Fringe box office FAIL pushes sales down 10%
Bad weather, Olympics,
leaves on line credit crunch blamed
Ticket sales at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe were down ten per cent this year, in part because of the technical failure of its box office system.
Organisers at the arts fest admitted 2008 has been a very difficult year for the festival.
The Fringe launched its new Liquid Box Office electronic system in June, but it failed to cope with demand for the festival’s 2,088 shows, and organisers were forced on several occasions to completely suspend sales until the computer system could be fixed.
Last week Pivotal Integration, which supplied the system, went into administration following the major system cock-up with tickets.
Fringe organisers have insisted, however, that the dent in sales was caused by several factors and not just the box office system snafu. It blamed poor weather, the credit crunch and even the Olympics for the sluggish uptake of tickets at this year’s Fringe.
Despite being hamstrung by so many difficulties, Fringe director Jon Morgan claimed it had been a “fantastic year” with ticket sales surpassing the 1.5m barrier for the third consecutive year.
The Fringe sold 1,535,519 tickets for the event that ended yesterday and ran throughout most of August. That figure compares with 1,697,293 in 2007, so it sold 160,000 fewer tickets for this fest.
"At the start of the festival many were worried about the loss of venues, impact of the Olympics and the economy," said Morgan.
"In a difficult year, with record rainfall and problems with ticketing, Fringe-goers have come out in force and enjoyed the festival." ®
System complexity, alternative, weather, Olympics etc
@ martin burns
You heavily underestimate the complexity of such a system - the fringe is a whole scale larger than any other event and the ticketing system needs to cater for huge numbers of variables - shows can be on different times on different days or even several times in the same day, with multiple price bands. The tickets must also be sold through multiple systems - fringe website, phone, fringe office, venue, venue's website. While someone is booking online you need to ensure that the tickets in a basket are not sold to someone else. The number of queries means you cannot have one central database. Also you need to cater for communication breakdowns, so individual systems can still sell their own allocations even when they cannot communicate with the centre or with each other. It is a hugely complicated system. The reason the fringe office chose the wrong system was because they were too ambitious and chose the system with the largest promised feature set, without taking adequate consideration of deliverability of that feature set. The Liquid system had never sold a single ticket before being selected to sell tickets for the largest arts event in the world. Had they chosen a proven system, there would have almost certainly not have been this fiasco.
The dominant venues do have their own ticketing system, called Via, and it was this system that was installed in the fringe office and a number of the other large venus that had been intending to use Liquid in just a few days before the fringe started at the end of July and which allowed the fringe to go ahead. If the big four venues had not decided some time ago to invest in their own choice of box office system and have this ready for 2008 and not to rely on the fringe office, then the fiasco might have been a complete meltdown.
Once the independent enquiry has published it's findings, let's hope that they find the Fringe management had better reasons for recommending the Liquid to the board than the following factors that might have crept into the decision-making process:
1. The Fringe Office tender documents and other statements made by their management indicated that they were looking for features in the box office system that could link it to the other festivals in Edinburgh - an extremely ambitious project when may of the festivals have different ticket systems of their own - even though the fringe venues had all told the Fringe Office that they did not want such features in the fringe box office system.
2. Pivotal Integration's Liquid software was in large part written by a person who has been working for several years as the Fringe Office's box office manager.
3. The Fringe management was reluctant to choose a system that had been developed partly in conjunction with, and was already in active use by, the major venues because the Fringe management wanted full control of the development of the box office system.
If these factors had been taken into account, then this would smack of self-serving empire-building, rather than working in the best interests of all the fringe stakeholders - in particular the venues and the performers who actually rely on those tickets sales for their income.
As for weather - it makes a big difference to the big outdoor bars, eg the Pleasance, Spiegal Garden and Udderbelly, but does not have much effect on ticket sales. As for the Olympics - this actually might have helped, as if you were into both, you could take one holiday and do the Fringe from 2pm to 3am every days and then watch the Olympics from 3am to 2pm - the timing were perfectly complementary!!
Obviously the wrong kind of sun ;)
I went to less
The box office mess plus the reviews mess (inability to search by review, many reviews not showing...) meant I didn't go to as much. Simple. Weather?! Why would rain stop me going to an indoors event? Actually it would make me more likely to. Besides its the same weather as always: Edinburgh+aug=rain. We all know that.
The dominant venues should axe the fringe box office and do it themselves.
OSS Central Reservation Systems
Interestingly, there don't seem to be any major OSS CRSs out there.
Surely it can't be *that* hard - a wee bit of complexity around reserved seating perhaps - but otherwise it's N venues with X performances of Y shows on Z dates, each with inventory of A seats. Not *that* complex a product catalogue, particularly if you can import a CSV. Hook it up to a commerce engine, host it somewhere with a bit of scalability, and your ma's bro should be called Rab.
 If you trust it, Google's App Engine's Django implementation might just be the fella.
What software would YOU use to run the Fringe?
There must be some freeware or Open Sauce available for doing this kind of thing. Maybe that's what Pivotal did - or maybe it's where they went wrong.