When it comes to London, there are plenty of sights to see. Some might make their way to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey or the London Eye, while others might decide to ride a double-decker bus, or visit Buckingham Palace in hopes of spotting members of the royal family.
For those looking to enjoy an arts and culture excursion, the West End of London is a renowned theater scene and among the city’s top attractions. According to recent data, London theaters took in approximately £705 million (US$910.1 million) at the box office last year.
Finding tickets for a show can be a pain point for theatergoers. A venue might only have undesirable seating remaining, tickets could be too expensive, available times and dates could be inconvenient, or a show could just be completely sold out. This poses a problem for the theater as well. If a customer becomes frustrated while searching for tickets, it could mean curtains for the entire transaction.
Ticket sales and distribution company London Theatre Direct (LTD) is turning to APIs in an effort to more effectively manage available ticket inventory. LTD consolidates multiple box office system APIs, which allows it to sell tickets from a wide range of venues in London. LTD’s Director of Partnerships Mark Prethero told PYMNTS about the company’s decision to apply APIs to online ticketing, and how the technology is changing the theatergoing experience and the culture of London’s theater market.
The API Show Must Go On
Even with nearly 20 years of eCommerce experience under LTD’s belt, having opened its first online store in 1999, Prethero said that buying theater tickets online can be filled with friction for consumers.
“We used to work on allocation,” he explained. “Each venue would give us a set of tickets for each performance.”
These allocations were often limited to a certain number of tickets, and were typically the same seats from one performance to the next. Without a wide range of seating options, customers would be driven to find better tickets on another website.
“It wasn’t a good choice for consumers,” Prethero said. “They would have to browse multiple websites to find the seats they wanted.”
This kind of friction didn’t just drive customers away — it put LTD in a situation where it had more demand than available supply.
“It’s bad for us … We could lose the sale because of a lack of choice,” he said.
That risk can be minimized with APIs, which LTD uses to connect with a wide range of London-based theaters, revealing each theater’s inventory in real time and thereby offering customers a wider range of options.
“Anything that is available from the venue is available through our website,” Prethero said. “If [consumers] want to choose a cheaper price or a different seat or have a different view, they [no longer] have to visit a different website.”
An API-Driven Culture Change
APIs are not only changing the way consumers access tickets — they’re also working to change the culture of the theater industry.
“In the West End,” Prethero said, “[there] can be, at times, an old-fashioned way of doing things.”
With the allocation model, theaters felt they had greater influence over which companies or partners had ticket access. These venues were hesitant to use APIs to make tickets publicly available, because once the inventory became accessible, they had little oversight of the sales process.
“They were a bit nervous, at first, to open up their inventory, because they thought they would lose control over [their] tickets,” Prethero noted.
These venues eventually moved past their hesitations after they realized APIs could significantly boost ticket sales. For example, a recent production of “Jersey Boys” saw a 600 percent increase in ticket sales due to LTD’s API. The APIs provide an opportunity for venues to reach a broader share of customers, and LTD offers an API developer portal on its website, which theaters can use to customize solutions for their specific facility.
“Now, when a new startup wants to launch a ticketing company, they can bypass all of the work we have had to do over the years and gain instant access to inventory across the whole West End,” Prethero said.
In other words, APIs are not just disrupting the way patrons find tickets to their favorite shows — they are also changing the way these venues conduct business and establish partnerships.
A Layered API Theater Experience
The API disruption is not limited to theater venues, either. LTD’s solutions can also be put to use in the broader entertainment, experience and travel markets, streamlining vacation planning by connecting customers with options to reserve travel-related expenses such as flights, hotels and meals.
“We have different solutions for different types of businesses,” Prethero said.
For example, LTD’s API inventory includes a platform that allows hotel concierges to book theater tickets for guests. Another solution enables patrons to consolidate their ticket purchase with a restaurant reservation, making it easier to catch dinner and a show.
LTD’s API developer portal is also available for companies in the travel industry, so their customers can buy theater tickets as part of their tourist experience. With the solution in place, travel firms can make the theater experience a common part of the purchasing process without having to establish a partnership or make significant back-end changes.
“When you book a [flight], you might get offered a rental car or some extra insurance,” Prethero noted. “But if you’re traveling to London, most people will go see a West End show, so why not offer them a fun entertainment product to book rather than just a rental car?”
All told, APIs have pulled back the curtain on the ticket-buying process, and are ushering in a full range of additional travel and entertainment experiences for theatergoers. For London tourists, APIs could make going to the theater easier than navigating the Tube.