Study: bots generate 40% of all ticketing traffic
Distil Networks, a global leader in bot mitigation, has released an in-depth study into the impact of bots on the ticketing industry, finding that nearly 40% of ticketing traffic is comprised of “bad bots”.
The study, developed by the Distil Research Lab, analysed 26.3 billion requests from 180 domains between September and December 2018. The results show that ticket bots – the automated software used by scalpers to bulk buy concert tickets and resell at inflated prices – are major drivers of traffic on ticketing platforms.
Bots lead to high infrastructure costs and poor website performance. The activity also “compromises the integrity of ticketing websites and impacts the user experience,” according to Distil Networks.
The study finds that primary ticketing markets are the main targets of bot activity, experiencing a higher volume of traffic from bots (42%) than secondary ticketing platforms (24%) and venues (27%).
The vast majority of bots launched against ticketing companies (85%) originated in North America, and 78% of bots classified as sophisticated or moderately sophisticated, often evading detection.
“Although the ticketing industry has led the way in terms of bot legislation, websites still face a huge hurdle when protecting against bad bots,” says Tiffany Kleemann, chief executive of Distil Networks.
“Although the ticketing industry has led the way in terms of bot legislation, websites still face a huge hurdle when protecting against bad bots”
“These automated tools attack ticketing websites every day, leveraging more advanced and nuanced techniques that evade detection. Any website that sells tickets can fall prey to this criminal activity, and a better understanding of the threat landscape can ensure the proper protective protocol is put in place,” adds Kleemann.
The usage of bots has come to the forefront of the music industry’s consciousness in recent years. Former US president Barack Obama passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (Bots) Act in December 2016, making the use of ticket-buying software a crime nationwide. The state of New York had previously initiated a statewide ban on bots.
The UK government followed suit in 2018, criminalising the usage of ticketing bots, along with Ontario, Canada, and the Australian states of Adelaide and New South Wales.
Distil Networks’ figures indicate the prevalence of ticketing bots and may serve to assuage concerns among music industry professionals that ticketing bots are a “red herring” in the debate concerning secondary ticketing.
Suspicions have arisen surrounding the lack of correspondence between the implementation of anti-bot technology and the prevalence of secondary ticketing, as well as the support that secondary ticketing platforms have voiced for the banning of ticketing bots.
A full version of the Distil Networks report can be found here.
Ticketmaster blasts pro-bot ticket touts as “delusional”
Ticketmaster has hit back at what it calls “delusional posturing” by big-time ticket touting operation Prestige Entertainment, after the latter had the “temerity” to claim in court its alleged hoovering up of tickets to Broadway hit Hamilton using bots was “beneficial to Ticketmaster and its consumers”.
Ticketmaster accuses Connecticut-based Prestige of using an army of bots to purchase from its site around 30,000 tickets for Hamilton and other shows – a violation of its terms of service and, since the passage of the Bots Act in December 2016, illegal in the United States. According to the US$10m lawsuit, filed in the US district court for central California last October, Prestige was, over a period of 20 months, able to acquire 30–40% of TM’s total Hamilton inventory.
According to court documents, Prestige “commandeer[s] significant portions of available tickets for popular events, and, overall, have placed at least 313,528 ticket orders from 9,047 different accounts”.
Prestige has since sought to have the suit dismissed, arguing that Ticketmaster’s lawyers’ argument – that the use of bots, which need to repeatedly copy website pages “far in excess” of normal browsing in order to operate, violates the company’s copyright – would make any normal ticket buyer a copyright infringer, as as all web browsers download pages in order to display them.
“It would be impossible for anyone to access plaintiff’s [Ticketmaster’s] website without exposure to a claim of infringement and violation of law, with plaintiff having the right to pick and choose who gets prosecuted,” wrote Prestige’s attorneys (H/T TicketNews/Law360).
“It is Ticketmaster that bears the brunt of consumer discontent for a perceived lack of fairness in the ticket market”
It is also allegedly told Ticketmaster its buying up of thousands of tickets for hot shows is a good thing for the Live Nation-owned business, the world’s largest primary ticket reseller.
