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CIO/CTO Update: Article

LiveNation CIO Talks SOA, Virtualization, and Rock'n'Roll

Joe Manna Consolidates, Integrates, and Rocks Out

Joe Manna is CIO of Live Nation, based in Beverly Hills, CA. A native of southern California, he double majored in math and computer science at Cal State-Fullerton before starting his career in technology. He’s spent many years as a CTO, but now finds himself interacting more closely with the business as the CIO of a fast-growing company in a major consumer market. Our people called his people, and we were recently able to grab a few minutes of his time…

This is the Company

NOW Magazine: Let’s start by talking company branding a little bit.

Joe Manna: Sure. Live Nation started as a roll-up of a number of regional promoters and venues by Clear Channel Communication, which originally called the company Clear Channel Entertainment. Then two years ago, Clear Channel Entertainment was spun out on its own to a publicly-traded company called Live Nation. Then last year, we acquired House of Blues, so we operate these venues as well.

NOW: So there’s a strong brick-and-mortar base to all this.

Manna: Yes, but what Live Nation has done in the last couple of years is start to establish itself as a digital media company. We took about 300 websites that were all previously branded by promoters or venues, and rolled them up into one website called LiveNation.com. Then we started to establish it as the database for all live events, not just Live Nation events, but other events that other promoters would be backing. We are starting to use that as a path forward to take more control of monetizing our business.

NOW: What about selling the tickets?

Manna: Well, we previously had outsourced all our ticket-selling to Ticketmaster. That’s all going to change at the end of this year.

NOW: So you’re on a collision course with Ticketmaster?

Manna: Yeah, in some ways. You could look at that as one of the verticals within Live Nation’s business. Ticket-selling is going to become a business into itself within Live Nation. With our own inventory alone, we would immediately become the second largest ticket company in the world. So, you know, just selling our own tickets, we become a pretty formidable force in the ticketing industry. Yet given this, clearly the brick-and-mortar businesses are very, very, very much part of this company.

This is What It Provides

NOW: Is it fair to say that you’re trying to vertically integrate the way that...

Manna: That’s exactly how (company CEO) Michael (Rapino) would explain it.

NOW: For lack of a more insightful question, why?

Manna: You know, it used to be that the record labels would get an artist on-board, they would produce that artist’s record, that, and they would put the artist on tour to promote the record sales. But over the past five years or so things have turned completely upside-down. Now this business makes nothing on the record sales and everything on the tours.

NOW: And that’s where you come in.

Manna: Yes, artists are practically giving the music away to promote the tours. And guess who helps them with the tours? That’s what we do.

NOW: So by doing you’re becoming a one-stop shop. Would you say this is a good thing for people who like music—for consumers? What advantages are you delivering to people who pay to attend these events?

Manna: You can look at this as a two-frontal attack. First, we’re going to consumers and asking them, “What’s important to you? Is it important for you to pay a fair price for your tickets? Are you tired of paying exorbitant ticket fees?” You know, the face value of your tickets are $20 and the ticket fees are $15 bucks. That seems a little crazy to me.

NOW: But you have to do more than just cut the fees.

Manna: Sure, we have some ideas on the user experience: how you purchase tickets, and what happens before, during, and after a show?

NOW: The event itself is just part of the whole experience.

Manna: Yes, and the social networks play a lot into this. We also look at the merchandising—cups, hats, etc.--as well as how people are treated during this whole experience.

NOW: One thing that jumps out of your homepage is this a differentiation among various services. The VIP club pass, for example.

Manna: Right. We offer a lot of different options for people. We try to productize the experience with the result that the experience is more than just a ticket.

NOW: And the second front of your “assault” must be with the artists themselves.

Manna: Without the artists, we don’t really have a way to go to the consumers. So what’s the value proposition for the artists? Some of the things that we’ve been working with the artists involve this notion of a “360 deal,” where the artist really becomes invested in Live Nation and becomes part of the company.

To do this, we get the rights to their IP, so we can do things like record their shows in HD and stream them and carve them up and distribute them to different content providers, and different things like that. We also want to have tools so that we can go to the artist and the artists’ agents and say, “We can manage your tour better, we can manage it more efficiently, we can promote it. We can sell tickets, we can host fan sites and sell their merchandise. We can upsell and cross-sell across all those areas. We’re a one-stop shop for you, Mr. or Ms. Artist.”

NOW: And given the emphasis on tours, they must want to get closer to their fans.

Manna: Yep. They want to be more accessible. It’s like CRM finally came to the live entertainment business. Band have figured out that the labels weren’t really doing them any favors in this area. The labels were distributing through channels. Wal-Mart knew the customer, but the labels didn’t know the customer, you know?

NOW: The traditional studios must love this.

Manna: Well, we have an adversarial relationship, really, with most of the labels. They see us as the threat. They see us as the 21st century label in a way. And I don’t think that Michael Rapino really makes any issue with saying that’s what he’s got his sights set on.

This is the Part About the IT

NOW: So now to the important questions regarding your job. You’ve got to manage all the IT infrastructure for this. What sort of systems have you encountered that you’ve had to integrate? What are your major challenges?

Manna: Within my area of responsibility is all of what we call worldwide IT. We’ve got, essentially, all of the sort-of boring stuff, our IT accounting systems, the forecasting systems, the resource systems.

NOW: But you had to integrate a lot of these, I’m guessing.

Manna: Yeah, we’re getting really good at mergers and acquisitions at this point, so we’ve had a lot of companies that we’ve acquired and had to integrate. But we’re working on our ability to do this much quicker. We have to keep some of these systems distributed; sometimes you just can’t directly integrate them. You’ve got to keep running them to better integrate them into the overall enterprise.

