A New Way To Look Before You Leap

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published an article about an interactive seating chart tool being developed for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s website. Called Seat Buddy, the online tool promises to let website users get a better look at the inside of the concert hall as well as what Seat Buddy’s founder described in the article as the hall’s depth…

The article
reports that Los Angeles Philharmonic chief operating officer, Arvind
Manocha, says the new system will give patrons a better sense of the
hall’s unique seating properties. Manocha is quoted as saying "People
are familiar with the outside of [Disney Hall], but seeing the inside
isn’t very easy." Amen to that. Ever since the hall opened, the Los
Angeles Philharmonic’s website has provided scant visual information
about the inside of the hall.

As such, the addition of the Seat Buddy feature will be a
welcome upgrade to what was previously in place. In fact, the Phil’s
website is looking and functioning much better than when it was
reviewed at the beginning of the season for the 2007 Orchestra Website
Review. I’m looking forward to seeing how the complete website fares in
the 2008 reviews.

Although the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Seat Buddy isn’t
functional yet, I was glad to see the LA Times article point out that
Orange County Performing Artscenter rolled out the feature in late
January. As such, I took a look at what Seat Buddy had to offer and
came away with some mixed feelings.

First off, let me say that I think Seat Buddy is a really cool
idea and once the app loaded, it was fun to play with. At the same
time, Seat Buddy took over 30 seconds to load on a FireFox browser and
almost a full minute with IE7. I was a little disappointed that the
fly-through videos are selected using a regular 2D black and white seat
map. But the product delivers as promised and definitely left me with a
sense of a hall’s "depth."

In an odd way, that was also one of the drawbacks, especially
when viewing fly-through videos for seats toward the back of the hall.
The long videos let you know that you were far from the
action. I have no idea how this will come across at Disney Hall since
their design is quite a bit different than the hall in the Orange
County Performing Artscenter. Finally, the video quality used at the
Orange County Performing Artscenter felt over-compressed and was
noticeably pixilated. Nevertheless, Seat Buddy still ranks a 10 out of
10 on the "cool" scale and I hope the other issues are something the LA
Phil will be able to work out when the app is rolled out in the spring.

I couldn’t help but compare Seat Buddy to the only other
orchestra website app I know of that provides a fly-through feel of the
concert hall, the 3D Interactive Seating Model at the Nashville
Symphony’s website. Immediately, comparing the two is a bit of apples
to oranges as Seat Buddy uses video of the hall and Nashville’s Seating
Model is based on 3D CAD developed during when the hall was designed.

The Nashville app took less than five seconds to load in
FireFox and IE7 and doesn’t make the seats farthest from the stage seem
so far away as Seat Buddy. To begin with, Seat Buddy "flies" the user
from the stage to their seat whereas the Nashville model pivots the
hall around the user’s seat. Instinctively, I preferred the method
employed in Nashville and given the fact that it was a little easier,
and much faster, to use than Seat Buddy, users might get more out of
the Nashville model in the long run.

In the end, any orchestra would likely find themselves
in a good place if they employed either Seat Buddy or Nashville’s 3D
Interactive Seating Model. Watching orchestras like the Los Angeles
Philharmonic and Nashville Symphony take the lead in utilizing
technology to improve customer relations and boost ticket sales will
only put them in a better place sooner than everyone else.

In the meantime, I’m anxious to know what others think. Take a moment and visit Seat Buddy at Orange County Performing Artscenter and Nashville’s 3D Interactive Seating Model. What sort of impressions do they leave with you?

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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4 thoughts on “A New Way To Look Before You Leap”

  1. My guess is that these applications are most useful for first- and second-time visitors. After I’ve been in hall a few times, especially if I get seats in different sections, I have a good enough sense of the hall, its acoustical properties, and its sight-lines that all I need is a seating chart. The mantra for Davies Symphony Hall is simple enough: orchestra, terrace, or 2nd tier only, avoid the side seats in the tiers.

    I’m curious if you’ve been to Disney. The layout is extremely complicated, but the sound quality is so extraordinary that I think it doesn’t matter much where you sit as far as what you hear goes.

    I haven’t been to Disney yet which is why I’m particularly anxious to see the inside of the hall via Seat Buddy. I do agree that for most folks familiar with the hall, Seat Buddy or Nashville’s Virtual model will likely have limitations but if the goal for many groups today is to bring in new patrons and offer tools for the community to be proud in the organization (look at what we’ve got!), tools like this should be a staple for every performing arts organization. ~ Drew McManus

  2. I think it’s helpful tool, but it does take long time to load as you point out.

    What i’d really like is a tool that shows true-seat level viewing and lets you choose the height of person sitting in front of you.

    Then, you can determine your personal level indicator of exasperation (PLIE) if 6’5″ person is sitting in front of you. Especially good for ballet performances 🙂

    Thanks for pointing that feature out Doug, I didn’t play around with it too much as I understand sight-lines at Disney are supposed to be very good. But I agree that for non-musical performances, it is a smart move to incorporate that feature into any hall that employs something like Seat Buddy. ~ Drew McManus

  3. Working along in the process and implementation of the NSO interactive seating module, our initial goal was to allow people to view the hall (and buy tickets) before they could even step into it. Contrary to the above theory, as we come to the present time, we find that it’s very useful to not only new patrons but those who have been with us for quite some time and attended many shows. Having many sold-out or hard to exchange into events, as well as a plethora of single ticket (non-subscription) events, the tool gives people a truly genuine understanding of what their view is and it has caused people to move from their “normal” seats/sections. One nice benefit too, I think it helps to sell more box seats where we normally wouldn’t because people see them as an option.

    There you go, a dynamic perspective form someone in the know – thanks Andi! Another thought regarding the ongoing benefits is if a patron is anything like me (although I count myself in the minority on this) I like to move around in a hall as much as possible so having a user-friendly resource like the Virtual Model would be useful on an ongoing basis. ~ Drew McManus

  4. What I keep hoping to find in a seating map is an area of seats, marked “mixer.” which will be to music lovers what a singles bar is to . . . uh . . . drinkers.

    Here’s the deal.

    If you buy a ticket in the mixer section, it means you are willing to converse with, mix with, and possibly hook up with, other persons in the area.


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