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“The game is rigged”: Confessions of an ex-scalper

Ken Lowson, the former CEO of now-defunct ticket harvester Wiseguy Tickets, is now working to maximise revenue for artists by increasing transparency in the market

By IQ on 15 Feb 2017

Ken Lowson, Tixfan

image © Ken Lowson/Ticketing Technology Forum

Ken Lowson, the co-founder and former CEO of notorious ticket-buying operation Wiseguy, said the primary market for concert tickets is a secretive, “rigged” system that “can’t survive in a WikiLeaks world”.

In a revealing interview with Vice‘the man who broke Ticketmaster’ said he was able build a US$25 million secondary-ticketing empire because of the opaque way tickets are sold – or not sold – to ordinary music fans.

As head of Wiseguy Tickets, Lowson (pictured) oversaw the development of one of the world’s first ticket bots, training a computer program to bypass Ticketmaster’s captcha – the challenge-response test, often in the form of ‘fuzzy’ or distorted letters, that aims to determine whether a user is human – to buy tickets in bulk for major shows and sports matches.

As Vice notes:

The last piece of the puzzle was Ticketmaster’s anti-bot captcha system, which requires a human to type in crossed out or fuzzy words to prove he or she isn’t a robot. Wiseguy learned that Ticketmaster’s captcha system had only loaded 30,000 unique images into its database, rather than millions. So Lowson’s team downloaded every image they could find as a .jpeg file, stayed up all night typing them out, and taught their bot how to match the images.

“Ticketmaster left it that way for years,” Lowson says. “Once we realised the captcha database was static, we went to look at the seats we could pull, and bam! – I saw the best seats available for Springsteen. That’s when we really knew we had something.”

“Bands and ticket agencies can’t continue to decry scalping while continuing to cut backroom deals that only help scalpers”

Wiseguy’s offices were eventually raided by the FBI, and Lowson and two other employees were charged with 42 separate counts of wire fraud, each of which carried a maximum 20 years in prison. They accepted a plea deal, and Lowson was let off with a year’s probation, although he spent the majority of his Wiseguy fortune defending himself.

While many primary – and indeed secondary – ticket agencies support banning ticket bots, Lowson says the real problem is that many face-value tickets (in some cases, a majority) aren’t offered directly to fans: “bands, sports teams, and Ticketmaster can’t continue to decry scalping while continuing to cut backroom deals that only help scalpers”.

He has since founded a consultancy firm, Tixfan, that will work with artists and sports teams to plug the holes Wiseguy exploited. “Now that bots have been made illegal, I’ve become a hot commodity,” he comments. “It sounds good, right? ‘We hired the ticket bot king to work for us to make sure the other ticket bots aren’t taking tickets from the fans.'”

Vice writes that, with Tixfan, Lowson is “ready to fight for the fans by airing out the industry’s dirty laundry to the artists and teams who want to make sure their fans get tickets – and build a company that has even more influence than Wiseguy did”.

“You think I give a fuck if scalpers lose $10bn to make a billion for myself?” he concludes. “If I do that, the fans save $9bn, right?”

 


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