“Online commerce – and online ticketing especially – is under constant attack from illicit bot use,” Ticketmaster attorney Robert H. Platt told judge Otis D. Wright on Monday. “Ticketmaster has spent years in a war of attrition with users of bots, diverting substantial time, energy and resources in an often-vain effort to maintain a level playing field for consumers who simply want a fair chance to buy a ticket. California, New York, and the federal government have passed laws expressly prohibiting the use of bots to buy tickets, but defendants [Prestige], addicted to unseemly ticket-resale profits, remain undeterred. Ticketmaster therefore turns, as it has successfully in the past, to litigation against major bot offenders.”
“In their motion to dismiss Ticketmaster’s complaint,” Platt added, “defendants have the temerity to describe their prolific bot use as beneficial to Ticketmaster and its consumers”. “Such delusional posturing”, he said, is “no substitute for valid legal argument”, recommending the request to dismiss be “denied in its entirety”.
“Such delusional posturing is “no substitute for valid legal argument”
Should the suit continue, Ticketmaster is hoping for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, believed to be around $10 million, and a court order to stop Prestige’s bot use.
Highlighting the perceived damage to the Ticketmaster brand by resale operations such as Prestige, Platt says: “Even assuming […] defendants pay stated ticket prices and fees when purchasing tickets, they still inflict significant harm on Ticketmaster, its clients, and legitimate consumers who simply want a fair chance to buy tickets without resorting to extortionate resale prices.
“By using bots and other methods to angle for an unfair advantage, defendants interfere with the ability of Ticketmaster and its clients to gauge and manage ticket demand [and] circumvent flows of commerce on the website and mobile app, and require Ticketmaster to go to extraordinary lengths and expense to try to detect and prevent the use of bots and to cancel purchases where bot use is timely detected.
“To the extent these nefarious efforts succeed, it is Ticketmaster that bears the brunt of consumer discontent for a perceived lack of fairness in the ticket market.”
The next hearing is set for 5 February.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Ontario proposes ticket resale price cap
Building on the potential ticket bot ban announced in October, the Canadian province of Ontario has unveiled legislation that would cap the resale price of tickets at 50% above face value.
The proposed measures on ticket touting form part of a broader bill, the Strengthening Protection for Ontario Consumers Act, and would, if passed, also criminalise the use of ticket bots; bar the sale of tickets purchased using bots; and require business selling or reselling tickets to disclose information including the capacity of the venue, the number of tickets on general on-sale and the original face-value ticket price.
“Stronger rules for buying and selling tickets will help give fans a fair shot”
“Stronger rules for buying and selling tickets will help give fans a fair shot at getting music, sports or theatre tickets,” says Ontario attorney-general Yasir Naqvi. “Our proposed changes will ban bots and excessive mark ups, prevent fraud and provide more information in the ticket industry. We are putting fans first by making the industry more transparent and tickets more affordable.”
“I am pleased to introduce proposed legislation that will provide consumers with the protection they deserve when making significant purchases, like a new home, a dream vacation or concert tickets,” comments Tracy MacCharles (pictured), the province’s minister of government and consumer services. “Building a fair, safe and informed marketplace is a key priority of this government. We are committed to strengthening consumer protection and making it work better for everyone.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Australia gov urged to follow US, UK lead on bots
Live Performance Australia (LPA) has called for Australia to follow the UK’s lead in banning ticket bots.
Now that “new laws criminalising bots have just taken force in the UK overnight“, the trade association says it is time for the government of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to “support legislation which outlaws the use of bots to buy tickets which are then resold on the secondary market, often at vastly inflated prices”.
“The UK and US have taken action, but the Turnbull government is missing in action”
Among those calling from similar legislation in Australia is senator Nick Xenophon, whose parliamentary motion to ban bots is supported by opposition parties but opposed by the government.
“Bots are a problem for all ecommerce businesses, not just our industry,” says LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson. “This is a global problem and the impact on fans is enormous. Ticketmaster has publicly reported that it blocked five billion attempts by bots to unfairly access their websites globally in 2015, and bot activity increased by 10% in 2016.
“The UK and US have taken action, but the Turnbull government is missing in action. Bots are a global problem, and Australia should be part of the global response.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
LN deploys ‘fan-first’ tech for Linkin Park tour
The first batch of tickets for Linkin Park’s 12th concert trek, the One More Light world tour, will be released exclusively via a Ticketmaster ‘Verified Fan’ presale, tour promoter Live Nation has announced.
