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Our website: A look forward

Chief Technology Officer Rob Greig on our forthcoming new website.

By Rob Greig (Former Chief Technology Officer)

12 January 2012 at 12.56pm | 35 Comments

Back in 2001 someone boldly told me that theatre goers would not want to book their tickets via the internet. If there is one thing I have learnt, it’s never underestimate the ability of technology to capture the imagination and change the way we do things. According to legend, even Bill Gates famously said, "The Internet is just a passing fad".

The fad didn't pass and six years ago (a millennium in internet years), we at the Royal Opera House launched our current website. This shiny new website, putting all sorts of exciting new content at the fingertips of the world, quickly became popular. More and more people took to booking online and as a result, unfortunately, the hot ticket often became the slow ticket. This meant that an online waiting room had to be introduced to manage the demand.

When I joined the Royal Opera House in 2009, the website was already feeling a bit old. We spent the next 12 months shoring up the site, improving stability and have experienced relative success. We can now serve 26% more customers online than we could in 2009. However, this is no real consolation to many of us who still have to sit in a virtual waiting room of 2000 fellow audience members queuing for tickets. It has been a source of frustration for everyone who works at the Royal Opera House because we want to provide the best possible service to our audience.

We firmly believe that we should be providing an excellent experience for everyone from the moment someone arrives at our website. This can be tricky when we have to employ a virtual waiting room up to 30 times a year to manage the 50,000 people on the busiest days all trying to buy tickets at the same time. 53% of you now book your tickets online and we’re sure it would be more if our website had the capacity. So we went back to the drawing board and decided to start again with a new website.

Over the past 18 months we’ve been building a new team with the expertise to create the next improved Royal Opera House online experience and really are starting from scratch. We’ve also been listening: taking on board your comments and feedback from emails and letters; on Facebook and Twitter; and from the plethora of excellent blogs maintained by dedicated Ballet and Opera fans. We know things are hard to find, not always accessible and know that tickets need to be simpler and quicker to book.

After an extensive period of planning and preparation based in part on your feedback we are now building the new site and there is still a lot to do. Unfortunately, I can't guarantee everyone will get the best seat in the house, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you for your patience so far and we look forward to launching our new site and hearing your thoughts. Keep an eye out for more details in the near future.

Read Rob's other blogs about the new website

By Rob Greig (Former Chief Technology Officer)

12 January 2012 at 12.56pm

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged development, digital media, online, technology, website

This article has 35 comments

  1. The main thing for me is not the waiting room, but the fact that we can't have a full calendar of the season and cast listings (at least partial, at least for opera) for all the season. It makes planning difficult and is as far as I know (fortunately) unique in the opera and ballet world. But I must say, I like the booking system very much (best in the world probably), although I would wish pictures from more seats.

    • Rob Greig (Former Chief Technology Officer) responded on 13 January 2012 at 1:23pm

      We are working towards a full calendar of the season for the new website. This is of course based on the information available; we need to be careful because some information may change over time for performances further out in the calendar. You will be pleased to know that we will definitely showing more views from seats, more to news to follow on this...

    • Miriam responded on 18 January 2012 at 11:41am

      I agree with the Musicasola that the lack of a proper calendar is the worst thing on the present site. Most other opera house sites have one and that is what I always look for when I am planning a trip abroad for opera, it is most useful to see the performances listed chronologically because then you can decide on the best combination of dates for seeing the productions that interest you. At present on the ROH site performances only appear in the calendar when they are open for booking, which is not much use to people who might want to plan in advance when they will come to London. The ONP for instance has a full calendar almost as soon as the season has been announced, with the booking links appearing against the performances when booking opens. That is the sort of thing I would like to see on the ROH site.

    • Jamie Tetlow (Former Head of Digital Development) responded on 18 January 2012 at 2:31pm

      As Rob says we hope to have as much of the annual season available in the calendar and, Miriam, you'll be happy to hear, we intend to display all performances irrespective of their booking status. Many thanks for your comment.
      Jamie, Design and Development Manager.

  2. Annabel Cowdrey responded on 13 January 2012 at 11:52am Reply

    It's great news that the website is being rebuilt and also that the ROH are listening. One major downfall for me as an access member is not being able to book online despite the access scheme having details of my disability and therefore which seats would best suit me. However, that certainly isn't limited to the ROH. In which case it would be infinitely more helpful if Access members could either book when friends booking opens, or if we could have a dedicated phone number instead of the general box office number, which given the current problems with website capacity, is equally difficult to get through to!

    • Rob Greig (Former Chief Technology Officer) responded on 13 January 2012 at 1:27pm

      Our ambition is to provide access booking online which is proving tricky with such an old auditorium, but we are determined not to be defeated by it. We will be offering some form of access booking online with the new site. Improving website capacity is also one of our big objectives.

