October 27, 2015

Hot Seat: Mark Yovich – President of Ticketmaster International

Mark Yovich has an unbeatable view of the live music world. The Australian born-and-raised executive is based in London, where he oversees the international business for the American group that is Ticketmaster. Yovich has seen a lot of the action in the past thirteen years, much of it from within the halls of his own business. He relocated to the U.K. in 2000, where he landed with Robert Sillerman’s events promoter SFX Entertainment and soon after became New Media Director. In 2001, the game changed when Clear Channel acquired SFX. And in 2004, the company was renamed Live Nation, after which time Yovich was promoted to Executive Vice President, Digital International. Following the 2010 merger with Ticketmaster, Yovich became Executive Vice President & General Manager of Ecommerce International. A year down the path, he was appointed to his current role as President Ticketmaster International, with responsibilities for the company’s operations in 14 markets. Australia is in his remit. He’s played a hand in the upcoming June launch of Ticketmaster’s free app for Australian iPhone and Android devices. According to the company, the app can scan users’ iTunes and Google music libraries to and make informed tips on local shows. Yovich was the opening keynote speaker at the May 5-8 Venue Management Association conference in his hometown, Perth, where he addressed the “Future of Ticketing.”

In a nutshell, what was your VMA keynote speech about? 

Mobile is a key part of it. Next year, mobile users will overtake desktop users. We’re seeing that already happening with our usage now; it’s up 160% on mobile over the past 12 months. So making sure all our channels are fully-optimised for the mobile experience is key. It’s not just about apps. Apps have to add something the mobile site doesn’t. We’re really focusing on making the mobile site optimised. Most people coming to us already know what they want. They don’t come to us to browse for tickets. They’re coming from a Tweet or a Facebook link on email, so it’ll link to a mobile site rather than into a mobile app. We’re looking at the mobile sites and spending a lot of time investing in those. Our Australian app will scan your iTunes library and make recommendations of shows for you based on your location and the artists in your library. We really see the app in the future as your mobile wallet, where tickets are stored where you can transfer tickets to your friends and possibly even resell your tickets in a safe and secure way depending on your clients rights. 

Australia has complicated state-by-state laws on re-sales. How will your app factor in the variances between the states?
We’ll absolutely adhere to the laws of the land. We’ll be able to put restrictions on the transfer ability of a ticket based on the laws.

Will there be a time when paper tickets are eradicated?

Never. In fact, we’re seeing a bit of a return back to our customers wanting (physical) tickets instead of digital tickets. There’ll be a mix. Some people will be quite happy to have a ticket on their phone, but there will still be a large percentage of people wanting that piece of paper, that memorabilia. It becomes a piece of merchandise. We’re trialling different ways in different countries of optimising high-quality paper tickets. Our French office is trialling a ticket on a t-shirt which scans when you enter the building. As these events are already amazing live experiences, people want that souvenir. That’s never going to go away.

What are your thoughts on Australia’s market and how we use technology in your biz? 

As a live entertainment market it’s one of the best in the world. Aussies love going out to shows as much as anybody else, if not more so. You’ve got a thriving local music scene, and a great festival business. The weather’s great for an outdoor business. (Australia) is a great business for us. It’s a very important market for us. Both the ticketing side and on the promoting side. Purchasing Michael Coppel Presents last year is a bit of a stake in the ground for us, to show how important this market is. And it’s still growing. It’s growing faster than a lot of other markets, which are facing tough economic headwinds. I know (Australia’s) economy is slowing down a bit, but we’re still seeing the growth in the market up year-on-year, both in promotion and in ticketing.

We also pay top dollar for events here. Splendour was a quick sell-out, as we expected it would. And then Bon Jovi went on sale with some tickets at a low-end. Have we reached the ceiling on price?

There’s now a lot more sensitivity to price in the market. As a business, historically, I don’t think we’ve been very good at pricing at the intersection of supply and demand. Hence the resale market existing. And that’s true at the very top end as well, where punters would pay more for better seats. Therefore there’s a resale market where people pay higher than face value. At the lower end, also, people are sick of paying a higher-price for nosebleed seats. So, we as an industry must do a better job of pricing. It needs to be more dynamically-priced, more scaling across the house and we’re providing some tools for our clients to do that, to change the price in a dynamic way to catch the lifts that would be going into the resale market. And that they wouldn’t be getting a piece of. So we’re trying to return that back to the artists, but also you want to lower the price and fill the back with cheaper seats. Pricing is an issue; we’re seeing it everywhere. With Splendour, demand was way outstripping supply. They have their own way of trying to limit the resale market by putting names on tickets, which is one way to do it. Glastonbury has done the same thing.

We also saw the Rolling Stones recently weren’t able to sell-out their Staples Center show and cheap tickets were released. 

At Ticketmaster, we have a lot of data that we sit on and work with and we spend a lot of time developing tools to mine that data and give our clients better insight into how they price before they go on sale and while it’s on sale. It’s about maximizing the value they can get from the market but also keep the house full.

Have you got a handle on analysing that data? 

We’ve spent about three years developing this new technology which we’re starting to roll out to our clients, venues. We started rolling it out last year to our clients in North America, the U.K. started a few months ago and Australia will get it before the end of the year. Its one of the most exciting things we’ve done. Most industries rely on this type of customer data to be more effective markets to bring targeted and relevant marketing to their customers. Our clients can come talk to us and we can help them figure out what their objective may be. For sports, it may be the propensity for certain customers to renew their season tickets, or looking at why people didn’t’ renew their season tickets.

Is scalping a real problem? 

