2005 Orchestra Website Review Trends

What a difference one year can make. From 2004 to 2005 there were quite a few changes among orchestra websites, some good and some not so good. Here were some of the most noticeable differences revealed by this year’s evaluation…

Timeliness: moving the immovable object
The 2004 evaluation resulted in a significant percentage of orchestras being marked down due to their not having concert schedule information on their website for the upcoming season by the beginning of September.

As a result, many of those orchestras bitterly complained that it was simply not feasible to get the upcoming season’s concert information on their website by the Labor Day holiday. They submitted a litany of reasons why it can’t be done and even provided historical documentation proving that they never had that information ready by the beginning of September.

Nevertheless, I conducted this year’s evaluations a full 10 days earlier as compared to last year and was pleased to discover that only one orchestra didn’t have complete concert information available at the time of their evaluation. It appears that the immovable object was quite as immovable as some have believed.

The good news is that all of those orchestras who managed to get their concert information up earlier now have the opportunity to begin selling tickets sooner, although there are still an unfortunate number of orchestras who don’t begin selling single tickets until after Labor Day. Having the concert information available at an earlier date also allows orchestras to begin operational planning sooner as well as providing patrons with more time to work concert events into their fall schedule.

In the end, it’s a win-win situation; orchestras have the opportunity to become more efficient and better prepared while simultaneously increasing their opportunity to bring in ticket revenue while patrons have increased opportunities to buy tickets sooner rather than later.

In 2004 the average orchestra website score was 62.9, or a D-, in 2005 that average dropped a bit to cause the average score to sink down to a failing grade of 58.93, an F. In addition to a lower average score, 2005 saw an absence of any orchestra scoring over 90, whereas in 2004 at least one orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, earned a 91.8.

Although the lowest score from 2004 to 2005 improved, moving from 28.40 up to 30.94, the number of orchestras receiving a score below 40 more than tripled, increasing from 3 in 2004 up to 13 in 2005.

Looks vs. Content
Although the orchestra website evaluations typically don’t consider aesthetic issues in determining final scores, it was apparent that many orchestras made concerted efforts to redesign the look of their websites.

Gone were many (but certainly not all) of the gaudy, clunky looking websites which appeared to be stuck in the 1990’s. Unfortunately, the updated visual enhancements typically weren’t accompanied by corresponding improvements in content and functionality.

Even with their improved aesthetics, a large percentage of websites scored lower this year in the subcategories of “clarity & simplicity”, “accurate links”, “uniqueness of offerings”, and “site performance”. In essence, many websites may look prettier on the outside but the inside is even more vapid and unreliable than before.

Last, but certainly not least, one of the most noticeable trends emerging from the 2005 evaluations is the rapid increase in the number of orchestras which require users to register before they can purchase tickets or merchandise, make donations, or renew/purchase subscriptions. In the worst cases, some orchestras even require potential ticket buyers to register before they can even inquire about the availability and price of single tickets.

This has to be one of the single most damaging trends emerging this season. One of the overriding aspects of the website reviews is the ability for patrons to enter an orchestra website, locate a particular concert, and complete a ticket sale in less than two minutes. In some cases, the registration process required at some orchestra websites increased the time for users to purchase single tickets by more than five times the two minute standard.

It’s bad enough that some orchestras have no choice but to suffer through employing Ticketmaster as their ticket vendor, who is notorious for maddeningly slow service, but now orchestras are willingly shooting themselves in the earned income foot by throwing up the same hurdles on their own accord.

Registration was such a problem throughout the 2005 reviews that orchestras now receive an automatic deduction of two points for each subcategory impacted by mandatory registration (which can amount to six points if impacted in all three subcategories).

Lessons not learned
At the conclusion of the 2004 orchestra Website Review, I pointed out the importance of orchestras owning their own name as their URL. To illustrate this point, I featured the unfortunate situation with knoxvillesymphony.org (DO NOT go there from a company computer or while minors are looking over your should – you have been warned!).

I’m not going to spoil the surprise but only one orchestra apparently learned the importance of that lesson. All of this will be discussed in greater detail at the end of the review on Friday, September 16, 2005 so stay tuned…

Back to the 2nd Annual Adaptistration Orchestra Website Review main page.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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