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LN’s Joe Berchtold on Spotify, ticketing and AI

The Live Nation president/CFO praises the impact of social media on touring and provides an update on the firm's ticketing efforts

By James Hanley on 24 May 2023

Joe Berchtold

Live Nation president/CFO Joe Berchtold has praised the impact of platforms such as Spotify, TikTok and Instagram for accelerating the rise of new headline talent.

Berchtold says LN has already sold around 100 million tickets in 2023 so far – as many as it shifted in the entirety of 2019 – with business heavily driven by a “phenomenal year” of stadium shows.

And echoing the comments of CEO Michael Rapino, Berchtold points out the boom is not being driven by heritage acts, but by artists from previously localised markets, fast-tracked to the top with the help of social media.

“I was getting that question in 2011: What happens when the Eagles retire? What happens when when the Rolling Stones stop touring? Well, they’re both still touring, but the reality is today on the supply side, you’re seeing artists able to emerge, develop and build global followings in a way that could never happen historically,” says Berchtold, speaking yesterday (23 May) at JP Morgan’s global technology, media and communications conference.

“We’re very thankful for the Spotifys of the world,” he continues. “We’re very thankful for the Instagrams and TikToks that let them build global brands. A lot of the biggest artists that are out there today [are artists] we wouldn’t have heard three years ago: Bad Bunny last year, Karol G this year… so the global build of supply is happening in parallel to the global build of demand. We saw it with K-pop a few years ago; K-pop is as strong as ever, you’re just not hearing about as much because it’s continuing to build – and well beyond just BTS.

“You’re getting lots of other sources of music that maybe once were regional, now going global”

“You’re getting lots of other sources of music that maybe once were regional, now going global, or maybe were selling out mid-sized buildings regionally and are now selling out stadiums. So you’re seeing that supply continue to build and I don’t see any let up in that.”

Berchtold, who appeared before a US Senate antitrust panel in January, spurred by the fallout from the presale for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, also offers an update on the reported antitrust investigation into Ticketmaster by the DoJ.

“My view on this is pretty simple,” he says. “You had a lot of very powerful senators constantly clamouring, ‘Those guys must be doing something wrong.’ I think some senators come at life from a viewpoint of viewing success as coming from leverage and power, as opposed to building great businesses. So they assume, without lens of perspective, that others must achieve success the same way. Obviously, we have a very different view – we’re very confident that we’re not a monopoly and our market share doesn’t justify it. Certainly, our economic relationship with both venues and artists doesn’t justify it, so we don’t think that there’s a real issue there.

“We’re very confident in how we run the business; that we do it from a competitive, but even playing field basis. We think that having the best services, the best products is still okay, and so the DOJ process will run its course and we don’t worry about it on a day-to-day basis. We continue to operate our business in exactly the same way.”

Berchtold, who describes all-in pricing as “the best consumer experience everywhere”, suggests the microscope being placed on the ticketing market has been beneficial in some respects as it has increased the understanding of the market in the wider world.

“The level of lack of understanding of the [ticketing] industry is astonishing to somebody who lives in the industry”

“As painful as the last six eight months have been in some regards, I think it’s been helpful because it’s shone much more of a light on – and made more transparent – what goes on in ticketing,” he says. “It’s obviously telling when you have senators asking in the room, ‘Who sets the ticket price? Is that the artist or is that Ticketmaster?’

“The level of lack of understanding of the industry is astonishing to somebody who lives in the industry, but it’s probably a better representation of how everybody understands it. So I think that the amount of attention, press, conversation, has made more transparent how it works, and that transparency is good for us, because I’m very confident [in] the things that we do. We serve the artist, and I don’t think that ultimately is going to be found to be wrong.”

Here is a selection of other highlights from Berchtold’s interview, from artificial intelligence to Live Nation’s growth in Latin America…

How AI can help the live business…

“I am far from an expert on AI, but we have a lot of areas in Ticketmaster where we use what used to be called machine learning. We’re used to taking a lot of data and inputs to figure out how you make life easier for everybody. So to me, it’s more of an infrastructure component.

“We think about… using AI to be much more efficient and targeted in terms of how we market. We continue to think about how you optimise pricing and move even more towards a one-on-one relationship with fans. Ticketing is a complicated customer service because when fans have a need they usually have a need, right now. It’s probably like airlines where I can’t wait until tomorrow because, ‘I’ve got a show tonight’ or, ‘I’ve got an issue that has to get results.’ So the better we can get at customer service – and using AI to help inform that – will be great.”

Artists taking control of their own ticketing…

“The increased press and focus on pricing and secondary has [artists] saying, ‘I don’t want somebody getting between me and the fan, so I’ll take one of a handful of paths.’ First of all, most artists are saying, ‘I want all my fans to be able to get in the building.’ So while it doesn’t get the press, there’s certainly as much focus on pricing the back of the house. How do we keep that affordable for everybody?

“Second, they’re saying, ‘Well then, for the front of the house, I don’t want the scalpers getting all the money. So either I’m going to get this money through platinum or I want to do something like The Cure or Pearl Jam, where I want some sort of face value-only exchange and I want some control over those tickets.’ Our job is to say, ‘Great, we’re providing the tools to do both of those.’ We want to make sure we’re supporting the artists’ agenda and what they want, and neither is right or wrong. Every artist is different in terms of where they’re at in their careers and how they want to interact with their fans, and we’ll support them both.”

The launch of Live Nation’s “music-led destination experience company” Vibee…

“We’ve been obsessed for a long time about the experience that fans have. This is an example of where we’ll work with artists to create destination weekends focused around those artists, and provide the entire experience at different levels. You’ll see a lot of things from EDM to country artists to jam band artists, a lot of classic rock, so it’s going to be pretty wide ranging I expect and will be another great leg of how we continue to grow the business.”

The company’s growth in Mexico since acquiring Ocesa:

“Ocesa’s killing it. We’ve got a great business there that we acquired. We have a fantastic management team, the best people not only in Mexico, but in all of Latin America. And we’ve done what we said we were going to do: work with them to do the simple thing first, which is increase the content flow to Mexico. For a long time, we didn’t really have the motivation to drive putting shows into Mexico. But now we’re all under one roof, helping drive content that way is a quick win.

“Upgrading their Ticketmaster platform to be consistent with the US platform in terms of its ability to do dynamic pricing, have platinum tickets, to sell insurance, to do a number of these things, I’d say are just starting to bear fruit. We’re getting most of the features in place over the course of this year., so we’ll see some benefit this year, then I expect full benefit from that next year.”

Ticketmaster’s expansion into Brazil:

“It’s one of the largest countries in the world, with an incredibly music-oriented fanbase. We just launched The Town, a new festival this year, which will be in the off years relative to Rock in Rio, [to] massive levels of demand. Every artist that we bring down there is doing multiple stadiums and all of the cities are huge cities.

“A major priority and a major source of growth for us as we look over the next few years is how we continue to build up Brazil, Argentina, Mexico with Ocesa and a handful of the other markets down there.”


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