Spektrix: Meet the innovators spearheading the ticketing tech revolution

Chichester Festival Theatre is one of many UK arts organisations using Spektrix. Photo: Tristram Kenton Chichester Festival Theatre is one of many UK arts organisations using Spektrix. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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When two theatre-lovers set up a cloud-based ticketing platform 10 years ago, most venues were using outdated box-office technology. Tim Bano investigates how the system they created has revolutionised ticketing, marketing and fundraising – helping more than 300 organisations across the country engage with their audiences

In just over a decade, a company set up by two computer geeks with a love of theatre has become one of the leading ticketing organisations in the country.

For anyone buying a theatre ticket online, Spektrix is simply a logo at the bottom of the screen. For marketing, fundraising, box office and management teams, the company is what keeps their departments going.

Chief executive Michael Nabarro and chief technology officer Matt Scarisbrick founded the company in 2007 while Nabarro was general manager of the ADC Theatre in Cambridge.

Businesses in other sectors were starting to move towards cloud technology but the pair noticed that the ticketing market, particularly for arts organisations, was lagging behind.

“We started the business from just seeing that gap,” Nabarro explains. “The technology was all pretty old-fashioned and it was clear that things were changing.”

So Nabarro, who had studied computer science, built Spektrix with Scarisbrick as a cloud-based ticketing system. It means that for Spektrix’s clients, many of the leading theatres across the country, there is no special software they have to install across their organisation.

Instead, the software exists online and is accessed through a web browser. As long as there’s an internet connection, theatre staff can log in to an online system that processes ticket purchases and collects all ticketing information for the venue.

Chief executive Michael Nabarro

Not that a punter wanting to buy a ticket for an upcoming show at, say, Chichester Festival Theatre would notice. Spektrix integrates with theatres’ websites, so as soon as someone buying a ticket online clicks the ‘book now’ button, Spektrix’s software imperceptibly takes over.

Box office and marketing teams, however, can see which seats have been booked, as well as lots of information about the people who have booked them. The system gathers all the ticketing information together and generates reports for the organisation on how many tickets were sold, how much revenue they took, what concessions there were – anything and everything they want to know.

At first, arts organisations were slow to adopt the new technology, partly because Spektrix “is not the cheapest in the market”, Nabarro says.

It costs £10,000 a year for small organisations, plus 1.4% commission on every ticket after the first £250,000 of income, £20,000 for larger venues, plus 1.3% on anything after the first million earned, and £30,000 for the biggest players.

But Nabarro is firm about the pricing, insisting the industry has suffered from a lack of investment in technology. “We have not discounted, because all that happens then is that we’re not able to invest in the technology or in supporting it properly.”

Once an organisation is on board, Spektrix provides unlimited support. “If you’re a great sales or marketing manager, you’re not going to be technical, and you shouldn’t be. You should be focusing on your audiences and segmentation models and things like that. So the key thing that we’ve done is to say: the technical bit is our problem. If you’ve got a web browser, the rest is with us.”

That simplicity combined with Spektrix’s focus on the theatre industry attracted a number of major clients early on – including London’s Royal Court, which started using the system in 2010.

“The thing that really drew us to Spektrix was that it had a system that was intended to be used for theatre – it valued that very specific market,” says Farrar Hornby, the Royal Court’s sales and ticketing manager.

“I use it for pretty much everything. It’s also a big part of how we report, not only on a big scale – to the Arts Council or other producers – but it’s also how we gather very small pieces of information that we might want to pass on to a colleague.”

Ten years later, with 300 clients under its belt – including Nicholas Hytner’s new venture the Bridge Theatre – selling tickets is only a small part of what Spektrix does.

What’s more significant is the data that each sale generates. Wherever a customer comes into contact with a theatre, Spektrix turns the interaction into mountains of statistics and marketing teams can then take advantage of audience behaviour and trends.

Ellie Keel, programme and marketing manager for opera company Opera Up Close, receives regular reports from hundreds of venues across the country to monitor ticket sales.

She says the difference between venues that use Spektrix and those that don’t is massive. “Those that don’t make a lot more work for producers – the reports aren’t nearly as comprehensive. Spektrix also makes it clearer than other ticketing systems that discounted tickets, whether concessions or special offers, have a massive impact on revenue.”

Perhaps most usefully, in a straitened funding climate, the data can also feed into organisations’ fundraising efforts. “Our part to play there is taking people right through from that single ticket, to coming regularly, to giving small amounts – using our tools to build those relationships,” Nabarro says. That involves tracking donations customers are making, even looking at donors’ postcodes to target affluent areas. Nabarro describes it as “basically prospecting”.

Chief operating officer Libby Penn

But is there a risk that turning everyone into statistics erases some of the personal element that makes theatre, as an art form, unique? Nabarro thinks not. Half of customers still buy tickets on the phone or in person, he says.

“I used to think it was all about moving people online. But if people prefer to pick up the phone and have a chat, understand a bit more about the season, then that should be what they do and they shouldn’t be penalised with extra booking fees. To drive loyalty you have to build a relationship and that can’t just be done online.”

Chief operating officer Libby Penn agrees: “These are arts organisations, and actually that contact is so valuable, particularly given that philanthropy is becoming more important for the arts.”

“We’re not just selling commodities,” she adds. “We’re not selling airline tickets – we’re selling real experiences and when someone phones, it is a great opportunity to build a relationship.”

The combination of attracting customers and keeping them sells tickets and keeps organisations afloat. “It’s hard to survive as an arts organisation,” Penn says. “They’re competing with cinemas and Netflix, and frankly if those organisations aren’t able to survive, the world would be worse off. So everyone here is motivated to strengthen the sector, advancing the arts through technology.”

Profile: Spektrix

Chief executive: Michael Nabarro
Tickets sold in 2016: 16,549,193
Number of employees: 70
Number of clients: 300
Turnover: £5.1 million
Key contact: Libby Penn, chief operating officer