by CIO Staff

China Ticketing Firm Takes on Fakes

Mar 31, 20063 mins
IT Strategy

Attending the soccer match between Manchester United and Beijing Hyundai last summer, some fans got a taste of the future: mobile ticketing.

Some supporters received their tickets as a two-dimensional bar code via SMS (short message service), which was then scanned by a bar-code reader upon their entrance to Beijing’s Workers’ Stadium. Is this a future view of Beijing’s 2008 Olympic Games? One company certainly thinks so.

To Beijing-based Emma Ticket, a subsidiary of Emma Entertainment Holdings HK, ticketing in China isn’t about slips of paper or long lines of crazed fans camping out in front of stadiums. “We are an IT company, and this is a technology play,” said Jonathan Krane, Emma’s chief executive officer. Although Emma also books and promotes events, Krane said, “we’re more of a platform, a turnkey one-stop shop” for ticketing technology that can be used by other events promoters.

Outfitting Beijing’s Workers’ Stadium, a 60,000-plus seat venue with which Emma has an exclusive ticketing relationship, meant first setting up a VPN (virtual private network) link from the stadium to the company’s ticket system hosted in Singapore. Emma chose Singapore because the system was written by a Singapore firm, Sistic Pte., and is hosted using an ASP (application service provider) model.

The company also set-up a 20-person call center in Beijing. Unlike fans in China, Chinese fans don’t camp out for tickets, except for top-tier Chinese-language artists like Taiwan crooner Jay Chou, nor do they buy tickets online. Most book by phone, then pay cash when the tickets are delivered. For this reason, Emma operates call centers in both of its major markets, Beijing and Shanghai.

Another big difference in the local approach to events management regards security. China’s police, the Public Security Bureau (PSB), often deploy hundreds, even thousands, of officers for security at concerts and sporting matches. Krane sees this hands-on approach to security as an opportunity for Emma.

Using bar-coded tickets and access control equipment from Skidata, Emma can provide real-time reporting on exactly how many people are in the venue, even down to which seats are or should be occupied. “The PSB has very strong control over events and events security, and they’re very excited about this [system],” he said.

Such monitoring allows the PSB to improve management of crowd flow and their own personnel, Krane said.

The company chose bar codes over RFID (radio frequency identification) and swipe cards when it chose a security method for its tickets, for a simple reason: cost. “As a business, what is the cost of a bar code versus a magnetic stripe versus RFID?” Krane posited. He answered saying, “For bar codes, there is no additional equipment necessary beyond existing ticket printing machines. The method is not important as long as each ticket is unique and monitored.” Emma is using Skidata gear backed up with locally-produced RFID technology.

Bar coding also helps reduce loss from a prevalent China market problem: fake tickets. Using techniques ranging from high-quality copiers to even applying black-market holographic stickers, fakes are usually made either by scalpers or by attendees themselves. But creating a bar code that will match a unique ID in the system is far more difficult, Krane said.

At the heart of this is Sun Microsystems’s Solaris OS9, according to Krane. He described the system as “super-flexible,” and said “most enterprise ticketing systems don’t run on anything but Unix.”

-Steven Schwankert, IDG News Service

For related content, read Faked in China.

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