Sheila Moloney and Mark Rizzuto dive deep into distribution and technology

As Founder and CEO, Sheila Moloney established TIX 12 years ago and has grown the business to over 1.3 million members in Australia. With several brands now under the TIX umbrella, they cater to events and entertainment such as sports, music, culture, and commercial theatre. Post-COVID-19, TIX is diversifying to focus on distribution opportunities, not just to sell tickets to members, but also to deliver a marketing channel for promoters and producers.   

Sheila joins Mark Rizzuto, (CEO of Livn) and Chetan Kapoor (CSO of VIDEC) for episode two of our ‘Livn it up’ series. Together they dive deep into distribution and technology in both the events and travel sectors.

Sheila, your passion for your sector is always palpable; what got you into it in the first place? 

SM: My mother and father ran pubs, hotels, and restaurants in Ireland, so I grew up in an environment where traditional Irish music played a big part. I then went to the UK, where I worked at the Fringe Festival and football there, so I always brought live entertainment or sports to people. This was important when I came to Australia 20 years ago. 

There is nothing better than having 80,000 people in a stadium and feeling that buzz, whether it’s from a sports or music perspective. 

How has the events sector changed in the last 18 months? 

SM: Massively. We sell tickets to many mums who bring their children, and safety is essential. The events industry, like travel, has been substantially impacted by COVID-19 so we are using technology to work with producers and promoters in various ways. QR codes, distancing, mapping, and delivering a technical solution to customers to make them feel safe.

From a distribution standpoint, promoters and producers are now looking at alternative distribution channels, new customers, and new technology. As a sector, we have the opportunity to deliver simpler, scalable solutions that give the distribution power back that they did not have before. Our industry works on small margins, a ticket could be $50.00 by the time we pay the venue, or the promotor takes their percentage, so technology at scale is very important moving forward.

We are seeing tech become a pivotal part of the return. How has this affected distribution in your respective sectors? 

MRThere have been several changes, some more evident like distancing and QR codes, but some are below the surface. Compare distribution channels to 18 months ago, and we have new ones that didn’t even exist. Google’s ‘Things to do’ program emerged to level the playing field with the distribution in our sector. Handset providers are now looking to include tours, attractions, and event data into their universes. While app developers are looking at how to engage their community with meaningful content. 

Even equipment attitudes are changing. Some that existed 18 months ago are unlikely to be favourable moving forward. For example, I can not see 50-seater buses being favoured over 12-seater buses. So, we need to ensure operators have the right technology and equipment to service the sector. 

SM: I think the entertainment industry is behind even though many people are passionate about it. The competitive issues about providing a safe environment mean a lot of insecurities on a non-technical side that needs to be addressed. But as a business, we rewrote our API 12 months ago so we could cater to a far deeper exchange of questions and relativity between the consumer of the product and the person providing the booking technology. 

Good technology improves safety, trust, comfort, distance, and deliverables. But I also think it supports the confidence of insurance moving forward because it gives insurers something more tangible and secure when they get it from technical. 

And where does data fit into this for you both?

SMData is becoming essential moving forward. Historically, producers or promoters would only be interested in the 80,000 people who bought a Sydney ticket. Now, it is about developing that loyalty and bringing them back year after year, and data is crucial in that. It will also allow producers and promoters a global channel to distribute when data can be combined. Some traditional big players do not currently have the facilities to do this or don’t want to share data. 

At TIX, we are not one of these companies that just ‘huddles’. We give back as much data to the producers as possible to aid the customer experience. 

MR: What has happened to our collective industries over the last two years has been tragic, and there is no escaping it. But the silver lining is that everyone is now seeking to re-engage the customer in a far deeper and more meaningful way. The customer is gone, so how do we get them back? This will come down to the use of data and technology, and I expect the result of this will be far closer engagement than previously existed. 

Does the handling of data present any challenges for the events sector?

SM: It can be difficult in instances like a sport where you might have four or five different manual handling processes, and you have to learn how best to combine them. 

Even learning from that data is difficult. Traditionally we have been better at collecting data but have not gone back, looked at it, and used it to make decisions moving forward. COVID-19 is forcing us back down this route, and when you can automate it, build rules, and generate reporting, that’s a key part of making sense of it all. APIs also help to allow technical solutions at scale and give more flexibility. 

TIX has had to evolve during COVID-19. What does that mean for the future and what did this look like for you?

SM: Before COVID-19, we focused on an Australian solution, with global expansion being a long-term strategy. Although we had to unfortunately cost-cut in some areas, it forced us to rethink our approach, which ultimately ended up being a good thing for our business. 

