket distribution for live events, including sports, theater and other productions. After merging with Live Nation, America’s leading concert producer, they dominate ticket distribution for concerts, especially the big arena shows like Springsteen, U2 and Black Eyed Peas.

Their influence over the marketplace is not always used for good purposes, as a recent ticket-diversion scandal proved. Congressional hearings were held.

Now Ticketmaster is about to unveil a lame, cumbersome, inconvenient procedure that gives a bad name to “paperless ticketing.” As RFID technology, especially in its near field (NFC) format, has moved paperless ticketing squarely into the 21sr Century, Ticketmaster is firmly planting itself in the last millennium.

In their system, ticket buyers receive no ticket at all, paper or electronic. They are simply required to bring the credit card which paid for the tickets to the show, along with photo ID. Swiping your credit card gets you into the show. This description is from an article in the Washington Post last week. Neither Ticketmaster nor Live Nation returned our calls.

If you buy four tickets for friends, better make plans to meet before the show because only the credit card used will get you in. If someone is caught in traffic, either she does not get into the show or you must miss the start of the show until she arrives.

That’s “technology?”

For that you will have to keep your eye on Veritix, a relative upstart launched in 2006. Though they, too, are hampered by current stadium and theater capabilities, CEO Sam Gerace has the company planning for the NFC and RFID future.

Banking on mag strips

As Paul Farhi’s article points out about the Ticketmaster plan, “the inability to pass along a seat creates what’s become known in the industry as the ‘grandma’ problem. Since a paperless ticket buyer has to show up at the door . . . It’s almost impossible for a grandma living (across) the country to buy a paperless ticket as a gift.” Worse, “if the person who bought the tickets on the group’s behalf fails to show for some reason,” nobody gets in.

Live music is by far my favorite leisure pastime. I’ve probably seen more than a thousand shows of every kind and can assure you this idiotic scheme will cause mayhem. Veritix has solved the non-transference issue, which I’ll cover next week in this two-part overview of ticketing technologies. Maybe someone will forward it to Ticketmaster.

First of all, the mag-strip’s days are numbered.

For at least a decade, Visa and MasterCard have been trying to break down the cultural barrier in the U.S. against using chipped credit cards. Smart cards are the primary credit cards now issued in Europe and increasingly in Asia. They are far more secure than the ancient magnetic strip on most American credit cards – those same cards which account for millions of stolen identities each year.

Finally the credit card issuers are making inroads into U.S. adoption of smart cards. Just check the contactless card readers already in place in every single McDonald’s, CVS and 7-11 in the country.

In April, Apple also put in their bid for this market. They applied for an electronic ticket patent, according to Near Field Communications World.

By distributing through iTunes, buyers not only get their ticket, but “an enhanced entertainment service,” according to editor Sarah Clark. “For instance (they could) automatically receive a live recording of the concert . . . and benefit from special offers on refreshments and merchandise on sale at the venue.”

We have been writing for years about tickets moving onto your wireless phone and elsewhere via NFC technology. That is already happening. Next week we will include a round-up of some of the successful and growing use of paperless ticketing that is actually convenient for the user, instead of just for the issuer of tickets.

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Read Part II