Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Ticketing Changes for TIFF 2012

Big changes are afoot for the advance ticketing process for the 2012 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. The biggest change is that it appears TIFF is moving to an online selection process for the My Choice ticket packages, as opposed to the paper-based system of years past (it looks like you can also do the ordering process by phone or at the Festival Box Office at 225 King St W).

TIFF will randomly assign you a start time over a 4 day-period (August 23 - 26 for TIFF Contributor Members and up, by Member level; or August 26 - 29 for everyone else) if you buy a 10-Ticket Pack, a Flex Pack, and/or a 6-Premium-Ticket Pack. If you buy a Back Half Pack or a 20-Ticket Daytime Pack, selection windows will start on September 3. For the former, once your start time is reached, you have from then until 7:00 PM on August 29, 2012 to make your selections. However, once you enter the system, you only have 1 hour to complete your selections.

If you fail to complete your selections within the hour, then anything left in your shopping cart will be released back into the available inventory. If you only make a portion of your selections before checking out, any unused selections will be given back to you as vouchers; it doesn't appear that you can go back into the system multiple times to complete your order - you have one shot to get it right.

If you don't log in before 7:00 PM on August 29, you will be locked out until 10:00 AM on September 3. At that point, you have until 7:00 PM on September 5 to make your selections. If you still don't log in after that, you'll get vouchers you'll have to redeem manually.

I think most regular festival-goers at this point are wondering how in the world this is going to work given the failure in past years of the box office system to stand up to the load. I'm highly skeptical that even with staggered start windows that there aren't going to be performance issues, especially if people don't start and finish within their original assigned window. Hopefully they've substantially overhauled, upgraded, and tested their systems, otherwise there's likely to be a revolt if the system has problems. Back in 2010, they attempted a shopping cart-type system, but that collapsed under the load and they fell back to their old ticketing page. If this doesn't work, I can't see any fallback except huge lineups at the festival box office. Even today, I've gotten Server Too Busy error messages when trying to access the main TIFF site, which does not inspire a whole lot of confidence.

Speaking of which, there's no mention of when those selection windows could occur, but I'd guess that they could conceivably fall during the day, when most people may be at work (note they actually have a note on their website that the site has a regular maintenance window from 1:00 to 4:00 AM, so at least your window won't fall into that timeframe). While you aren't required to sign in right at your assigned start time, it doesn't appear there's any benefit to waiting; in fact, you may be penalized if you do so. If you wait several hours, that many more people will have been admitted to the system and snapped up tickets. For those familiar with the old system, it's like the Festival is telling you ahead of time what box you'll be in. But if you wait too long, you'll get pushed into later and later boxes.

On top of all this, you can now select up to 4 tickets per screening per account, unlike the previous 1 ticket limit for some of the old packages. This would seem to increase the chance of more popular screenings selling out faster. And they've introduced Flex Packs, which allow you to buy 20 to 100 tickets in bulk. I'd love to see the person who is going to complete an online order for 100 tickets in a 1-hour period.

If all this works, kudos to the Festival, but nothing in past experience would indicate that this is going to be a walk in the park. The problem is that the people most likely to fill out advance orders are the ones who have been going to the festival the longest, and the ones who are going to be most vocal if problems occur. Potential technical issues notwithstanding, this new process also introduces new problems if your assigned window isn't convenient for you because you're at work or away from a computer or unable to get to the box office. Yes, you still have until August 29 to finish your selections, but by that point everyone else in the system has already made their picks and actually snapped up tickets. Be interesting to see what everyone else's take is on this. Feel free to add your own comments to the post, or any corrections if you see or hear of different info.


Thanks for your annually-awesome TIFF updates. :)

I totally agree about the online system -- I can't imagine any experienced festival goer will have faith in the system working. We'd *looove* to be wrong about that, so we'll see.

While online selection is nice, it still doesn't address the biggest issue they suffer from: creating winners and losers in the advance order process. It's still going to suck for those who get a later window and find out most of their first picks are no longer available.

I've always thought they should do the following: let everyone submit their 1st picks, and then randomize the order fulfillment at the *ticket* level instead of the customer level. Then, on average, people will get more of their selections. Sure, there will no longer be the super-lucky who go first and are guaranteed all of their choices to hot films, but at the same time you won't have those poor souls who spent big $$ on tickets only to get shut out of their top picks because they got to pick last.

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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