Photo Credit: David Monteith-Hodge
Performing Arts, Fringe Festivals
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, 'the greatest show on earth', offering audiences an incredible range of performing arts experiences for three weeks each year, in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. It attracts the best of the arts industry, media and other professionals seeking the opportunities the festival has to offer.
The Fringe is an open-access festival; this means there is no curator, no jury and no artistic director selecting work, while artists are free to present their work in any of the more than 300 venues available to them. The wonder of the Fringe is that audiences can curate their own festival, with more than 3,500 shows to choose from. This means every audience member has a bespoke and unique festival experience.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society is the charitable organisation that manages the infrastructure that underpins the festival. The Society exists to support, encourage and advise Festival participants; to provide comprehensive, up to date and accurate information and ticketing for EVERY show at the Fringe; and to market the festival in its entirety, to a local, national and international audience. One of its core services is to be at the centre of the provision of ticketing and information to audiences, artists, arts industry, media and the general public - helping artists find their audiences and develop their careers. The Fringe is an entirely open access festival, which means any artist with a story to tell and a stage on which to tell it is welcome, with no curatorial oversight. In 2017, over 2.7 million tickets were issued across the Fringe, with many thousands more spectators seeing free performances that are part of the world famous street events.
The Fringe Society are an impartial organisations who do not own or operate any of the venues. Its role is to offer equal services and opportunities for all who take part - everything from box office services for the tiny volunteer-run temporary venue, all the way through to the year-round conference centre.
All of this translates into one simple role - make it as easy as possible for all constituents - performers, audiences and industry. The Fringe Box Office is a core function of the work of the Society and its software and operations are provided by Red61, its key technology partner.
Red61 is an Edinburgh based ticketing software, services and consultancy business. It is the creator and owner of the VIA Ticketing System.
Red61 have delivered preeminent performance with the VIA Ticketing System and its Ticketing Services in some of the most testing and complex arts environments in the world. In working with their clients, they have developed a configurable software solution that allows clients to control - and change - their visitor experience. Working in a spirit of constant innovation, Red61's audience engagement software and solutions now benefit major cultural venues and arts festivals worldwide. With every client, Red61 works collaboratively to eliminate traditional box office challenges and to figure out what technological improvements can be made to improve the visitor experience. With a wide-range of audience management and ticketing expertise on their team, Red61 specialises in working with clients to build creative and flexible solutions that improve existing businesses or are the strong foundation on which to build new ones.
The Fringe is busy and bustling, and with over 3,500 shows, it can be a challenge for audiences to find shows that align with their interests, and for artists to connect with these audiences. Add to that the fact that each venue manages its own ticketing and you've got a complex, interwoven networking of shows, tools and technologies competing for customer attention.
The Fringe Society has a suite of tools for audiences to narrow down their programme choices, and ticket sales have grown as these digital tools have become more robust and flexible. Customers want the breadth of choice but value some support in narrowing their options. Functions such as 'Nearby Now' in the official Fringe app have been very popular with customers.
If a venue also uses VIA, Red61's ticketing platform, then the Fringe Society box office is able to draw from an open allocation. The Fringe Box Office is then able to help venues and companies maximise their sales. For those venues who do not use VIA, the Fringe Box Office operates on a fixed allocation of at least 25%. The challenge for these venues arises when the Fringe Box Office has sold its allocation and must point customers to the venue for tickets. The reality is that with 3,500 shows to choose from, customers will often replace the unavailable show with an alternative if it's not on their 'must see' list. This means those venues and companies are missing out on sales even though tickets are available.
Simply put: smaller venues and companies - many of whom are run by volunteers and operating on little to no money - cannot afford the ticket printers, hardware, internet, staff, merchant services and associated PCI:DSS responsibility necessary to run a box office.
The challenge for the Fringe Society was how can venues avail of the benefits of being a VIA client at a price point that is accessible to all? How does the Fringe Society offer these services to grow its ticketing network and help more customers to find tickets?
Finding new, innovative, new-tech solutions to client problems is where Red61 excels. The Edinburgh Fringe ticketing environment is made up of 18 unique sets of data all sitting on their own instance of the VIA Ticketing System. At festival time they build a 61 site ticketing network from full box office to single collection points, the largest ticketing network in the UK. There are clients that sell a few thousand tickets and clients that sell a few hundred thousand tickets, so the range in budgets, resources and capability varies widely.