Ticketmaster Verified Fan, launched earlier this year, is described by Live Nation as a “groundbreaking fan-first technology” that allows fans to “compete against other fans for tickets – not software”. For the Linkin Park presale, fanclub members will get priority access, but everyone else takes their place in a queue – with those willing to hand over more data, such as those signing in with Facebook, given a better spot in the line.
“The more you participate, the higher your spot in line and the better your access to tickets,” explains Live Nation. “Linkin Park Fan Club (LPU) members will get priority, but anyone can work their way to the top.”
Other ways to move up the queue include pre-ordering Linkin Park’s (pictured) new album (One More Light), inviting friends to sign up and by sharing news about the tour on social media and email. Those who end up in the top five will receive a package of signed merch from the band, with numbers one and two in each market getting to meet Linkin Park before the show.
“The more you participate, the higher your spot in line and the better your access to tickets”
Ticketmaster’s North America head of music, David Marcus, told Recode in March that the Verified Fan programme has so far been a success in reducing the amount of tickets scooped up by bots, which are now illegal to use in the US. Unlike traditional presales, an average of just 1% of tickets end up on the secondary market, he said.
“Bots are about speed, and if you make distribution about speed, you’re fighting a very hard battle,” he explained. “If you make it about identity, it’s much different.”
The One More Light world tour, supported by rapper Machine Gun Kelly, kicks off on 27 July at the Xfinity Center (19,900-cap.) in Boston, Masachussetts, finishing up at LA’s Hollywood Bowl on 22 October.
Digital Economy Bill signed into law
The Digital Economy Bill 2016-17, which criminalises the use of ticket bots in the UK, has received royal assent and become law.
The bill, which also includes provisions relating to online pornography, direct marketing, digital intellectual property and increasing broadband speed, prohibits the misuse of an “electronic communications network” or “electronic communications service” to bulk-buy tickets.
It also builds on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 by requiring secondary ticket sellers to provide a “unique ticket number that may help the buyer to identify the seat or standing area or its location”.
Matt Hancock, the UK’s minister of state for digital and culture (pictured), says he’s “delighted the Digital Economy Act has become law”, saying the legislation will provide “better support for consumers” and “help build a more connected and stronger economy”.
Anti-ticket touting group FanFair Alliance has welcomed the news, but cautioned that the effectiveness of the bill “will be for nothing” without proper enforcement.
“It is now vital that the UK’s consumer laws are enforced, and recommendations made in the Waterson review are fully implemented”
“On top of government measures to criminalise the bulk-buying of tickets, this relatively minor amendment to the Consumer Rights Act, for a ‘unique ticket number’ to be displayed when a ticket is listed for resale, should greatly increase transparency in the so-called secondary ticketing market,” it said in a statement.
“If enforced, it will give users some assurances that the ticket they are buying actually exists, as well as disrupting the practices of hardcore touts that thrive on sites like Viagogo, StubHub, Get Me In! and Seatwave. FanFair Alliance would like to thank everyone who has supported us in campaigning for these changes – and particularly Nigel Adams MP, Sharon Hodgson MP, Lord Moynihan, Baroness Hayter, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Stevenson, the late Baroness Heyhoe-Flint and members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
“We were also heartened that the culture minister has clarified unequivocally that secondary platforms must provide information of any resale restrictions. Going forward, it is now vital that the UK’s consumer laws are enforced, and recommendations made in the Waterson review of secondary ticketing are fully implemented.
“After the general election [on 8 June], we will need details on how all these changes will work in practice. Only then, and combined with a concerted effort from industry and regulators, will this broken market be fixed and British audiences provided with the open and properly functioning resale market they deserve.”
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 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.”
UK accepts Waterson recommendations, bans bots
As promised in October, the British government has published its long-awaited response to last year’s Waterson report into secondary ticketing, accepting Prof. Michael Waterson’s recommendations in full – including a total ban on ticket bots.
The government’s commitment is described by anti-ticket touting group FanFair Alliance as “extensive”, and includes an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to criminalise the use of bots to bulk-buy tickets, with potentially unlimited fines for those who break the new law.
