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June 19, 2013

Goldstar’s Jim McCarthy on why live is better

NEW YORK — Jim McCarthy doesn’t just think it’s fun to go out and see a play or a comedy show or a basketball game. He thinks it actually makes you a better person.

“It drives the dullness out of your life and stirs your personal creativity,” says the CEO of ticket discounter Goldstar. “I think it actually makes you a more interesting person.”

Goldstar, a sort of Priceline.com for live events, finds unused tickets to everything from wine tastings to circuses and sells them discounted to its 4 million subscribers from Boston to Seattle. The average fee is $5.

The Harvard-educated McCarthy is something of a proselytizer for live events, dedicated to getting people over the “convenience gap” — off the couch and into a venue. So the website is filled with user-generated tips and reviews, none of which are scrubbed of negative comments. So dedicated to live events is McCarthy that he creates his own: the annual TEDxBroadway conference.

The Associated Press sat down with McCarthy to see how he views the future of live shows, high ticket prices and whether there’s a role for professional critics.

AP: Why are live events so special?

McCarthy: Entertainment is like a pyramid. You start from the base, which is something that you consume frequently that doesn’t cost you very much — watching TV or a YouTube clip. Up at the top is the live experience. I think almost everyone would agree that a live experience is the best entertainment experience. If you go from a short clip of your favorite musician to a beautifully produced concert film or an MP3 on a really nice stereo — all the way at the top is a really good live performance. As you go up the pyramid, it’s more expensive and better.

AP: It’s also less convenient — there’s parking, getting a baby sitter and the fear of the unknown, right?

McCarthy: The barriers are ‘Where do I park?’ ‘How do I get there?’ ‘What’s it like in there?’ ‘Is it weird?’ Once you get over those, you’re over those for good. If you’re not comfortable going to a Broadway theater or, let’s say, you’ve never been to Madison Square Garden for a game, you might wonder ‘Is it going to be too crowded?’ or ‘Are the views going to be terrible?’ If you go through it, then you’re going to tend to do more stuff there. The live entertainment business needs us and companies like us converting people.

AP: What’s the future health of live events?

McCarthy: If you look at it on the longer horizon, the live product is more valuable than it used to be, by far. When I was in high school, I bought two things from Bruce Springsteen at almost the same time — a record of ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ and a midlevel ticket to the tour. I paid really about the same for each of those things. Let’s say $15. Flash-forward the better part of 25 years and there’s a huge gap between the record and the ticket. What’s that about? It’s about the value of the concert going way, way up and the value of the recording collapsing. And part of the reason the price of the concert has gone up is because the album has collapsed.

AP: Does it worry you that prices for live events are so high?

McCarthy: The reason prices have gone up is because people value live entertainment — that’s how good it is for them. Now, there are problems built into that. But I look around the landscape of live entertainment and you can go see something great for $10 or $15. And part of the reason people don’t do it is you have to go over the convenience gap. I’m not worried about the future of live entertainment. Prices do kind of correct.

AP: You guys were one of the first to solicit real-time feedback and put it on the site. Was it hard to convince venue partners about that since some comments will be negative?

McCarthy: There are two realities about that. One is that the feedback, in general, is positive. We have a five-star scale and the average rating is 4.1 or 4.2. That’s really quite good, right? I think people go out and have a good experience, for the most part. The second thing is if every piece of feedback is glowing or positive, it may not have credibility with other consumers.

AP: Do professional critics still have a role in this era of crowd sourcing?

McCarthy: If you want practical input — ‘Do I go?’ ‘Do I not go?’ — I think crowd sourcing is great for that. We know that it works. It’s not a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. You can see a whole texture of people’s opinions. You can say, ‘I’m not like that’ or ‘She’s worried about things I’m not.’ You can take the comments in their totality. But I definitely think a great writer can show us things to get more out of it. Like, ‘Show me something I wouldn’t see myself.’

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Online: http://www.goldstar.com

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