It depends who you talk to. In my experience, the market exists. It’s not going to go away. The Genie is out of the bottle. We think about 12% of primary tickets in North America are being resold. In Europe it’s about 3%, and the number is similar in Australia. Maybe it’s a little behind Europe. We know the major reseller marketplaces are coming here, some already exist. With the economic situation, it might not grow as rapidly at the moment. If you have a healthier economy, it’s really going to boom. People can’t put their head in the sand and say it doesn’t exist or it will go away. The amount of times we hear about people buying illegitimate tickets and being turned away at shows, it’s a devastating thing to hear from fans. We have to improve that situation. All the customer wants is all their safe options to go to the show. If you go to the Australian Google site, there’s 10 or 15 (resale websites) which to me look fraudulent. We see it in the U.K., we see it everywhere. We as an industry need to try and clean it up and try and make it transparent and give our customers all the options to go the show. A customer doesn’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to buy a “primary ticket” or a “secondary ticket.” Those are industry terms. All they really want is to get into the show. And if a resale site helps them, then they like those sites. They don’t care where the ticket came from. I see the market growing here (for scalping). As Ticketmaster we’ll be doing a lot here in Australia over the next year to try to achieve those goals in giving people all those safe options to go to a show.

Coachella had an innovative experience with a wristband which allows folks to communicate with one another across the site. Is that something you see having a future in ticketing? 

That’s an interesting one. At Coachella they used the RFID (radio-frequency identification) and Near Field Communication (NFC) technologies [the wristbands were provided by Montreal’s Intellitix]. In the Live Nation side of the business, it’s something we’ve looked at for a long time with our festivals – moving into a cashless science. As a ticketing company, it’s not necessarily our core business but we partner with companies on it. We do it in various stadiums and venue around the world, especially on the sports side. On the festivals side, the RFID wristbands I’m not sure if it’s a fad. I’m not sure if it’ll grow and I’m not sure what value the customers get out of it, yet. Certainly for the clients the value is the data they get. But it’s expensive for clients. Whether that cost gets passed on to customers or whether in a tough economic climate that’s the first thing that gets cut from festivals list and they go back to the normal way of doing the show, I’m not sure. I don’t think we’ve cracked the value proposition on that just yet.

Here in Australia you’ve got the two big ticketing companies, yourselves and Ticketek. There’s an image problem with the big two. There was recognition last year from the Shonky Awards, and the “Checkout” team recently broadcast an exposé on ticketing. A few years ago, there was that mess in the U.S. when Springsteen fans were directed to a secondary site. What does Ticketmaster think of its own image problem and what is it doing to fix that?

Ticketing companies haven’t historically done a good job of making sure the customer understand the value they’re providing. There were the Shonkys and various other places around the world where we get criticised, a lot. I’m very aware of it, my boss is very aware of it. And we’re trying to improve that image and that perception and try to explain to the customers the value that we provide. People complain about fees. If we could find a way to make the fees, not necessarily go away, but tell the customer up-front when they see the ticket price that the fee is included in that price. That way they don’t get a surprise when they start going through the checkout process and get all these add-ons. We hate that with any industry. Last year we introduced on our Websites a function where you see the total ticket price at the start. We need to do a better job to explain what those service fees are for. And why they exist and all the infrastructure and call centres and scanning technology and investment that we’re making. As a ticketing company, we get a ticket into your hands. And we get you inside the building. Those two processes take a lot of investment in technologies. Ticketing is a complicated business. Every event is different. There’s a lot of demand in many cases. We have huge server infrastructure around the world to ensure our sites stay up to keep up with the huge spikes. I don’t think any other industry has that kind of spikey demand, which we have to cater for. There’s a whole range of services we provide which the customer doesn’t really see, and we need to do a better job of explaining. Absolutely it’s something that I wake up every day and think about ways to improve that perception. We’ve got a long way to go, there’s no doubt about it.

Looking at your CV, you studied pharmacy. How did that help set you up for a career in ticketing?
It didn’t, one bit (laughs). I was good at chemistry and maths at school, so I picked pharmacy. But I didn’t complete the degree. I went and did an interactive multi-media degree as the Internet was breaking. I loved the Internet and technology, and I’ve always been a massive live music fan. When I came to London, I was at the right place at the right time to get the job at SFX, as it was. It was a dream for me to get inside the industry. Then over the last 13 years, being a part of it, every day I wake up and pinch myself that I’m in this business. The technology angle is what’s helped me. As the internet was breaking and the industry was starting to face these new technologies, having that expertise there gave me that edge and helped me get to where I am. And just being a passionate live music fan helped.

You’ve also been fortunate to work under some of the biggest names in our industry. SFX and Robert Sillerman, and of course Michael Rapino, and briefly with Irving Azoff. What have you learned with those characters?
Yeah, they’re characters but it’s also every country I look after there’s a promoter who pretty-much runs the country. When I was working on Live Nation, you deal with guys who were kings of their castle, whether its Sweden or Finland, Spain or France or Italy, for sometimes 50 years and the stories they can tell you about Jimi Hendrix or Abba or the Who, it’s awe-inspiring. And they’re all unique. The one trait they’ve all got is they’re amazing entrepreneurs, who started out as young kids working in a club or university and managed to find a way to make a buck. A promoter’s life is based on risk. So they’re constantly putting their neck on the line and all the cash they’ve got, because they believe in the show. They’re all amazingly passionate believers in live music as a life-changing experience, but they’re also amazing entrepreneurs. They don’t play by the rules. That’s definitely a character trait. They do things their way, they believe in the end goal despite everybody else telling them it’s not going to work. It’s an enduring determination, passion is their trait, and not playing by the rules. Especially with a guy like Irving Azoff.

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