Other measures include a substantial investment in consumer-protection agency National Trading Standards, and renewed pressure on four secondary ticketing sites – StubHub, Viagogo and Ticketmaster’s Seatwave and Get Me In! – to identify touts and make clear to consumers when tickets are being sold on the secondary market.
FanFair’s campaign manager, Adam Webb, comments: “A crackdown on the misuse of bot technology to bulk-buy tickets will be hugely important in helping clean up this market, but of equal significance is government’s blanket acceptance of recommendations in the Waterson review, which, if implemented, should lead to greater transparency.
“Banning bots is a step towards ensuring the ticketing market for live events works more fairly for gig-goers”
“That aspect is absolutely vital. Only with proper enforcement of the law will this market work in favour of consumers.”
Alex Neill, managing director of home services at the Consumers’ Association/Which?, also welcomes the news. “Banning bots is a welcome move, as it should give genuine fans a better chance of getting tickets for popular events,” he says. “Ticketing sites must have much more robust protections in place to combat bots, and the competition authorities now need to make sure that this crackdown really works and take strong action against anyone who breaks the law.”
In a response sent to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), industry umbrella group UK Music writes: “UK Music is pleased that government is responding to industry representations and is now acting on the recommendations of the Waterson review.
“The use of bots to bulk-buy tickets amounts to industrial-scale touting. Massive profit is made by people who are taking value out of the music industry and putting tickets out of the reach of music fans. Banning bots is a step towards ensuring the ticketing market for live events works more fairly for gig-goers.”
“Of equal significance is government’s blanket acceptance of recommendations in the Waterson review, which should lead to greater transparency”
Jonathan Brown, chief executive of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), says: “Over the last ten months, STAR has been very focused on progressing the recommendations made to the primary ticket market in Professor Waterson’s excellent 2016 review of the secondary ticket market. With the co-operation of DCMS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), we facilitated two meetings to enable the entertainment industry to discuss those recommendations and consider further actions. In addition to STAR and the organisations mentioned above, those meetings were attended by representatives of other entertainment industry bodies with an interest and responsibility for the primary ticket market.
“The meetings were a step towards fulfilling some of the recommendations made in the review, particularly in discussing with the CMA fair terms and conditions around the resale of tickets. STAR therefore very much welcomes the government’s commitment to improving the secondary ticket market for consumers by accepting and acting on the recommendations made by Professor Waterson.”
Richard Davies of face-value ticket resale site Twickets, meanwhile, says the government action is “heartening” but reiterates his calls for for-profit resale to be banned outright. “It’s heartening to hear that after years of campaigning, the government appears to have gotten the bit between its teeth on clamping down on the profiteering rife within the secondary market,” he comments.
“The news that Trading Standards will be funded to enforce these measures and that Waterson’s other recommendations have been accepted in full are also welcome, though we urge the government to go further and ban secondary ticketing for profit outright.”
Bots banned… on Twitch
A prolific operator of bots on popular live-streaming platform Twitch has been slapped with an injunction ordering him to shut down his business.
Justin Johnson, one of seven defendants, was the target of a lawsuit by the company and its parent, Amazon, for selling software to artificially boost streamers’ viewer numbers.
Several of the most-followed streamers on the service, known as partners, are entitled to a share of ad revenue. The complaint alleged the defendants “design, sell, and deploy bot services – software that mimics the behaviour of real users. These bot services capitalise on broadcasters’ desire to become popular on Twitch and to become partners by promising shortcuts to both… [making] channels appear higher in directories and trick Twitch into accepting broadcasters into the partnership programme, with its promise of additional revenue.”
California judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled on Wednesday (1 March) that Johnson must immediately shut down his business, and banned him from offering similar services in future.
16 in 2016: The year in review
With 2016 drawing to a close, in many aspects, it’s been a banner year for the live music business. So in case you miss our regular Index email updates, or recently emerged from a time capsule, here’s 16 key 2016 takeaways (in no particular order) from the year that nearly was…
1. Seconds out, round…?
As IQ wrote last week in our investigation into take-up of dynamic ticket pricing, “if 2016 will be remembered in the live music business for any one thing, it will be as the 12 months in which the pitchforks well and truly came out against secondary ticketing”.