As a result, we have come up with solutions like integrating with API partners in Europe and Asia to deliver an aggregated solution of entertainment content. Which, for our sector, is a good thing. Similarly, we are stepping away from local content in the industry and looking at it with a broader perspective and thinking, ‘how can we get this to as many people as possible?’. Now, my parents are getting André Rieu in their sitting room on a Saturday night in Ireland. 

Eventually, we would have gotten there as an industry, but it’s definitely pushed us there faster.

There is a synergy between Livn and TIX. Does Sheila’s experience translate into the travel industry? 

MR: Distribution is changing across both of our industries, and for us, Google and Livn is an excellent example of partnerships and technologies that are emerging. It opens a new avenue of discussion with operators. Whether you are in travel or events, all anyone is looking for right now is to bring people back. How do I fill my arena? How do I fill my tour? 

We will be looking at more sophistication from things like Google’s ‘Things to do’ program to move the focus from the attraction itself to the touchpoints the activity can evoke. And that sort of format is where we see an intertwine in decision-making. 

Travel distribution has not been disrupted for the last 20 years and the big OTAs have been taking a significant percentage from small to medium operators. If you were not working with an Expedia or, you struggled with distribution strategies and lost 30% commission. Now, new distribution allows them to get fresh layers of relationships and information about their customers. Ultimately, we are both trying to do the same thing: offer the best possible service to our end customers who take our content and buy that live inventory. Whether its promoters or producers, or tours, attractions and activities, most are small to medium-sized businesses. We want to bring them back online and help without impacting their bottom line.

I know you are doing similar things in your space Sheila… 

SM: Without a doubt. For us, it is so new because aggregated global entertainment does not exist. That is why travel is 15 years ahead in terms of technology. For example, in the US, a promoter on a global tour will have to deal with 17 different marketing companies, 17 different agents, 17 different countries, four different continents, and multiple different languages. There is just no means for them to have a single solution to market and access big distribution. So, in that regard, events are just at the beginning of this education, but it is positive. 

What challenges do you both share right now in distribution and technology? 

MR: The main area is connecting to diversity to provide a technical standard in how data is presented upstream to various audiences. For example, the words tour VS attraction VS experience in many instances is interpretable by an individual. But it goes deeper. If you are on a flight, could travellers be offered tours and activities they can do once they land? If so, which ones? How do you target this? It is about curating content at the right time in the right way. There’s so much room to define what a tour ‘is’ to someone in the travel sector.  

SM: We are experiencing the same because there is no uniform ticketing system that brings it all together, and everything is open to interpretation. I had a client reach out when she did not receive an email from us about the Melbourne Tennis Open. I investigated this for her and found she requested not to receive any emails about sports. To which she replied, ‘but I didn’t mean tennis’. And it is funny, in her mind, she didn not want football, or rugby. 

There is also the diversity in the range of preferences that present complexity in our business. It is more than a seat, price, or venue. It is matching to the right people. What if you have a massive rugby fan that also loves classical music? They appear to contradict themselves, but people like what they like. We have a massive gap between collecting data, particularly with the youth and bringing it together in one place. 

Sheila, if you were starting in the industry for the first time today, what would you do differently in TIX?

SMIf we were to rethink and build a better way, we would do it around data collection reporting and lead with more data from the beginning. But hindsight is marvelous. We also have venue exclusivity agreements here which don not give us the flexibility we could have in other states and countries, so as a business, we have had to jump every hurdle to be where we are. But we are in a much better stage for scale, so who knows how things would have turned out if I had done things differently. 

Finally, what do you want to see in the future of your respective industries? 

MR: I believe the travel sector has sold backward. People do not go to a destination for the flight or the hotel. They go because they have been inspired by something they want to experience in that destination. I am excited to be part of the industry that creates that passion and the initial thought of ‘I want to go there’.  

At Livn we are not a B2C like We are creating more effective distribution for small, medium, and large businesses and we are only just scratching the surface of new synergies that could be better combined to deliver palpable outcomes. I would love to see clever new ways of doing this in the future. 

SM: I agree. I would love to see the use of data across all channels, so when I watch Lion King on Netflix, that is connected to in-destination experiences like Broadway and I am being served tickets. This is what entertainment is. It gives people an opportunity to experience something they have not planned to do seamlessly. And that grows the industry at the end of the day, so there’s nothing better. 

Thank you to Sheila Moloney for discussing the challenges and opportunities for distribution and technology in the events sector. Stay tuned for the next installment of ‘Livn it up’.