To 17 of the Fringe clients, Red61 is a software provider to enable them to run their own ticketing service. Red 61's unique relationship with the Fringe Society means that they are not only their ticketing software provider but also run their ticketing operation, employing 90+ staff over the summer and are responsible for the front line reputation of the Fringe Society. Red61 also manages the IT infrastructure of the entire organisation and works closely with the Society on 3rd party IT and digital projects.
Working with the Fringe Society and Fringe venues to find a solution to their box office challenges, Red61 developed WeeVIA - an e-ticketing platform that could be licensed to Fringe venues at low cost. The solution was built expressly for low-cost technology platforms and supported by Fringe Box Office while bringing the benefits of open allocation to venues of all sizes.
VIA's powerful API (Application Programming Interface) enabled the Fringe Society to build tickets.edfringe.com, designed to help customers navigate the programme through enhanced and varied search functionality to provide a manageable list of shows that meet their interests.
Customers have the ability to filter by date and time, venue and genre, or with specific times, venues, sub genres, access requirements, pricing and age suitability. This can turn 3,500 shows into 30 in a few clicks of a button, thereby personalising your Fringe experience.
Photo Credit: David Monteith-Hodge
In their desire to meet the needs of both their venues and their customers, the Fringe Society was not driven by the bottom line, but rather by a desire to ensure the platform was accessible to all. With their desire to have a box office that any Fringe venue could use while delivering the best and simplest possible service, The Fringe Society, Fringe venues and Red61 collaborated at every stage of the process to develop a solution that met the festival's goals.
With the WeeVIA platform, Red61 made things easier for the Fringe: easy to use the platform; easy for small venues to sell tickets while not having to rely on ticket printing for walk up sales; easy to ensure venues don't lose walk up sales by only offering cash sales; and easy for venues to retain customers while also providing upsell opportunities like purchasing additional tickets after the show.
The collaboration between the Fringe society, Fringe venues and Red61 was rooted in a mutual trust of the solution and a commitment to work together without ego, and with a common understanding of the problem at hand. The end result ultimate brought greater value to the entire ticketing landscape.
2017 saw 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows from 62 countries in 300 venues across the city over 25 days with 2.7 million tickets issued.
The Edinburgh Fringe ticketing environment is made up of 18 unique sets of data all sitting on their own instance of the VIA Ticketing System.
For the festival, Red61 builds a 40+ site ticketing networking from full box offices to collection points, the largest ticketing network in the UK.
Most performance spaces have a capacity of less then 300.
Each space has 10 shows a day, running every few minutes across the festival from 9 a.m. until 3 a.m. the next morning.
Red61 employs 90+ staff over the summer, managing the front line reputation of the Fringe Society.
410,000 copies of the festival programme are printed and distributed each year.
In 2017, 80% of ticket purchases were made online or via the Fringe apps.
The Fringe Box Office is operational online 365 days a year, with counters and phone open for approximately 44 weeks.
We accredit about 1,000 arts industry and 1,000 media professionals each year.
With stronger, more robust and more venue-focused ticketing solutions now available for their venues, the whole Fringe has made an open commitment to focus on how visitors experience the festival - by helping audiences find shows and purchase tickets as easily as possible. By working closely with Red61 on new and innovative approaches to the big picture of ticketing and technology, they now have the solutions in place that meets the needs of the wide variety of Fringe venues and regularly work together on other projects that generate additional income for the Society and other partners, but that also support local arts development.
The embedded partnership working with Red61 means that the staff of both organisations work for the same team. With a fully integrated Red61 support team during the festival, support issues are addressed quickly and decisively.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe wants to be the most accessible festival in the world - removing barriers to artist and audience participation - whether physical, social, geographical or economical.
And so, at the core of this partnership between the Festival and Red61, is an awareness that while the technology fits the requirements, it is ultimately the shared commitment of both teams to see this technology succeed in the moment and through to the end. You can't just put a ticketing system into this environment and then it to run itself. Both parties are in it and a part of it. Partners. Each taking responsibility for the successes and failures of the event.
For Red61, the commitment to their client to deliver a solution that met a specific and challenging need resulted in a purpose-built solution that can change the overall ticketing marketplace for small venues worldwide.
For more about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe visit www.edfringe.com