While the UK, as it often tends to, hogged the lion’s share of the headlines, the backlash against what the FanFair Alliance calls “industrial-scale” ticket touting was a truly global phenomenon, with American congressmen, Belgian ministers and promoters in Switzerland, Japan and, most successfully, Italy also all getting in on the action.
Look for continued action in this area in 2017 as the boundaries between primary and secondary continue to blur, calls for greater transparency continue, and more income is driven back to the industry, out of the hands of those who contribute nothing to it.
2. The Ticketing Gold Rush
One of the key topics tackled in this year’s International Ticketing Yearbook was the increasing appetite for ticketing by the world’s biggest online players. After Alibaba Group, the $14bn Chinese ecommerce giant, launched event ticketing operation Tao Piao Piao in May, Amazon caught the industry’s attention with several hires in the UK for the new Amazon Tickets, the start of a bid to become “Earth’s most customer-centric ticketing company”.
“From an artist or sports franchise point of view, any channel that will allow [major ecommerce companies] direct access to the end consumer is powerful and attractive,”
Slightly closer to home, Spotify unveiled a tie-up with Ticketmaster in November, Songkick is settled into its dual role as concert recommendation and ticketing app and Apple Music is dabbling the live space on the current Drake tour. Initial hiccups in some areas aside, 2016 could well be remembered as the moment the ticket started to go where the fans are.
“From an artist or sports franchise point of view, any channel that will allow [major ecommerce companies] direct access to the end consumer is powerful and attractive,” comments ticketing consultant Tim Chambers.
3. Live domi-Nation
The world’s leading live entertainment group showed no signs of bringing its ten-year buying spree to an end in 2016, making no less than eight major acquisitions.
Bonnaroo/AC Entertainment, French promoter Nous Productions, Greek ticketing company TicketHour, Australia’s Secret Sounds (Splendour in the Grass/Falls Festival), Canadian festival promoter Union Events, Sweden Rock festival, Big Concerts in South Africa and YouTube multi-channel network InDMusic were amongst those becoming part of the Live Nation family this year, to the tune of more than US$113 million.
“As we look forward, we see tremendous opportunities to continue global consolidation of our concerts and ticketing businesses, with further growth in advertising and ticketing from the concerts flywheel,” said CEO Michael Rapino in a Q3 statement.
4. Splendid isolation?
On 23 June, in the first major political upset of the year (bet you can’t guess no.2!), the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), ending more than 40 years of political and economic union with continental Europe.
Thanks to a two-year exit process – which won’t even begin until next March – we’re still no closer to discovering the effect Brexit has on the international live music industry, although a common sentiment in the UK has been to stress the importance of prioritising the creative industries in any future divorce settlement.
“There is a very real risk that skills shortages in the UK will be made worse – at least in the short to medium term”
Industry body Creative Industries Federation called last month for the UK to retain freedom of movement with the rest of bloc – something especially important for touring artists and crew, many of whom have spoken of their opposition to the return of border visas. “There is a very real risk that skills shortages in the UK will be made worse – at least in the short to medium term – by any restriction on freedom of movement that comes with tightening immigration laws and the UK leaving the European Union,” said the federation.
5. Pollsters Trumped
Despite a majority of analysts predicting a victory for Hillary Clinton in last month’s US presidential election, it was not to be: the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, was victorious in 30 of 50 states, and will be inaugurated as president in January.
Like Brexit, the implications for the touring business of a Trump presidency are still unclear, but Nederlander Concerts CEO Alex Hodges seemed to sum up the mood in the Americas when he told IQ the day after the elections: “The show must go on”.
6. Good times
While Q4 and end of year figures are yet to be published, there are few who’d believe that 2016 was a slow year for live music. Billboard puts the value of the US live music business at a staggering $25billion in 2016, with performance show averages up 25% worldwide (43% in the US) and average per-show attendance up 30% globally (29% in the US).
“The top two global tours grossed more than a half-billion dollars in what has been a great year for the concert business.”
Pollstar, which traditionally offers a more accurate barometer of US market health, has yet to reveal annual numbers, but reports: “the top two global tours [Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé] grossed more than a half-billion dollars in what has been a great year for the concert business.” Pollstar’s Q3 results pegged the top 100 tours up a more modest 3% year-on-year on combined grosses, with average tickets up 7.6%.
