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Ticket bots: Hidden menace or red herring?

While ticket bots – automated software used to hoover up concert tickets to then resell – remain legal in most of the world, the last 12 months have seen official sentiment in several major markets shift towards prohibition.

The state of New York was the first to criminalise the usage of bots, with legislation introduced by Carl Heastie and Marcos Crespo providing for up to a year in prison for offenders. The Canadian province of Ontario followed suit in September, and the US as a whole outlawed bots in December with then-president Barack Obama’s signing of the Better Online Ticket Sales – or Bots – Act into law.

The UK, meanwhile, is set to soon introduce its own ban, while Adelaide senator Nick Xenophon is pushing for anti-bot legislation in Australia.

The vast majority of those working in the live music industry agree on the need for a ban on bots – including, tellingly, secondary ticketing giants StubHub and Ticketmaster (Seatwave, Ticketmaster Resale, TicketExchange, Get Me In!) – but there are concerns among some anti-touting activists that a singular focus on bots could detract from the conversation around what they see as a fundamentally broken ticketing market.

Speaking to the UK parliament committee on ‘ticket abuse’ earlier this month, Rob Wilmshurst, CEO of Vivendi Ticketing/See Tickets – which recently launched its own face-value ticket exchange, Fan2Fan – said he believes bots have been a “red herring” in the debate over secondary ticketing in the UK. “We’ve added more technology to thwart them [bots], but we don’t see conversion rates dropping,” he told MPs.

Similarly, Adam Webb, of anti-secondary campaign group FanFair Alliance, responded to the US’s bot ban with a note of caution, highlighting that the legislation was “supported by companies who run secondary ticketing services, and who benefit directly from mass-scale ticket touting”.

Are ticket bots, then, a straw man on which the big secondaries are happily pinning the blame for headline-grabbing $3,000 Adele tickets, or could a global ban on bots actually be effective in eliminating price-gouging in the secondary market?

“Bots aren’t the only way tickets end up on the secondary market”

Reg Walker, of events security firm Iridium, says any legal initiatives aimed at combatting bots “can only be a good thing”. He concedes that while there are “systemic problems in the ticket industry as a whole”, including ticket agencies with a “foot in both camps” (primary and secondary), “any legislation that goes any way towards levelling the playing field must be welcomed”.

Walker cautions, however, that “legislation is only as good as the amount of enforcement that goes into supporting it”. A major problem with the law in the UK, he tells IQ, is that the onus is on secondary sites themselves to report attempts to buy tickets using bots: “Is there any incentive to report bot attacks when the same company may well end up, by intention or inadvertently, being a net beneficiary of that activity?” he asks.

The chief executive of the UK’s Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), Jonathan Brown, agrees on the importance of ticketing sites reporting all bot attacks. “Bots are certainly one way that touts get hold of tickets, and it’s great that there is action specifically on this issue,” he explains. “However, we have always said that this also needs to go alongside far greater understanding and technical defences against such attacks – and, of course, a need for attacks or suspected attacks to be reported.”

Legislation targeting bots is a “great first step”, says Ant Taylor, the founder and CEO of Lyte, which powers the new ‘fan-to-fan’ ticket exchange from Ticketfly, a supporter of the bot ban in the US. “The public has experienced longstanding frustration from not having access to tickets for their favourite artists, or having to pay exorbitant prices to do so.”

Taylor highlights the importance of fans genuinely unable to attend a show having a “viable technological alternative”, such as Ticketfly/Lyte, to resell their ticket. “We’ve integrated Lyte directly with a primary ticketing company,” he continues, “so their venue and promoter partners now have complete control of the fan experience. This keeps the money in the hands of those who contribute to these incredible live event experiences and away from scalpers who purely profit off them.”

Patrick Kirby, managing director of recently launched white-label platform Tixserve, cautions that overemphasis on bots could lead to a spike in “low-tech” crime such as counterfeiting. “An unintended consequence of the ban on bots might be an increase in the fraudulent duplication or counterfeiting of tickets, which is a low-tech activity when tickets continue to be paper-based,” he tells IQ.

