The BBC Proms present themselves as the “world’s greatest classical music festival” and of course they are; it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be able to walk to the Albert Hall direct from my work’s office and then to walk home afterwards.
All of this depends on tickets, either a Prom ticket bought on the day or seat tickets bought in advance. These days the advance booking process is online but is far from satisfactory. It is maybe slightly less of a lottery than the previous postal booking process: at least I can choose exactly what to book and adapt my choices in the light of what is actually available at the point of booking.
But booking tickets for the Proms is still an arcane process. On the face of it, the programme is published, one creates a “Prom Plan” which one retrieves for the Albert Hall booking system once tickets are on sale, which was at 9am today.
Grim reality is rather different. There’s plenty of time and information to create the perfect “Prom Plan” and the online process is pretty good. However simply returning to the Albert Hall's website at the appointed time and date is not sufficient. The website won't even let you on to its system, all you see is a screen stating that the website is busy because of very high demand and recommending to try later. If you follow this advice, you are unlikely to progress to the next stage until a couple of hours after the tickets were put on sale, and you may well be disappointed beacuse your choice has sold out.
Refreshing the screen does eventually make a connection to the Albert Hall’s online waiting room: I didn't get through to this stage today until 30 minute after the tickets had gone on sale, and was assigned place 4876 in the online queue. I have since moved up this queue at approximately 1000 places per hour
One question is just how the previous 4875 people had obtained places in the system in advance of myself, and who are they? They had clearly also disregarded the advice of the “very high demand” screen and had somehow obtained places earlier in the queue. This could either have been by a clicking frenzy just as the booking system opened, or possibly that the “very high demand” screen is also a queue to get on the queue. Impossible to tell as a punter but not an obviously fair bookings process.
The Albert Hall charge £4.80 booking fee for this misreable experience, in addition to the prrice of the ticket: can't they at least upgrade their system so that it can handle more than just a thousand customers an hour? (That doesn't include abandoned places in the queue). And secondly, make the queuing transparent and fair.
Covent Garden also experiences similar demand for “hot” tickets and have advertised a new “world class” bookings system, it will be interested to experience that in due course and see if they have managed to improve this rather tedious part of the cultural experience in London.
And why can’t BBC Proms make more interesting use of this time: Radio 3 have made mention that the Proms booking is open but there’s been no imaginative “music while you wait” programming.
I am now number 281 in the queue and the waiting list page notes that the Wallace and Grommit Prom has sold out...
So despite being on the booking site at the time advertised, the “Best Available” ticket offered for the “Art of Fugue” for the Cadogan Hall was DD1, under the gallery at the back and right at the end of the row. So I'll be listening to that one on Radio 3.
The good news is that the “Arena Whole Season Prom” ticket was available so I am now a 2012 Prom season ticket holder. Bye-bye advance planning - hiya spontaneity!