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Sunday, January 12, 2014


The ticketing system which powers the iconic Edinburgh Fringe is poised to change the way South Africans experience the arts from 2014, with the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown being the first to introduce its audiences to “one of the world’s most efficient, robust, versatile and secure systems”.

The largest arts gathering in the world The Scottish event sells over 2.5 million tickets each August. From this year, the same software that powers those sales will be used in Grahamstown, in terms of a new partnership announced today between the Festival and Edinburgh-based technology company Red61.

“This is an amazing, world-class system, unlike anything we’ve encountered,” Festival CEO Tony Lankester said. “The software was custom-written specifically to simplify the experience of attending a Festival such as ours, which has many venues and hundreds of performances taking place in a concentrated period of time,” he said.

The partnership will save festival-goers valuable time and effort, while bringing a streamlined and simplified planning and booking experience to their desktops, smartphones and tablets without compromising on security, Lankester maintains. “Security was our number one priority. We wanted to introduce a system which protected the private data of our customers and of artists. The next thing we looked for in a system was simplicity. Customers don’t want to spend hours navigating a cumbersome site with archaic rules. This system will let our audiences plan their Festival visit online and then book quickly and securely using their phones or tablets, wherever they are. While this technology itself isn’t new, the way the customer experience is put front and centre of this software is unlike anything on offer in the South African marketplace. It is easy, quick, safe, intuitive and is an absolute joy to use.”

Only a couple of years since its introduction, the software has become the de facto standard for arts events around the world. “We sell tickets not just in Edinburgh, but also in Adelaide, Brighton, Perth and Abu Dhabi,” Red61 Managing Director Tony Davey said. “While it was designed and built for Edinburgh, it is scaleable so that it can handle one production or venue in one day as easily as it can a multi-venue environment like Edinburgh which has hundreds of performances on at any given moment throughout August.”

Grahamstown is the first African festival to use the software, a fact that means a lot to Red61. “One of our early investors and our current Chairman, William Burdett-Coutts who runs the iconic Assembly venues in Edinburgh, performed at the inaugural National Arts Festival when he was a Rhodes student in 1974. The fact that we are introducing Via to Grahamstown 40 years later makes us proud,” Davey said.

Behind the scenes, the software will give organisers and artists performing at the Festival better access to instant sales figures, analysis and reports. “We’ll be able to see at a glance which shows are selling well, which ones aren’t, and we will be able to adjust our marketing on the fly to respond,” Lankester said. “Importantly, the pricing structure of the system is such that we will be able to drastically reduce the commissions and fees built in to every ticket, meaning more money goes into the pockets of the artists.”

While some of those savings will flow to artists in the first year, it is expected that the commissions will reduce even further in future years as the Festival’s initial investment in hardware infrastructure is recouped.

“We like the system so much we have decided to invest in the future of the company, and the National Arts Festival will license the software to festivals, theatres, sports events and concerts across the country through a new non-profit joint venture with Red61,” Lankester said. The venture will be launched in South Africa once compliance testing is complete.

Apart from licensing the software, the Festival will be commissioning South African developers to come up with innovations that add value to the system – planning tools and web functionality that can then be offered to Via users in other countries, showcasing South Africa’s IT talent. “We are convinced that Via is the future of ticketing and will become the global standard – and we want everyone to experience it knowing full well that the system speaks for itself,” Lankester said “It makes organisers, artists and audiences happy the moment they come into contact with it.”

The 40th edition of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown will take place from July 3 to 13, 2014. See, or the National Arts Festival Grahamstown on Facebook, or @artsfestival on Twitter, for more information.

The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Eastern Cape Government, Department of Arts and Culture, National Arts Council, City Press and M Net.