“Professional touts already use other, non-bot, methods of acquiring primary tickets for the secondary market”

Kirby says the effectiveness of banning bots will depend largely on the “extent to which bot operators will seek to circumvent the new legislation. The previous experience of the Tixserve team in the card payments and mobile-airtime distribution sectors is that the targets of anti-abuse measures always look to find creative ways of protecting their lucrative, ill-gotten incomes. Sometimes, it can be akin to pinning down a lump of jelly.”

Walker believes, however, that it’s extremely easy to tell when a site has fallen victim to a bot attack.

“We live in a technological age, and there is an overdependence on computer programs and algorithms to detect this activity,” he comments. Bot attacks are “so easy to spot on primary ledgers”, says Walker – providing ticket agencies actually take the time to look. “We haven’t found a single case, bar one, where a primary or secondary ticket agent has gone to police or Trading Standards and asked them to investigate,” he explains.

“Bottom line: it [banning bots] is not a silver bullet,” comments Adam Webb, who as FanFair campaign manager welcomed plans by the British government to ban bots as part of its implementation of the Waterson report.

“Moves by government[s to] criminalise the misuse of technology to bulk-buy tickets are an important and welcome step,” Webb tells IQ. “However […] not every tout has this sort of software in their armoury. There are many alternative ways to access large volumes of inventory…

“That’s why FanFair, in our response, was keen to give equal weight to the other elements of government’s announcement, particularly the blanket acceptance of Professor Waterson’s recommendations and suggestion of further actions to improve transparency in this market. (Waterson’s recommendations largely centre on proper reinforcement of the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, which obliges resellers to list the original face value, seat/row numbers and any ticket restrictions.)

“Bottom line: It is not a silver bullet”

Kirby adds that banning bots ignores “professional touts [who] already use other non-bot methods of acquiring primary tickets for placement on the secondary market”. In response to bot bans, resellers could, says Kirby, “ramp up the practice of using teams of people masquerading as genuine fans to buy significant amounts of tickets using multiple identities, addresses and credit cards”.

Stuart Cain, managing director of NEC Group’s The Ticket Factory, agrees with Walker that “banning bots is just one part of a much wider story”, but says any legislation “that allows for greater transparency in the market and help to stop fans being conned is a positive”. “There’s still a way to go, but [banning bots] is a promising first step when it comes to the industry finally cleaning up its act,” he comments.

While Walker praises the recent raft of anti-bot measures as “fantastic” – and the recent British legislation, in particular, as having real “teeth” – he warns against the tendency to think of banning ticket bots as a panacaea to sky-high prices on the secondary market.

“The danger is that while we have all this focus on bots and software, the other structural issues in ticketing could be ignored,” he concludes. “Bots aren’t the only way tickets end up on the secondary market.”

 


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LN, Virgin Aus tie-up to “make touring easier”

Virgin Australia has been named Live Nation Australasia’s official airline partner.

The partnership, brokered by Live Nation joint venture mixitup Australia, sees LN Australasia gain “a world-class airline partner who will ensure touring artists and touring personnel enjoy the best possible travelling experience, working closely with the industry to make touring easier for artists”, says the promoter.

In return, Virgin will host “innovative marketing and brand experiences” at Live Nation concerts and events.

“Live Nation is looking forward to working with Virgin Australia and its alliance partners to deliver a superior travelling experience for our touring entourages”

Inese Kingsmill, the airline’s chief marketing officer, comments: “With entertainment in our brand’s DNA, we are thrilled to partner with Live Nation and support the unique travel needs of many of the world’s greatest and most exciting artists. This new partnership provides Virgin Australia with the opportunity to bring the world’s best live music to Australia for fans to enjoy, and the opportunity to create unforgettable brand experiences.”

