Ticketing Firm Stakes Reputation on Broadway Going Mobile

TodayTix hopes to sell theater audiences on the idea of buying ducats on their devices

Shakespeare with Iphone

On Cyber Monday 2013, mobile purchases accounted for 17% of all retail sales, or more than $350 million in a single day. On Broadway, mobile ticket sales made up just 0.08% of all purchases, or about $9 million, for the entire 2012-13 season.

Numbers like those — from ComScore and the Broadway League, respectively — reflect the uphill climb ahead for legiters who are betting, like most of the rest of the world, that the future of commerce is mobile.

Among the companies expecting Broadway ticketbuyers to start turning to their phones rather than turning on their computers, newcomer TodayTix has staked its existence on mobile: The new ticketing platform allows for purchases only via its mobile app; its website offers availability information but steers consumers to the app in order to buy. Profit margins come solely from transaction fees (touted as some of the lowest around), which makes revenue a matter of scale.

That’s a bold move in an industry that sold some 40% of seats last season through websites accessed via traditional desktop or laptop. “Mobile ticketing has become a massive part of the larger ticketing business,” says Merritt Baer, co-founder of TodayTix with Brian Fenty. “But not here in the theater industry.”

Contributing to the slow adoption of mobile (in addition to Broadway’s older, less tech-savvy prime demo and an industrywide insularity that often resists change) is the nature of theater ticket buying, which in most cases is more complex than a one-click general admission to a movie. Most theatergoers count on the ability to compare seat locations in some depth, and the tools that allow for that — including auditorium maps and p.o.v. seat views — haven’t yet been optimized effectively for mobile devices.

“A big piece of the comfort level with e-commerce is knowing that you can’t screw it up,” says Peter Yagecic, the director of technology at digital marketer Situation Interactive. “But on my phone, I can screw up a Broadway ticket order, and I might not know until I get there and I get in my seat.”

Ticketbuyers might be more inclined to go mobile if the whole process were paperless, allowing theater e-tickets to be sent to a phone, similar to transactions for a concert ticket. A roadblock is the slow-to-upgrade tech infrastructure of New York theaters, although with WiFi becoming available inside more and more Main Stem houses, that obstacle may be cleared fairly soon.

Ventures like TodayTix — or SeatGeek or the apps of official Broadway ticketsellers Telecharge and Ticketmaster — aim to catch the mobile wave if and when it hits the Theater District. Digital marketing types note that legit consumers already do a significant chunk of information-gathering on websites accessed on mobile browsers.

TodayTix targets the large percentage of theatergoers (48% in 2012-13, according to the League) who buy ahead by one week or less. Buyers can order with a few quick taps, after setting up an account with payment information.

Still, integration into the Broadway ticketbuying ecosystem is far from complete. TodayTix has partnerships with organizations including the Roundabout Theater Company and the Public Theater, allowing TodayTix purchases to be picked up at a theater’s box office, but for most Broadway shows, tickets are sourced through third-party contractors.

Because those can’t be held at will call, the company has initiated an unusual “concierge service” that has a rep stationed at each theater to make the handoff to ticketbuyers. It’s a bit of a workaround, but the founders say that in its first few months of beta-testing, the concierge service has gotten strong positive feedback both for the convenience of skipping a pickup line and for the personalized touch.

Veteran producer Elizabeth Williams is convinced enough of the potential of mobile that she’s signed on as partner and theatrical advisor to TodayTix. “I really see it as a new tool to sell the tickets that we know go dead every night and every week,” she says.