7. Rebates under debate
In terms of page views, IQ’s biggest story of 2016 was the revelation that an increasing number of artists are choosing to bypass their local PROs (for example, PRS) in favour of collecting performance royalties directly.
Direct licensing, as it’s known, presents a headache for festival promoters – the vast majority of which have one-stop, blanket licences – with many facing the prospect of paying multiple licensees: the PRO (performance rights organisation) and the artist directly.
Adam Elfin, who runs direct-licensing agency PACE Rights Management, said leaving promoters out of pocket “is not something we want or that should happen”, but added that it’s “beneficial that we’re having this conversation now, because if they weren’t aware of this [direct licensing] and they proceeded with their deals for next year with local PROs, the impact will be massively different.”
No PRO has yet declared they are willing to offer promoters a discount on fees if they have acts directly licensing bands on their line-up, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that might be a possibility for 2017.
8. Beyond music: eSports/YouTube
More than ever before, 2016 saw a raft of new content being introduced to venues, with the likes of eSports events and YouTube stars regularly selling out shows.
The scale of the eSports business was highlighted in October when Reed Midem, the organiser of the Midem music industry conference, announced plans for a similar event for the eSports market, on the back of new data revealing that global revenues in the sector for 2016 are estimated at US$493 million. That news came on the back of the Electronic Sports League (ESL), the world’s largest eSports promoter, agreeing a strategic partnership with AEG, giving it access to 120 AEG-operated venues for qualifying events, tournaments and world championships.
“2016 saw a raft of new content being introduced to venues, with the likes of eSports events and YouTube stars regularly selling out shows.”
Meanwhile, the power of social media continued to grow, posing opportunities for enterprising promoters to take YouTube stars on tour with agencies including WME, CAA and UTA making a big play for online talent. This rapidly growing sector is engaging young fans the world over – underlined by events like Summer in the City, in London’s ExCel centre, where more than 10,000 people bought tickets to meet their favourite YouTubers, watch them live, and listen to panel discussions.
The threat of terrorist acts around the world did not diminish during 2016, forcing promoters and venues to increase the amount of investment they are spending to guard their premises, artists, crews and fans from those intent to inflict death and injury.
Atrocities at the likes of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, as well as attacks on festival sites and, of course the mass murder at Le Bataclan in Paris in late 2015, have brought about stricter security measures, with clubs throughout France now using airport style checks for patrons.
As a so-called soft target, concerts and festivals have found themselves under the microscope, especially in certain countries where terrorist cells are known to operate. At the IFF in September, Rock Werchter promoter Herman Schueremans stated his belief that “We’re more safe now” thanks to some of the efforts that he and fellow promoters around the world have implemented.
Elsewhere, Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith lent his support to a new anti-terror training course, but such measures haven’t appeased everyone, with British peer, Baroness Henig, making moves to force staff at UK music venues to undergo such intensive training.
10. Social media integration
Having a Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat account for your event or venue is hardly rocket science these days, but the past 12 months have seen a number of deals forged to better exploit the audience who uses these and other social media platforms.
In April, Ticketmaster and Eventbrite both agreed deals to sell tickets through Facebook, while later in the year, Live Nation tied up with with Snapchat, initially to create ‘Live Stories’ at V Festival, Way Out West, Creamfields and Reading and Leeds, before taking it to the next level by using links for adverts on Snapchat to sell tickets to their shows.
The past 12 months have seen a number of deals forged to better exploit the audience who uses these and other social media platforms.
Not to be outdone, AEG entered into a multi-year agreement with Snapchat to promote its festivals via the video-sharing app.
Hinting at more deals to come, a survey by Nielsen found that Instagram is used by more US concertgoers than any of its rivals, with an astonishing 83% of those active on social media at shows making use of the photo-sharing app.
11. The SFX/LiveStyle saga
The year ended on a brighter note for those working for beleaguered dance music conglomerate SFX – although a number of creditors might take issue with that statement.
In November, Former Global Group and AEG Live chief, Randy Phillips, was appointed as the company’s new CEO and then, just days later, the SFX reorganisation plan was finally given a green light, following nine months of official administration, but at a cost of nearly US$400million of debt being written off.
