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In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...

The story behind Computicket's visionary creator Percy Tucker, and how he changed the entertainment industry with the introduction of his pioneering ticket booking system.
In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...
He has been honoured worldwide for his contributions to the performing arts, and the innovation that he brought to the entertainment, cinema and live theatre industries. But where does the story of Computicket begin?

Computicket, the world's first computerised, centralised ticket booking system opened in Johannesburg in August 1971.

It all starts with a boy from Benoni - Percy Tucker - who loved theatre and performances and had a dream to eliminate the frustration of standing in a long queue to buy tickets to see a show. His family lived across the road from the Benoni Town Hall, where performances were often staged, and in true entrepreneurial style, Tucker spotted opportunity at a young age. At the age of 10, he agreed to lend his family's lounge suite to a touring theatre company in exchange for tickets to their show, and after school, he would volunteer to sweep the stage at the town hall in order to be involved in the theatrical world. He studied a B.Com at Wits University and completed his articles in accountancy, but he always had a love for the theatre.

Feisty - and furious

In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...
In 1951 he was asked by the Benoni Musical Society to buy several tickets for a performance by a touring Italian opera company. Business Day quotes Tucker as saying "I slept outside His Majesty's Theatre in Commissioner Street for three nights. There were thousands of people. I was third in the queue, but when I got to the front I was told that the cheapest tickets were all sold out - the theatre management had reserved them all for their friends." This made him livid. "I got on stage - the only time I've been on the stage - and shouted to the queue: this whole booking scheme is a scam! One day I'll show everyone how it should be done, honestly."

Tucker says he always knew that he wanted to make his living in show business, but had no talent to sing, dance, act, or direct, and no talent for lighting either. When South African actress and producer Taubie Kushlick offered him the job of lighting technician, Tucker says. "I managed through minor errors, to get the lights to go off at key moments and was duly fired by Taubie, who said 'I don't want you backstage - all you are good for is selling the tickets!'" These turned out to be prophetic words, as they planted the seed of an idea that would ultimately grow into Computicket.

A clumsy, complicated system

In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...
In 1954, Tucker was asked to be the business manager of Leon Gluckman's production of King Lear at Wits University. He discovered that there were no systems in place for organising bookings and marketing, and that the process was made more complicated by having to deal with boxes overflowing with postal applications. This prompted Tucker, Gluckman and others to open an office in Johannesburg, where Show Service, the first centralised ticket-booking agency in South Africa was born.

The South African public's appetite for live shows was growing, and many new performance venues were opening, but technology was battling to keep pace with the process of booking tickets. In 1969 Tucker began investigating the concept of introducing computerised ticket reservations and sales, not only across all forms of the entertainment industry, but for sporting events and hotel bookings too.

Seeking a solution

Desperate to find a more efficient system than the manual booking of tickets, Tucker began investigating computerised modes of ticketing around the world, and in 1968 he read about the computerisation of the theatre industry. "Even though I had never seen a computer in my life, I travelled the world seeking a solution, but to no avail," he said.

In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...
In 1970, he found out that a computerised system that had been developed in the United Kingdom was closing down and that the staff would be out of work. "I left for London immediately, and within 12 days, I had contracted all of the key staff to come out to South Africa to work on establishing a computerised system that would suit the needs of the South African theatregoer. On 11 June 1971, we showed the new system to the press and a front-page article appeared in The Star newspaper highlighting "The Benoni Boy's Space Age ticket scheme" that was to become a world first." Show Service duly evolved into Computicket, and on 16 August 1971, Computicket went live and opened with four branches, selling tickets for six cinemas.

And the first client was...

In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...

One of the strengths behind the appeal of Computicket was its capacity to fill up a venue by offering patrons the best available seats. Computicket soon secured Ster-Kinekor as its first client, and the service took off, spreading out across the country. Ups and downs followed, including changes in technology and the rise and fall of competitors, but Computicket continued to grow from strength to strength, selling tickets to thousands of events.

In addition to traditional ticketing services, Computicket moved into the travel market, which increased their offerings to include bookings for theatre, concert, festival, and sporting events, along with bus tickets, airline tickets and holiday packages. Between 1978 and 1980, negotiations were successfully concluded and the Computicket concept was sold to the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, but all of these operations were suspended as a result of the international boycott of South Africa at the time, in protest against the apartheid government.
In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...

In Tucker's own words, "My dream was one stop showbiz shopping to ensure that buying tickets for a performance would be as easy as purchasing your groceries in a supermarket. Only a system with a mainframe central computer could do this, but having started Computicket over 40 years ago, when there were only a handful of computers in the country, this was a mad dream, which luckily for me came true. It was out of desperation that I felt there had to be a way to create a better service to the customer and to management in terms of selling their tickets in a simpler fashion."

When he retired in 1994, Tucker had built an empire, whose success he attributes to it being very consumer oriented.

Merger with Ticketweb

In 2001, Computicket and its rival Ticketweb merged in a deal which saw Computicket owned by Naspers through MWeb (85%) and investment company Southern African Investments Ltd (15%).* In October 2005 Naspers disposed of its investment in Computicket for a cash consideration of R67,5m**, and in November 2005, Shoprite announced that the Shoprite Group of companies had acquired the entire issued share capital of Computicket.

In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...
Through the Shoprite Group, Computicket gained a presence in Checkers, Checkers Hyper, and Shoprite stores nationally which gave them access to a much broader consumer base, and a convenient way to expand their ticketing distribution outlets across South Africa. This has added to their success story, as they operate from a network of over 500 outlets, as well as via their website and a national call centre.

As the founder of Computicket, Tucker combined his love of the theatre with a natural instinct for entrepreneurship to revolutionise ticketing in South Africa. Tucker's unique combination of passionate commitment to the live arts and entertainment industry, along with his commercial vision, business acumen and marketing skills brought him worldwide recognition and he has received many awards and accolades over the years, including three Lifetime Achievement awards from Fleur du Cap; the Paul Harris Rotarian Fellowship Award for outstanding service to the community, and Marketing Man of the Year by the Institute of Marketing Management.

In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...
And on a lighter note but still linked to the entertainment world, he jokes that he was born in Benoni "BC - before Charlize (Theron)", the Oscar-winning actress who also hails from Benoni.

"I'm not a visionary," Tucker insists. "I'm an accountant. I had a love for the theatre, but I couldn't sing or dance. The only thing I was good at was selling tickets. All I did was adapt science to ticketing."


** Naspers Annual Report 2006

In the Zone with MWEB Entrepreneur: The best seats in the house...


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