Newly minted Live Nation Australasia CEO Roger Field adds: “Live Nation is looking forward to working with Virgin Australia and its alliance partners to deliver a superior travelling experience for our touring entourages. Virgin Australia share our passion for music and entertainment.”

 


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OVG in $40m arena partnership deal with Walmart

Oak View Group (OVG), the venue development and investment vehicle launched in November 2015 by former Live Nation chairman Irving Azoff and ex-AEG CEO Tim Leiweke, has entered into a commercial partnership with Walmart.

Walmart – the world’s second-largest retailer, after first-placed Alibaba, which has its own ambitious plans in the live entertainment space – becomes OVG’s “official big-box retailer” in a deal valued at US$40 million over three years.

The agreement will give Walmart a significant marketing presence at 21 US arenas, reaching 70m people a year, says OVG’s Dan Griffis. All are part of the Arena Alliance, the 22-venue membership organisation established by OVG last September.

“This is the first step for Walmart into this space,” Griffis, head of OVG’s Narrative Partners sales agency, tells SportsBusiness Journal. “They liked the national platform with buildings in the top 25 [markets]. There is one contract and it provides economies of scale.”

“This is the first step for Walmart into this space”

According to SBJ’s Don Muret, Walmart’s brand ‘activation’ will centre on the Walmart Community Playmakers programme, in which residents local to each arena will be celebrated for charitable efforts, including education, sustainability and poverty alleviation. will be celebrated for their work in education, fighting hunger and sustainability, among other efforts.

Muret says while “details are still being worked out” in most cases Walmart will allowed to use arenas’ branding in its stores.

OVG, which describes itself as “a positive disruption to business as usual in the sports and live entertainment industry” comprises five divisions: Arena Alliance; Griffis’s Narrative Partners, a sponsorship/partnership operation; Prevent Advisors, its security advisory arm; OVG Consulting, whose services include venue design and seating, branding and ticketing strategy; and the OVG Ventures venture-capital fund.

It is also expanding into trade media, acquiring Venues Today – now headed up by Billboard’s Ray Waddell – last December and reportedly eyeing a takeover of Pollstar.

 


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Sónar+D reveals 2017 agenda

Sónar+D, the tech conference forming part of Barcelona electronic music festival Sónar, has announced its programme for 2017.

The conference will this year bring together 180 speakers and 5,000 delegates from 60 countries from to discuss “the future of design, music and creative technologies”. New for 2017 are a networking day on the 14th; Sonar360º, a space dedicated to immersive audiovisual “fulldome” installations; and sessions on virtual reality, artificial intelligence, start-ups, digital music distribution and more.

Sónar+D 2017 runs from 14 to 17 June.

Justice, Anderson .Paak, Eric Prydz, De La Soul, Soulwax, Moderat, DJ Shadow, Nina Kraviz and Giggs are among the performers at this year’s Sónar festival. Sónar announced last month it will return to Asia for the first time since 2013 with events in Istanbul and Hong Kong.

 


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CTS cements concert focus with Four Artists buy

Following an 11.9% fall in turnover last year, CTS Eventim, Europe’s largest ticket agency, has bolstered its live entertainment division with the acquisition of another concerts business, Four Artists – its second new venture of 2017.

A decline in revenues from live entertainment – described as “expected, mainly due to fewer major tours” – was the only disappointing aspect to CTS’s 2016 results, which otherwise saw strong growth of 14.1% and the more than doubling of dividends, to €0.98 per share.

The acquisition, through its Medusa subsidiary, of a majority stake in Four Artists, a promoter and booking agency focusing on international and German-language hip hop, rock and pop, follows the establishment of Vaddi Concerts, headed up by ex-Koko director Marc Oßwald, in January.

Four Artists’ roster of close to 300 artists includes Seeed, The Lumineers, Scooter, Joris, Charles Bradley, Jimmy Eat World, Marteria, Rea Garvey and company co-founders Die Fantastischen Vier, and it promotes more than 2,000 shows a year. It also co-organises a number of festivals, including Magnetic in Saarbrucken, Sputnik Spring Break in Leipzig and Fritz Deutschpoeten in Berlin.