The company managed to exit its bankruptcy situation earlier than planned and, moving swiftly to distance the group from its former self, Randy Phillips rebranded the entity as LiveStyle.
Quite whether the saga is truly at an end remains to be seen, with at least one shareholder still asking the courts to look at an alleged undervaluation of the company that accelerated its emergence from debt.
12. Goggle Boxes
The influence of new technology on the live experience continued to break new ground in 2016, with Virtual Reality (VR) a popular talking point. In May, music streaming service Rhapsody launched the Rhapsody VR app which promises, “free, immersive 360-degree videos of great artists from the best seat in the house”. May also saw Live Nation announce a partnership with NextVR to film and stream concerts in the format.
Festival including Wacken Open Air in Germany have begun filming their events for VR headsets, and other players in the space include Warner Music (partnered with MelodyVR and Digital Domain) and Universal Music and iHeartMedia, both recording concerts in VR.
The influence of new technology on the live experience continued to break new ground in 2016, with Virtual Reality a popular talking point.
But is it a genuine source of new revenue streams or a short term fad? Time will tell, but research company Nielsen found that early VR adopters are outspending the average American by 2:1 on live events.
13. Weathering the storm
In Europe, the 2016 festival season was one of the most turbulent in living memory, with FKP Scorpio’s Hurricane and Southside, Marek Lieberberg/CTS Eventim’s Rock am Ring, Ultra Europe, Live Nation’s Rock Werchter and Broadwick Live’s Festival №6 all badly affected by severe weather.
Responses ranged from a government-backed €500k bad-weather fund in the Netherlands to FOLD Festival cheekily giving away tickets to Glastonbury-goers who couldn’t face the mud, while panellists at Reeperbahn Festival’s Epic Production session called for collaboration between festivals and a unified code of conduct for dealing with inclement weather.
Wacken Open Air – which avoided the worst of 2016 – has, meanwhile, embarked on a major overhaul of its festival site for 2017, with a new drainage system and gravel-based ground covering.
14. Bot-tomming Out
The controversial use of bots to harvest primary tickets during an onsale saw inbound legislation in 2016, both in the US and UK. The state of New York made using ticket-buying software on offence in June, while plans for a new anti-both bill were introduced in Ontario, Canada, in October.
By November, the UK’s digital minister, Matt Hancock, had launched his Computer Misuse Act, but the strongest move yet came last week when outbound US President Barrack Obama signed the Better Online Ticket Sales (Bots) Act, which proscribes their use.
15. Desert Trip
Hailed as one of the greatest rock events of all time, Desert Trip, didn’t just smash records – it took dynamite to the entire jukebox.
The concept of putting together three headline acts across three days might not have been rocket science, but when the dream ticket was the Stones, the Beatles and Pink Floyd, the complexities kicked in. But promoters Goldenvoice pulled off the improbable, lining up the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Roger Waters across successive nights and adding in support acts Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Who for good measure, while using the site of California’s uber cool festival, Coachella, to stage the show – and lending to its popular nickname, Oldchella.
Hailed as one of the greatest rock events of all time, Desert Trip, didn’t just smash records – it took dynamite to the entire jukebox.
Not so fortunate were some of the ticket touts who gambled on scooping up as many of the weekend and day passes as they could get their hands on. Despite issuing a ‘sold out’ notice, Desert Trip organisers held back a number of tickets, which were released a month before the shows, prompting a collapse in the value of the secondary market to the extent that, in the days running up to the concerts, many tickets were listed at lower than original face value.
16. In Memoriam
Already considered an annus horribilis due to the number of fallen musical heroes (with Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen among them), the business lost more than its fair share of heroes in 2016. Dan Panaitescu, head of international booking at Sziget festival was killed in a car crash in July, the same month that veteran concert promoter James Nederlander passed at the age of 94.
July also claimed the life of Baloise Session founder Matthias Müller, when the longtime Swiss festival promoter lost his battle with cancer. Meanwhile, other tragic losses to the business included Brazilian promoter and youth project champion Bianca Freitas, who died in October after contracting the rare Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Trying to squeeze 12 months of news, views and innovation into this short feature is always going to be tricky, so what did we miss? Please feel free to comment below. We may even publish the best bits…