  3. Ayesha Garrett responded on 13 January 2012 at 12:18pm Reply

    very interesting! I guess you are battling with the fact that ROH seats are so in demand that there is a real rush when booking opens, that your servers must really struggle! Not a bad position to be in though :)

    • Rob Greig (Former Chief Technology Officer) responded on 13 January 2012 at 1:37pm

      Yes, it’s great that our tickets are so popular but the site and its servers do struggle a bit. The work on the stage is fantastic; the challenge is to make the website fantastic as well. Cracking the booking issues is the first step.

  4. Rob Greig (Former Chief Technology Officer) responded on 13 January 2012 at 1:38pm Reply

    Thank you for the comments, all very helpful.

  5. Fran Pickering responded on 13 January 2012 at 5:06pm Reply

    Can we have more information about the dancers please, especially the more junior ones? At the moment there is nothing on the website about artists and first artists and very scanty information about other dancers. Detailed cast lists would be a bonus.

    • Ellen West responded on 17 January 2012 at 1:18pm

      As part of the task of relaunching the website we are reviewing and repurposing a lot of our existing content, but we are at the start of a journey. When we first launch you will not see a large amount of new content, instead the focus will be on getting the fundamentals right. We're looking forward to a lively discussion about what you would all like to see on the new website.
      Online Content Manager

  6. Alan Evison responded on 13 January 2012 at 7:51pm Reply

    It's very good news that you are rebuilding the ROH website. The current one has proved a huge success, but does struggle with volume at peak times. I expect you will be thinking of this, but in case not, may I put in a plea that the new site supports the iPad? It's frustrating that the current one doesn't.

  7. Ann Lander responded on 13 January 2012 at 7:54pm Reply

    I'm very excited to hear that there'll be a new website. I have spoken to members of ROH staff on several occasions & appreciate you are very much aware that your on-line booking system doesn't reflect the wonderful high standards and quality of the Royal Opera House.
    My biggest complaint wasn't so much the time spent in the Waiting Room which was to be expected for a very popular production but it was the site crashing during the buying process. By the time you get through on the phone, the tickets which you'd got in your basket have gone.
    Good luck for the new site & for the new season - can't wait to see what goodies are in store for us!

  8. Kate responded on 14 January 2012 at 1:23am Reply

    Agreed about the pictures, would be excellent to get many more photos of views from seats, so as to feel confident in making the best choices.

    Further, I recently tried to get information on the shop part of the website about delivery, and I completely gave up!

    I think the website is generally full of resources and information so, once such problems as described are sorted, it should be magnificent!

  9. Opera lover responded on 15 January 2012 at 8:42am Reply

    I hope the new website will be accessible from iPhone. I understand it's a known problem that most pages often can't be accessed from an iPhone, instead you get the error page. It's very frustrating, not even being able to see what is on. And its the only website I've encountered to have this problem. Hope it's fixed!

  10. Maria Di Francesco responded on 15 January 2012 at 11:46pm Reply

    Glad to hear improvements are on the way, as I've actually resorted to paying a lot more upfront (higher levels of Friends) just for the privilege of being in a smaller group of people fighting for tickets...
    I would also like to suggest a better way to fill those top level seats when the performance is - alas - not sold out. Why wouldn't you let Friends perched up in the Amphitheatre that they can maybe exchange their tickets for better ones, or tweet-email a Standby list, or even offer them to the Student Standby at a reduced rate? Anything but seeing Stalls and Grand Tier boxes empty on some evenings... breaks my heart...

  11. Darren Rapier responded on 16 January 2012 at 10:57am Reply

    All very good news, but not if it doesn't work!
    Website is not working today 16th January 2012 on any page except the first one and box office number (the only one I can seem to access from this page, via 'contact us') is a recorded message saying you are closed and open at 10:00am (it's now 10:55am).
    Technology is a wonderful thing, if only we knew how to use it?

  12. Gabriel Rangel responded on 17 January 2012 at 6:46pm Reply

    When the new season 2012/13 will be launched?. This will be with the new website?. Thank you for your comments. Regards.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 20 January 2012 at 11:43am

      Hi Gabriel, we won't be tying the 2012 / 13 season to the launch of the new website, but we'll share the dates with you as soon as we can.

  13. What fantastic news about the new website!! Congrats and thank you! Don't mind the waiting room too much either, better than having to keep trying! and please keep the booking periods too and different days for first days for ballet and opera.

    You are right in focusing on functionality, simplicity of use and stability. Thanks for addressing those issues.

    One thought I had was that as boxes only sells as complete groups, often they stand empty. Would it be an idea to sell the seats as single seats after a pre-set cutting date, e.g. a week before performance?

    TOI TOI TOI for the new venture - looking forward to it!

  14. Chris Skinner responded on 7 February 2012 at 9:41am Reply

    Hey guys

    Love the idea of a full season cast and performance calendar, and iPad / mobile booking.

    It's also great to hear you're addressing the waiting room, as the last booking season it didn't place in queue before the start time and I always find it a very poor experience.