“Our focus continues to be on finding and building up exceptional national and international talent. We are convinced this new partnership will bring considerable benefit for our artists”

CTS Eventim CEO Klaus-Peter Schulenberg says the buy-out “broadens [our] event portfolio, especially with regard to German artists and younger target groups”. He comments: “We are very happy we were able to convince Four Artists and [managing director] Alex Richter to join forces with CTS Eventim. Alex Richter and his team have demonstrated strong aptitude and intuition to identify and build new talent. Together we stand for continued sustainable growth.”

Richter (pictured), who stays on as MD, adds: “We – Die Fantastischen Vier, their management and I – look very much forward to becoming part of Medusa group with Four Artists. We were looking for a partner that shares our views on the live entertainment business and is ready to implement our strategy of quality and sustainability together with us.

“Our focus continues to be on finding and building up exceptional national and international talent. We are convinced this new partnership will bring considerable benefit for our artists and look forward to close cooperation with CTS Eventim in the future. Our special thanks go to Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, who made it clear from the start he understands our approach and philosophy and is willing to personally support it.”

 


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Frommhold named VP, COO of AEG Facilities Germany

Uwe Frommhold has been appointed vice-president and chief operating officer (COO) of AEG Facilities Germany, which operates three arenas in Germany.

Frommhold joined AEG in 2007, when the company purchased the 16,000-cap. Color Line Arena in Hamburg (now the Barclaycard Arena), of which he was the managing director. He was most recently vice-president of AEG Facilities Germany, and in his new role, effective 1 April, will support the company’s entire business in Germany, including AEG Global Partnerships and AEG Real Estate.

He now hands over management of the Barclaycard Arena to Steve Schwenkglenks, who has been promoted to general manager of the venue.

“Uwe’s industry experience and leadership will be key in growing AEG’s business in Germany”

Richard Krezwick, senior vice-president of AEG Europe Facilities, comments: “Uwe’s industry experience and leadership will be key in growing AEG’s business in Germany. Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Mercedes-Benz Arena and the €200 million development of Mercedes Platz in Berlin make Germany a key component of our international operations. Uwe’s promotion exemplifies our keen interest and support of the German market.

“This is a well deserved promotion for Steve. He has done a tremendous job for the company in Hamburg and with all of his additional assignments” – which include spells in Brazil – “over the years.”

 


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Lords vote for further UK resale regulation

The British government was yesterday defeated by the House of Lords on an amendment anti-touting campaigners say will significantly strengthen obligations to consumers by secondary ticketing sites.

The snappily titled amendment 33ZLZA to the Digital Economy Bill is opposed by the government, which backs the recommendations made in the Waterson report, an independent review which recommended no new legislation in favour of proper enforcement of the existing Consumer Rights Act (CRA) 2015.

However, members of Britain’s unelected – but politically balanced – upper house yesterday voted 180–157 in favour of the amendment, which would require sites such Seatwave, Get Me In!, StubHub and Viagogo to provide the ticket reference or booking number, as well as any specific condition attached to the resale of the ticket.

Under the CRA, secondary sites are already obliged to list the original face value, seat/row numbers and any usage restrictions.

The bill goes back to the House of Commons (elected, controlled by the government) next month for MPs to either approve or reject the amendments made by the Lords.

“This is not about a cap on resale prices. It is perfectly within the conclusions … of the Waterson report to move ahead with this simple but effective remedy”

Addressing the Lords yesterday, Conservative peer Lord Moynihan said: “We do not want to ban the [secondary] market, although noble Lords did so for the Olympic Games in London 2012. Similarly, this is not about a cap on resale prices. It is perfectly within the conclusions [of], and the government’s response to, the Waterson report, to move ahead with this simple but effective remedy.

