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Not all tickets fare well online

While travel tickets have tremendous potential, "marquee" events and movie tickets are two segments not expected to flourish on the Net.

Ticket booths on the Net will bring in $10 billion a year by 2001, but in some locales using the phone will remain simpler for consumers, a new report states.

Travel, performance events, and professional sports tickets will boom in online sales, according to Forrester Research's report, "Selling Tickets Online." Sites hawking seats for movies and "marquee" events will account for a only a minor share of the growth, however.

Although ticketing sites often have cumbersome interfaces, the Net is open 24 hours a day and experienced computer users tend to want control over their purchases--instead of letting an agent decide.

Ticketmaster made $2 million from its site in March, but it won't sell many marquee event seats over the Net, the report states. Neither will other marquee show vendors such as TicketsOnline, MetroTix Online, or Online Tickets U.S.A.

These events will account for only 3 percent of online ticket sales by 2001, Forrester estimates.

"Marquee events sell out in 24 to 48 hours. An Internet site wouldn't be able to handle the traffic. The site would get crippled and the company would end up with a PR problem," said Forrester analyst Mark Hardie, who wrote the report.

Another factor stifling marquee event sales is Ticketmaster itself. The company, which controls sales for most of the entertainment venues across the country, is "cautiously moving into online ticketing" and "possesses little incentive to move aggressively," the report says.

This is due in part to Ticketmaster's traditional system, which is set up to distribute tickets for regional events. On the Net, consumers may want to find a show in their neighborhood or track down a certain performer by conducting a simple keyword search. But Ticketmaster's Web site sorts shows by state and event name.

"It's cost-prohibitive to rebuild its system for the Internet," Hardie said. "Ticketmaster is instead partnering with a lot of travel agent and city site efforts to help people [narrow their searches]."

Movie box offices won't do so hot on the Net, either.

"Movies tickets are an impulse buy. For the most part you can see a movie before its run ends because the cinema industry has seats for you," Hardie said. "Advance phone sales aren't doing that well, but they will still beat the Net."

Slightly distinguished from others online event sellers are those offering tickets for symphonies, museums, and theater groups. Unlike marquee events, this segment offers cheaper, less time-sensitive sales that appeal to Net users, the report states.

Local events sales will also be bolstered by the surge of city guides like Microsoft Sidewalk, CitySearch, and America Online's Digital City.

Despite the drawbacks of booking travel tickets in cyberspace, it's the market that has the most potential online, according to Forrester's report and a separate study by Jupiter Communications.

Forrester estimates the travel industry will make more than $8 billion per year in ticketing sales on the Net by 2001, while Jupiter's prediction is milder: $4.7 billion by 2000.

"Travel will the biggest product segment for consumer online spending," said Nicole Vanderbilt, a senior analyst for Jupiter. "We found that frequent travel is pretty closely aligned with the main Web demographic of affluent, highly educated consumers."

But online airline ticketing sites don't always allow one-stop shopping. This could prove a pitfall in attracting more mainstream consumers as the medium's use grows .

"Travel agents and airlines make it difficult for you to get one click away from buying a ticket because it costs them money for excess hits to their central reservation systems if the hits don't result in sales," Vanderbilt said.

Added Harding, "The interfaces are complicated today because they were designed by airlines to fill seats as internal yield management systems, not for consumer access."

Security concerns are not an issue holding back growth now, Forrester states. And corporate clients will lead the rush towards ticketing online with travel sites like Microsoft's Expedia, Preview Travel, and SABRE's Travelocity.

Sites that aggregate travel agents are already faring well. The Internet Travel Network (ITN) has some 4,000 travel agencies that accept reservations online every day.

"The main philosophy is to have a system that is quick, easy, and powerful. Our Web page forms are extremely simple," said Joe Witherspoon, marketing manager for ITN. "Although it's an automated system, our site is not set up to be the mechanical travel agent. Reservations are passed on to humans, and they usually call the traveler to verify things."