Ticket war hurts theatres

2008-01-19 00:00

PATRONS were left outside an empty theatre at Musgrave Centre on Thursday night, even though they had booked and paid for tickets. They were victims of a war between ticket sellers that is leaving theatres and their audiences high and dry.

The Dockyard’s Stuart Mey confirmed yesterday that ticketing giant Computicket sold tickets to a cancelled show from their Shoprite Checkers outlet at Windemere Centre. It was the latest in a string of problems: patrons are being given wrong starting times, incorrect information or told shows are sold out when they aren’t.

Yet Mey, like other theatre owners, recently received a lawyer’s letter from Computicket stating that in terms of exclusive agreement with them, they would take legal action if he sold tickets via competitors.

In addition, Computicket has allegedly ring-fenced major events, preventing competitors from marketing events such as the A1 Grand Prix and international music acts.

At least 1 000 ticket sales to the Umoja show at Sibaya were lost because Computicket enforced an exclusive contract with the hotel group. A ticket offer to DStv subscribers for the Johannesburg show was removed from its website when Computicket threatened legal action because of an exclusive agreement with show producers. The DStv website portal is operated by opposition vendor Strictly Tickets.

Tony Feldman, spokesman for live entertainment producers and promoters Showtime Management, said he cannot afford to turn his back on Computicket. “I don’t necessarily believe Computicket is acting in producers’ best interests. However, I need to sell tickets. Unless other companies can compete on an even footing, it will have a monopoly.”

A Pretoria theatre manager added: “They have us over a barrel”. However, while many Gauteng theatres have given in to demands, Durban theatres and producers have stood their ground, saying charges are high and service is “pathetic”.

Computicket charges a loading fee at the outset and then takes a transaction fee ranging from 19% of the ticket price. Opposition companies take 15%.

Mey has been forced to withdraw ticket sales from the Strictly Tickets website until his contract with Computicket expires in October. Meanwhile, he has continued selling tickets via his own website, even though the software was supplied by Strictly Tickets. “They can’t prevent me from selling my own tickets. I can’t wait to get out of my contract with Computicket,” he said.

Gary Charne of Strictly Tickets said he was forced to remove four theatres from his website in three months. He said there have been a number of incidents. For example, the Russian producer of the recent performance by the Russian Imperial Ballet offered discounted tickets to DStv subscribers in exchange for advertising on its channels. When Computicket threatened to enforce its exclusivity agreement, he had to buy back tickets for subscribers from Computicket and foot the bill.

Ticketconnection, which has Mr Price as its retail partner, said it has also been adversely affected.

“The alleged exclusivity contracts put in place by Computicket existed before we entered the market. Whether their clients are happy with this is a matter that needs to be discussed between Computicket and [them],” said spokeswoman Lise Kuhle.

Charne said he and others have approached the Competition Commission (CC) to look into the problem but were sent incorrect documentation to submit information. A spokesperson for the CC said yesterday that no formal complaint has been lodged.

Computicket was not available for comment as general manager Gerhard Hayes was away on leave.

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