“It is not costly; it is about the cost of a phone call […] to say: ‘Your original ticket had a unique reference number on it. I want to check that the one I have bought from StubHub or one of the other secondary sites is for real. Can you tell me whether that same number, which does not exist on there – or they have put another number on it – is for real before I incur a lot of costs?’. It is a simple additional consumer protection measure which does not cost anything.

“It would look after consumers – in this context, particularly fans of sport and fans of music – which is what we should be all about.”

Anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance is also in favour of the amendment. “Despite concerted media and political scrutiny, the resale of tickets on platforms like Viagogo, Get Me In!, Seatwave and StubHub remains wholly lacking in transparency,” says FanFair’s Adam Webb. “This is the only online marketplace where buyers are given no identity about sellers – a peculiarity which is massively helpful to touts whose activities are anonymised, but not so much to consumers. It’s is a recipe for bad practice at best, and outright fraud at worst.

“That’s why this small amendment to the Consumer Rights Act is so important, as it could help provide more certainty that a ticket actually exists in the first place, as well as crucial details about terms and conditions of resale. FanFair Alliance warmly welcomes the Lords’ decision last night, and alongside the other recent commitments we look forward to further discussions with government about how ticket resale can be made more transparent, honest and consumer-friendly.”

 


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MMF, FAC, MU release fair contract template

The UK’s Music Managers Forum (MMF), Musicians’ Union (MU) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) have partnered to create a sample management agreement for newcomers to the industry “in response to the often unfair terms found in unchecked contracts brought forward by members of the three organisations”.

The draft agreement, available from today to members of all three bodies, is intended to provide guidance to novice managers and artists who may not yet have knowledge of how a ‘fair’ contract should look.

A joint statement says that “while all three of the organisations involved recognise that there is no such thing as a ‘standard’ contract, and that artist-centric business models are constantly developing, they jointly agreed on the need for early protection for both parties”.

“We hope that artists and managers will use this agreement to protect themselves in the early days, but also to think entrepreneurially about their future partnerships”

Horace Trubridge, newly elected MU general secretary, comments: “This example management agreement grew out of the MU’s contract advisory service, to which MU members submit contracts for legal scrutiny. Our lawyers raised concerns about the poor contract agreements widely available online to performers, managers, recording companies and others.

“This is a result of a lot of hard work and a long negotiation process, demonstrating how complex these things are,” adds the MFF’s Fiona McGugan. “We hope that artists and managers will use this agreement to protect themselves in the early days, but also to think entrepreneurially about their future partnerships as they become more attuned to the business they’re in.”

 


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Live Nation officially announces The Classic

Live Nation has officially taken the wraps off The Classic, the heritage act-headlined festivals widely seen as its answer to AEG/Goldenvoice’s wildly successful ‘Oldchella’ (aka Desert Trip).

As previously reported, the twin festivals – comprising The Classic East in New York and The Classic West in Los Angeles – will be headlined by Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, with support from Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Journey and Earth, Wind & Fire.

All six acts are represented by CAA, which is believed to be producing the events alongside Live Nation and Irving Azoff’s Oak View Group and Azoff MSG Entertainment.

A website is now live at theclassic.com, with tickets on sale via Live Nation’s Ticketmaster from next Friday (7 April), starting from US$150 – far less than Desert Trip’s $399.

Here’s the launch video, courtesy of Live Nation:

 


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Ex-Mojo CEO Wilbert Mutsaers to Spotify

Wilbert Mutsaers, the short-lived former CEO of Mojo Concerts, has resurfaced at Spotify Netherlands.

Mutsaers joined the local Live Nation operation in November 2015 but exited less than nine months later, citing an irreconcilable “difference of opinion on the future of the company”. He was previously station manager at NPO 3PM.

According to Entertainment Business Nieuws, Mutsaers has become Spotify’s ‘head of shows and editorial’ for the Netherlands, although he declined to comment on the nature of his new position.

 


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