    Good job,

  15. Iain responded on 7 February 2012 at 3:38pm Reply

    Maybe I'm being naive, but surely one way the ROH could avoid at least some of the issues described above would be to not put the whole jolly season on sale at the same time on the same day. Who on earth benefits? Not the punters! Where am I now -- #1,937 in the queue? Grr.

    • Claire James responded on 7 February 2012 at 8:21pm

      Agree with Iain - sometimes it's not just technology alone that's the answer, it's simple admin. Why is every date for every production released on the same day? Why not simply release different productions on different days to reduce booking traffic problems? I'd like to know the answer.

  16. Chantal responded on 8 March 2012 at 10:46am Reply

    Would it be possible to provide our order numbers within our order history in the new website? The lovely box office staff are so reliant on them, it would be useful if the order numbers could be retrieved more easily. Or will the new booking system not be so order-number-dependent? (It's never nice to be told off for "having booked lots and lots of tickets"!)

  17. Keith Hopcraft responded on 29 March 2012 at 11:58am Reply

    Delighted to learn that the website is being revamped. My principal gripe has been that the current system of booking tickets on-line is unusable because (I have learned from the Web-Team) I access the site from a network with firewalls. Nevertheless, the ROH site is the only one I use which has this problem. You are clearly aware of the defect and I hope that you are able to solve it by the time the site is relaunched.

    May I also suggest you take a look at the Glyndebourne site. Their system for informing which parts of the theatre have tickets is very simple, graphic, but effective (and I can log onto it without problems!). On the whole, their site has a very clean uncluttered look that is easy to navigate, with sparing but effective use of links and tabs.

    Best of luck with the project.

  18. HelenSears responded on 24 April 2012 at 10:18am Reply

    May I suggest that you provide us with details of the ROH programme for the whole of the summer and not just up
    to the end of the Royal Ballet Season. I particularly enjoy the visits of the Mariinski and also the Bolshoi but am unable to plan ahead as these do not appear until later on in the year.

  19. John Widden responded on 24 April 2012 at 10:34am Reply

    I think Royal Opera do a first class job in respect to their on line ticket sales. After having tried many times unsuccessfully to obtain tickets for European opera houses with their convoluted systems I cannot see how anyone can not be happy with Royal Opera.

  20. Jeremy Cade Hancock responded on 24 April 2012 at 1:52pm Reply

    The full season information is a great development.
    Making the window/panel of the interactive schematic diagram of available seats a little larger would be an improvement. The whole picture straight away and no scrolling is better. Just a marginal increase would make it all instantly visible. Overall I like the website, images a bit of a problem sometimes- can be chaotic rather than lively!

  21. Ann Thomas responded on 24 April 2012 at 6:44pm Reply

    So glad to hear that the web site is being redeigned as in the past I have waitied in the waiting room for about 35 mins and then it has crashed which is so frustrating. So well done to the team who is currently working to improve this site. If the dancers and artists were not so amazingly great then we would easily get our seats so I expect a bit of a scrum might always occur.

  22. John Heymann responded on 24 April 2012 at 7:39pm Reply

    I agree , publish a full and comprehensive programme well in advance , so that when we plan our holidays , we can plan around the ROH productions.

  23. Paul Murray responded on 24 April 2012 at 9:20pm Reply

    Delighted to hear that you are updating the website. There's nothing particularly wrong with the old one - even though being told that you are #651 in the waiting room can be very disconcerting! - but it just feels a little tired.

    It would be great if you could add some audio/video material. Perhaps a few highlights from the previous run of a production that is being brought back, or background material including interviews with the director, conductor and performers?

  24. Helen Janecek responded on 25 April 2012 at 7:40am Reply

    As a steadfast though not prolific public booker I agree with all the constructive suggestions so far and would add one more. For the first time this year I have engaged with the BBC Proms website which has a Proms Planner: I am not sure whether or not this is new. Following email registration, this is an account function which enables you to build a list of performances you wish to book for, including part of house and price but not specific seat, ahead of public booking opening. The planner is intended to save time so that when booking opens you are automatically offered specific seats (or not) for the performances you have chosen which you then accept or decline. I am not sure how you could change seats in a specific area: time will tell. With the Holland Park Opera site you have no choice of seat in a particular price band and the only way of changing seats is to out more in the basket and then delete the unwanted ones. Provided sufficient information were available about the programme, would an ROH planner for each booking tranche be a welcome idea? I do think that the ROH seat pricing system is, as claimed, much more 'sensitive' than in other houses.

  25. I cannot sign in as a Friend, no matter how many times I try

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 26 April 2012 at 2:59pm

      Hi Fran,
      Apologies for the glitch. Would you be able to try again and let us know if it works now? We've made some amends that hopefully should address the issue.

      Social Media Manager

  26. Colin Baker responded on 30 April 2012 at 8:34pm Reply

    My only complaint is that when I try to book (or even see what's on) from South Africa, access is barred. I'm told that it is a security issue relating to South African ISP's - but no other opera house (or other web site) seems to have this hang up.
    When accessed from UK the site is pretty good.

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