Interview with Justin Burleigh: Re-Imagining the Ticket as a Communications Platform

The following article was originally posted by TheTicketingBusiness on Wednesday, May 22,2019.

Last week Ticketmaster announced the latest step forward of its Presence digital ticketing platform – dubbed SafeTix – which incorporates auto-refresh barcodes and NFC technology. We covered the news here but we felt the story deserved a little more attention – especially when you consider this product could potentially be supporting 500 million ticketing transactions a year. So we caught up with Justin Burleigh, Chief Product Officer, Ticketmaster in California…

Steps in Digital Ticket Design

The press announcement of SafeTix last week was accompanied by some impressive figures over the adoption of Ticketmaster’s digital ticket solution. In 2019, Presence is scheduled to be installed in 500+ venues. As many as 97% of fans entered NFL games using Ticketmaster ticketing technology in the 2018 season, totaling more than 8.3 million fans using the platform for 300 regular season NFL games.

SafeTix, the latest iteration of Presence, now offers two key enhancements. Firstly, giving event owners control over their tickets by linking a unique, identifiable digital ticket to each customer’s mobile phone through an encrypted barcode that automatically refreshes every few seconds. This feature helps protect against tickets being photocopied or screen-shot for unauthorised resale. The second enhancement was the inclusion of NFC technology within the ticket that allows ticket-holders entry through a simple “tap and go” experience.

 

“Event owners now have the ability to develop a unique relationship with each fan, leading to in-venue personalization and future communication.”

 

“Because a new ticket is issued every time there’s a transfer or sale, event owners have the ability to develop a unique relationship with each fan, leading to in-venue personalisation and future communication while increasing their known fanbase,” explains Burleigh, Chief Product Officer of Ticketmaster, North America. “SafeTix will allow fans to arrive at a show or game with confidence that their tickets are always 100% authentic and will dramatically reduce the amount of ticket fraud event owners are dealing with on event day.”

But the Presence platform is so much more than a secure ticket. In Burleigh’s words Presence is “a conduit to communicate with the fan”. More on that later but let’s step back to the development of Presence.

 

All Presence and Correct

Orlando City Soccer Club was the first sports team in the US to trial and embrace the Presence platform. Commencing in March 2017 the team’s new stadium in Florida was the first public rollout of Ticketmaster’s future digital ticketing platform.

“This was a great venue for us to trial and test. It was a new stadium in MLS with a managable size (25,500), a diverse audience demographic and it also hosts concerts,” explains Burleigh.

Over 2017, Orlando City SC moved to a fully digital ticketing system, seeing initially a six-fold increase in mobile entry, with 65% of fans now using mobile, and the remaining 35% utilizing NFC-enabled paper smart tickets or season ticket member cards. Back in late 2017, digital tickets provided Orlando City SC with “unparalleled understanding of event attendees after seeing a 398% increase in new fan identification.”

In terms of venue hardware Burleigh says Presence is typically offered through proprietary handheld scanners that have both “optical imaging to read the SafeTix tokens but also NFC so you can tap and enter”. This is Ticketmaster’s default offering.

But part of the Presence platform is “an authentication API so if you’re a sports organisation, for example, that’s using a turnstile we can integrate”. There is now API integration with “six or seven of the key turnstile providers an suite-door scanners, such as SkiData and Fortress”.

The benefits of digital were apparent and, buoyed by the success at Orlando City SC and other venues, Ticketmaster moved to roll out Presence nation-wide. Along the way there’s been a shakeout in the technology.

 

Tech Stack Shakeouts

Burleigh says the Presence platform went through a series of product development cycles – with testing driving changs – as the engineering group tested alternative methods of authentication and communication.

News headlines reported the application LISNR – a data-via-audio solution using the mobile phone’s microphone and speaker using near-ultrasonic “smart tones” to authenticate tickets. But LISNR was never actually implemented into any development cycles.

The product has also tested NXP and Bluetooth technologies but, says Burleigh, ultimately it was the “familiarity of mobile wallets” which has swung the product development focus onto NFC.

 

“We saw 40-50% of tickets being put into Apple or Google Wallets last year. It’s clear that people want something familiar – like the Starbucks’ coupon or airline ticket.”

 

“As a technology company which sells tickets we need to move with the consumers and the broader m-commerce eco-system,” says Burleigh. “We saw 40-50% of tickets being put into Apple or Google Wallets last year. It’s clear that people want something familiar – like the Starbucks’ coupon or airline ticket. We’ve settled now on a combination of unique barcode – now being auto-refreshed in the SafeTix upgrade – and NFC which links into Apple and Google platforms.”

Ticketmaster unveiled its Apple Wallet integration earlier this month – appropriately in the opening keynote at TRANSACT, the world’s premiere FinTech conference. It has committed to rolling out this proximity-based tech later this year, allowing fans to enter venues with only their iPhone or Apple Watch.

 

Communications Platform

Aside from the security and authentication enhancements, the press announcement last week alluded to new ‘communication tools provided in the Presence platform will allow event owners to communicate directly with event attendees’. Could Burleigh enlighten us further?

“Now that the tickets are digital we have a surface through which we can communicate with you. So whether you are in the Atlanta Falcons’ app or in the Ticketmaster App, or just have a digital ticket in your wallet there are a number of ways in which we can send you helpful information. This can happen via Push Notification, or status updates to the Wallet or through Email or SMS ,” he explains.

