Sales & Marketing

Back to the Future – How a challenge from Cirque du Soleil led to a mobile-first ticketing system

TixTrack Inc. had earned a sizeable and loyal client base through its data warehouse and analytical tools, but it was a request from one of its most colourful clients that led to its latest innovation.

Steven Sunshine, Co-Founder and CEO of TixTrack will present this story in a breathless six minutes and forty seconds during our Innovations Showcase on Wednesday 5th April.

The Brief

Cirque du Soleil are world famous for their dazzling acrobatics but they are equally versed in technology both on and off-stage, and their ticketing operations are some of the best in the world. We had been providing data warehousing and analytics to Cirque via our TixTrack Pro tools for three years when we jointly realized that one of the largest impediments to maximizing revenues were their poor conversion rates from mobile customers.

Together, we took on the task to rethink and develop a modern and streamlined mobile buying process. We’re a software house that focuses on ticketing and we like a challenge, but we didn’t realise that we were about to embark on a journey with a very happy, if unexpected, ending.

Our first move was to recruit some experts in mobile UX design and mobile transactional services. We then spent eight months building countless prototypes in wireframes that were ergonomically designed and then extensively AB and user-tested to function in the reduced screen size and manoeuvrability of a handheld device.

Our objective was to produce a simple, intuitive mobile UI that was quick to load over a standard mobile connection and easy to search, select and transact upon. We utilised inbuilt mobile components such as pinch, zoom, scroll etc., and only when Cirque were happy with our prototype designs and test results did we start to cut code.

Widening Horizons

Mobile consumers expect and demand instant results and a ‘spinning egg timer’ would kill our project dead. So we were determined that load times and operational procedures would be lightning fast, even if Cirque’s customers weren’t within reach of a broadband wifi connection and had to rely on a weak 3G mobile signal. We soon realised that the only way to guarantee load and operational times in milliseconds was to design and develop our own mobile-first transactional database.

Luckily, we are database experts and had worked with over sixteen different ticketing systems so we were able to design a structure for our solution that could process and present complex ticketing data almost instantaneously.

It was at this point that we took stock: we had designed, user-tested and built a mobile interface, and had designed a specialist transactional database to support it. But building a new platform would require expertise and resources way beyond our brief. In assessing the expenditure and potential applications we also realised that we would only be a few steps short of an end-to-end solution – a user-friendly back end, and ‘retro-fitting’ to tablet, laptop and desktop devices would deliver a fully-functioning ticketing system.

Enlivening Experiences

We searched for a suitably fresh and empowering name, that avoided any mention of ‘tickets’, and came up with Nliven. In our minds, it is about enlivening the whole live entertainment experience, and that starts with ticket selection and purchasing.

We hired more specialist mobile developers and built the underlying system using the very latest best-of-breed components, which allows us to work to extremely agile two-week release cycles.

Nliven was soft launched in June ’15 on just one show, and was extensively A/B tested to compare conversion rates with the current buying process. The results were so positive that Nliven was gradually rolled out across multiple shows, on mobile and desktop, by December ‘15.

Try Me

Please take a look for yourselves, on your phone, just search on Cirque’s main site for their “Michael Jackson ONE” show, and if you click on “Buy Tickets” you are taken through to Nliven. As you can see, we spent a lot of time removing obstacles and streamlining navigation so that everything is as intuitive and “frictionless” as possible.

Once you select some seats you are offered a 360° Virtual Reality preview from the centre of the row. This is another example of ‘backwards innovation’: None of the third-party VR products we tested could load quickly enough over 3G. So we hooked up with some friends from a local Hollywood studio and installed a couple of lasers in the auditorium to digitally map the seats. The whole project took us only six weeks from initial concept to live installation.

Cirque are delighted with this feature because they find that it helps to sell the more challenging locations, as they all look a lot better in our VR than they do on a static plan, and customers can see that they’ll still get a pretty good view of the stage. Customer service is incredibly important to Cirque so they are not only pleased with the improved conversion rates, but equally pleased with the greatly enhanced consumer experience.

Flexible Distribution

But Cirque wanted more than just an effective mobile UI, because they have close to sixty third-party agencies and resellers all over the world. As Nliven is engineered from the ground up using APIs we were able to develop a Channel Management facility that allows Cirque to give direct access to any partner or outlet that they choose to create. Nliven is so flexible that Cirque can specify different inventory access, prices and commission structures for every individual partner.

As mobile distribution becomes more fluid, the ability to change prices dynamically according to different rules and criteria becomes more pronounced. Our background in Pricing Analytics and Revenue Management guided us to develop the capability within Nliven whereby the price and attributes of every single seat can be altered to any amount at any time, regardless of the price of any adjoining seats.

Closing Credits

“Working with Tixtrack/Nliven not only improved our online sales and customer experience, but also opened up new possibilities for our distribution strategy. The flexibility of the platform and the level of support of their team helped us in achieving great results”

François Quirion, MBA
Cirque du Soleil
Senior Manager, Ticketing and Analytics

Over the first year of deployment Cirque has sold over one million tickets for its six Vegas shows through Nliven, worth over eighty million dollars.

We are developing additional functionality such as House Seat management and a Group Sales module, and the next big (backwards) step will be to integrate our new Predictive Analysis module.

We’ve learnt a lot on this journey and it all stems from one of our guiding principles – listen to your customers, and put their priorities before yours.

You never know, they might inspire you to ‘accidentally’ develop a next generation ticketing system along the way.