NOW: Are you trying to liberate some of these services? Are you going down the SOA path at all?

Manna: Absolutely, both in terms of back-end IT-type systems, enterprise systems, we’ll call it, and also in terms of our front-end, our Web and our consumer and transactional merchandising systems and things like that.

NOW: All right. How much are you looking at server consolidation and virtualizing of all resources?

Manna: We’ve done a lot of that, but not as a tool to reduce our footprint. We have been able to slow the growth, though. It’s hard to actually consolidate right now because we just keep getting bigger. But what we have to successfully use virtualization as a means to not grow quite as fast.

NOW: So it’s sort of a consolidation. If you weren’t growing, you would be consolidating.

Manna: Kind of consolidation on the fly, you might call it.

NOW: And soon you’ll be directly handling ticket processing for all your events.

Manna: Yes, in ’09 when we start doing that—well, right now we sell about 30,000 events a year. And those events, on average, could be 5,000 to 10,000 tickets per event.

NOW: And some of these are spiky.

Manna: In the ticketing world it’s all spiky. You have to build the church for Easter Sunday, unfortunately. That’s the analogy we always have to tell everybody is, you know, you’re basically in the ticketing world, you have to build to handle the spikes.

There there’s this thing called the secondary market. These are very, very smart folks—mostly kids—who write scripts that run tens of hundreds of thousands of requests.

NOW: To glom onto tickets and...

Manna: Exactly. They try to swallow up all the inventory.

NOW: How do you prevent that or how do you control it?

Manna: First of all, we try to qualify each buyer and we have a number of ways we do that. Some of these things are known algorithms and some of them are little tricks of the trade that we’ve developed over the years. We also have these precautionary measures that allow us to not tip over. We have to protect ourselves by using companies like Akamai and keeping traffic on the Akamai edge, as opposed to letting it in to our network.

NOW: Now, do you have a main data center there in L.A. or how does the infrastructure work?

Manna: At this point, we have at least five data centers. We have a big one here in L.A.. W have another one near Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, we have one up in New Jersey, we have a smaller one up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then we have a pretty big presence in Europe in London.

NOW: What about that business in the UK and Europe? What are you doing there?

Manna: Same operation, essentially. We break the business on the music side North America and then “everybody else.” Everybody else at this point is largely U.K., but we have added more than a dozen other countries, including Dubai most recently.

NOW: How much of what you do today is creating this vision compared to just getting down to the nitty-gritty?

Manna: I spend about 20 percent of my time working with the other presidents and top managers in the company. I spend a lot of time on product development. Take ticketing, for example. There are a lot of ticketing products we need to talk about (internally). So two of the division presidents and I are heavily involved in these discussions.

NOW: So 80 percent of your time is monkeying around with the network and talking to developers?

Manna: I would probably split that equally between 40 percent with software development of some kind, and then the other 40 percent is consumed just making sure the lights stay on and we always have “pipe, power, and ping,” so to speak.

NOW: What sort of geek stuff do you have in your background?

Manna: I cut my teeth programming in C. I worked with some companies in the real estate business a long time ago; we developed some of the first online tax and title searching companies—you know, tax and title database.

NOW: What did you think of C++ and Modula and Ada?

Manna: I thought those were great languages. I transitioned to C++, and then I transitioned to Java. And then somewhere along the line, I stopped programming.

NOW: As you moved into management.

Manna: You know, it’s funny. I started here about two years ago. I had four people when I walked in the door. Now I have 65, and we’re going to grow that to probably about 100 by the end of the year.

NOW: Are you ready for that kind of management challenge?

Manna: Well, I’ve done it before in some start-ups, so I was ready for it and it’s always fun, even though of course you get the good and the bad. But in any case, my motto has always been I try to stick with people who are pretty hands-on, so even my managers are very hands-on.

NOW: And this works for you.

Manna: I think that it’s the right formula. There’s a lot of talk in development circles about methodologies and this and that, “agile” over “extreme,” etc. But I always run around saying that “none of things substitute for teamwork.”

This is the Fun Stuff

NOW: You’re involved with rock music, so this must be a really glamorous life, right?

Manna: Yeah. Well, it’s still IT.

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NOW: Do you run into bands that really get and are using it in a truly useful way?

Manna: Well, all the younger bands are.

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NOW: One can get the impression that with democratization of technology, anyone can be a star.

Manna: You’ve still got to have something. And in the old days the bands could go out on tour suck but as long as they still sold records. But now, if they suck on tour, nobody wants to buy their record.

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NOW: When you were a little kid running around Southern California, did you want to be involved in the music business?

Manna: You know, not really.

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NOW: Were you going to like play for the Lakers or what?

Manna: Nah, I wanted to be on the beach surfing or on my skateboard, or on my bike somewhere riding.

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NOW: What was the first big concert you attended as a kid?

Manna: It was Kiss, and it was at Anaheim Stadium. My dad dropped me off and he had no idea what he was dropping me off to go see. Had he known, he would’ve never dropped me off.

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NOW: What was your favorite concert?

Manna: I spent a lot of time coming up to L.A. and to places on the Strip. One of my favorites was seeing Sammy Hagar at the Whiskey A Go-Go.

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NOW: At what concert did you lose your hearing? (The interviewer’s was Eric Clapton in the 70s).

Manna: Well, I want to say Black Sabbath, but you know what, it was The Ramones. I remember trying to start my car (afterwards) over and over and not realizing that it had started and I was grinding the starter right out. I think I could hear again about three days later.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.