 

“We see the platform developing through a myriad of applications – not just marketing.”

 

“For us, the way we see the platform developing is through a myriad of applications – not just marketing, but also life safety. For example, if there’s a storm on the way at an outdoor festiva then we shoud be able to tell people to take shelter.”

“Fundamentally, knowing who’s in the venue because of who holds the ticket is an incredible advantage from a security perspective. Venue operators know with much more fidelity than ever before who these people are.”

Burleigh enthuses about the potential for the Presence digital platform to be THE communications channel for fans – from offering traffic updates as fans approach the venues through to advising where the shortest restroom or beer queues are.

 

Burleigh describes the Presence platform as a “surface on which we can communicate…(it’s) a conduit between the ticket-buyer and the event.”

 

“We can offer sponsorship activation with a special offer – or even take the seats that have been booked and flip them to better seats if they’re available”

In short, Burleigh describes the Presence platform as “a surface on which we can communicate. This can be updates on the event, ways to access the venue, special offers. We see it as a conduit between the ticket-buyer and the event.”

 

Virtual Momentos

The possibilities for personalised, promoter-to-fan communciations are limitless. However, not all sports fans are enamoured with digital tickets. The global sports memorabilia market is driven by matchday programmes and ticket souvenirs – items which will be a thing of the past with the rise of digital-only.

 

“I myself have a collection of stubs going way back. In fact, we are exploring ways of creating digital mementos.”

 

Ticketmaster has worked on some commemorative concert ticket products – such as the Collector Ticket – which bridge digital and physical words. But as the experience – and the industry – moves to all-mobile, all-digital we will see fewer and fewer paper souvenirs.

Burleigh is sympathetic: “I myself have a collection of stubs going way back. In fact, we are exploring ways of creating digital mementos.”

 

From California to the World

North America has always been the starting point for Ticketmaster’s leading product rollouts. The group’s exclusive venue ticketing arrangements across 13,000 clients globally provides an established market for adoption. For example, as many as 97% of fans entered NFL games using Ticketmaster ticketing technology in the 2018 season. That’s more than 8.3 million fans using the platform for 300 regular season NFL games

We can expect to see Presence installed at 500+ of these during 2019. SafeTix is exclusive to the Presence platform however, says Burliegh, “you can sell a SafeTix ticket on another marketplace but the authentication happens on Presence.”

 

“We’re focused on the rollout of international scanning first. You’ll definitely see more formal testing this year but traction next year.”

 

SafeTix will be used across NFL stadiums for the 2019 season and for a variety of touring artists. It will also be available at additional Presence-enabled venues in the future. But what of opportunities overseas?

“There are two venues in London which are testing Presence. The ticketing market can be very, very different in Europe. Our colleagues across the pond are collaborating on the roll-out to identify the different market needs, restrictions and so on,” explains Burleigh. “We’re focused on the roll-out of international scanning first. You’ll definitely see more formal testing this year but traction next year.”

 

Future, Smart Contracts

With the fundamentals of Ticketmaster’s digital platform now in place, where does Ticketmaster see the next steps in incremental enhancements?

The company’s acquisition of Upgraded in October 2018 – a blockchain tech company that was focused on the live events sector – suggested a move to a blockchain solution but Burleigh makes clear that this is unlikely, at least in relation to crypto-currency: “We really don’t have any material interest at this time in leveraging blockchain for crypto-currency” as “there’s too much financial instability in that instrument.”

Can you imagine making the call to the promoter that they’re down $100k because of bitcoin fluctuations?

 

“We see really strong promise in blockchain for the Presence eco-system around smart contracts.”

 

“However, where we see really strong promise in blockchain for the Presence eco-system is around smart contracts. We’ve done some tests on this. For example, Pearl Jam played seven North American dates last year and one of them had almost half the seats go to members of Ten Club – the band’s fan club. We allowed these fans to meet in the venue – not to wait in line. This was hugely successful.”

 

 

Do It Right, Then Scale It

Ticketmaster’s other recent notable investment was in Blink Identity – a facial recognition solution that identifies people securely and accurately at walking speed.

“When I’m asked if I’m looking at facial recognition I always say ‘No’. We’re a technology company that sells tickets. We’re not a security company. We don’t want millions of fans’ faces in our database.”

 

“When I’m asked if I’m looking at facial recognition I always say: No.”

 

“But the thing we really liked about Blink Identity is that when you enroll your face is converted into mathematics and then the photo is thrown away. This approach maintains a level of privacy where you are bringing two pairs of encryption together as opposed to scanning a face and matching it to a stored ID.”

Burleigh hints at some testing of this enhancement later this year: “In the short term we see this working in exclusive areas – premium, VIP suites – to unlock doors or get in a VIP area. Could we add a fast-lane? It makes sense as these usage cases relate to differentiated experiences. But we are being thoughtful. We have a lot of learning to do. We are taking on feedback to get it right.”

Burleigh leaves us with this thought: “Much like we did back when we were in the lab developing Presence – before anybody knew about it – we’re really taking our time to get it right. Ultimately we will only do it if it’s right and if we can scale it.”