CMA suspends legal action as Viagogo addresses concerns
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has suspended preparations for court action against Viagogo, in a move that comes as a surprise to anti-tout groups.
In July, the watchdog notified Viagogo that it would be moving forward with contempt of court action following several warnings that the site had failed to comply with a legally binding court order. The order instructed Viagogo adhere to CMA demands in relation to the way information was presented to ticket buyers.
Viagogo has now addressed the outstanding concerns, providing more accurate information on the number of tickets available, disclosing details of seat locations and sellers’ business addresses and indicating whether tickets guarantee entry.
The CMA’s decision comes as “a bolt from the blue”, for anti-tout group FanFair Alliance, the group’s campaign manager Adam Webb tells IQ.
The Viagogo website is “far more transparent than it was in December 2016”, when the CMA investigation began, states Webb. “However, even leaving aside its historic abuses of UK audiences, which are serious, extensive and well documented, we still hold serious concerns that Viagogo remains non-compliant with a range of consumer protection laws.
“We continue to share these concerns with the CMA on a regular basis,” continues Webb, “and there’s the rub. Having gone to the cost and effort of serving Viagogo with a court order, it certainly feels disappointing that our regulator is apparently relinquishing its considerable efforts and not finishing the job.”
“It feels disappointing that our regulator is relinquishing its considerable efforts and not finishing the job”
Sam Shemtob, director of continent-wide anti-tout group the Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT), also notes the “damage” done to fans since the CMA’s review opened, which “underlines the importance of the government giving the CMA stronger powers in this area.”
Shemtob references the recent European-wide legislation outlawing the use of automated ticket-buying software, or ticket bots, which enables authorities such as the CMA “to jointly address breaches of consumer law.”
“Once in place, these powers will hold while the UK remains in Europe and during any transition period and will form the incumbent law post Brexit,” explains Shemtob. “We hope that will further strengthen the CMA’s hand.”
Although CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli states the Viagogo website visited by UK customers today “is worlds apart” from what it used to be, he says the time taken to get to this stage “is clearly not acceptable”.
“Stronger consumer powers are required in the secondary ticketing sector and we will continue to work with the government on the most effective way to achieve this.” states Coscelli.
“A key part will be the government’s existing plans to give the CMA stronger consumer protection powers, so that it can rule on whether a company has broken the law and impose fines on those infringing companies.”
“What is clearly not acceptable is the time it’s taken to get to this stage”
Despite decision to halt action, the CMA boss does not rule out future action against the secondary site, declaring that “we will keep up the pressure on Viagogo to ensure that it continues to comply with UK consumer protection law.”
A further independent review of Viagogo’s compliance with the court order will be completed in October 2019. The CMA states it “will not hesitate to take further action – through the courts if necessary”, if the results of this review, or any other new information, suggest the company is not meeting its obligations.
A spokesperson for the secondary site comments: “Viagogo is pleased it has been able to work with the CMA to find solutions to the final few areas of discussion.
“We are grateful to the CMA for their engagement over the past few months and the ability of both parties to work collaboratively to reach this point. Looking ahead we will continue to work with them to ensure we are delivering the best possible service for our customers and challenging the wider ticketing market to raise its standards in the interests of all in the live event world.”
In response to pressure from industry organisations, anti-tout groups and politicians, Google barred Viagogo from advertising through its platform in July, in what one anti-touting group deemed a ‘landmark moment’. The suspension means the site can no longer pay to appear at the top of Google’s global search rankings.
This article is being updated with industry reactions as IQ receives them.
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.
PledgeMusic to be wound up amid inquiry calls
Crowdfunding platform PledgeMusic is to be liquidated, as UK Music urges government action to prevent a repeat of the “scandal” that has left hundreds of artists out of pocket.
As reported in the London Gazette and first spotted by Music Technology Policy, a Royal Courts of Justice judge today (31 July) granted an order to wind up the beleaguered company, which has failed to pay artists that raised funds through its platform. The artist-to-fan marketplace suspended operations months ago following financial difficulties.
Following the order, UK Music deputy chief executive Tom Kiehl has called on the government to take action to prevent such a situation occurring again. Kiehl states the winding up of PledgeMusic is “entirely unsatisfactory” for fans and artists.
“Many musicians across the UK relied on crowdfunding website PledgeMusic to deliver payments from patrons, to pay for album recordings and other costs,” writes Kiehl in a letter to business minister Kelly Tolhurst.
“I would like to ask for a meeting to consider further possible government interventions to ensure the issues which have arisen from PledgeMusic can never happen again”
Following on from UK Music chief executive Michael Dugher’s suggestion in May, Kiehl once again urges a referral to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, “to investigate what went wrong”.
Kiehl also asks the minster to consider taking up the case with the Financial Conduct Authority, a body responsible for regulating crowdfunding activities, to investigate any possible regulatory breaches.
“Furthermore, I would like to ask for a meeting with you to consider further possible government interventions to ensure the issues which have arisen from PledgeMusic can never happen again,” concludes Kiehl.
Industry organisations including Music Managers’ Forum (MMF), PRS Foundation, the Musicians’ Union and the Association of Independent Musicians’ (AIM) last month set up a survey to assess the damage PledgeMusic’s demise caused for artists.
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.
Viagogo victory over ‘hover-text’ court case
A court has found secondary ticketing site Viagogo compliant with one aspect of an order by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority regarding the display of face value ticket prices on its website.
The court case related to the use of ‘hover text’, or text that is only visible when the mouse pointer is placed on it, to reveal the face value of tickets and refund deadlines. The CMA argues that the practice means that original prices are not “clearly and prominently” displayed.
However, a High Court judge today (18 July) has allowed Viagogo to use hover over text to display the original face value price of tickets.
An official CMA spokesperson said: “Today’s judgement does not mean that Viagogo is compliant with the court order the CMA secured against it. We still think that Viagogo is breaching parts of the order and so continue to move forward with legal proceedings for contempt of court against the site in relation to those concerns.
“Importantly, today’s judgement confirms that Viagogo cannot use ‘hover over text’ unless specifically allowed by the order and it needs to stop displaying important information about deadlines under its guarantee in this way.
“We still think Viagogo is breaching parts of the order and so are continuing to prepare to take legal action”
“Although the court found that information about face value prices can be displayed with hover over text on one page of the site, Viagogo must still display this information on two other separate places on the face of its website.”
The watchdog is pursuing separate legal proceedings against the secondary site for non-compliance with demands made in a 2018 court order. Requirements included the provision of complete ticket and seller information and of a warning that tickets may not assure entry.
“We still think Viagogo is breaching parts of the order and so are continuing to prepare to take legal action,” tweeted the CMA.
Viagogo managing director Cris Miller says he is “delighted with the outcome of the court case”.
“We originally disagreed with the CMA on this, and today’s announcement validates our position and demonstrates clearly the necessity of being able to challenge the CMA’s authority,” states Miller.
The court case follows a tough week for the secondary ticketing site. Google yesterday barred Viagogo from advertising through its platform, following pressure from industry organisations and others.
MCD to work with CMA on merger queries
A Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation has found that the proposed takeover of Irish promoter MCD Productions by LN-Gaiety Holdings (LNG) raises competition concerns in Northern Ireland.
LNG – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Gaiety Investments – announced its plans to acquire MCD Productions in August. Denis Desmond, Live Nation’s chairman in the UK and Ireland owns both Gaiety Investments and MCD Productions, although the latter has remained independent.
According to the CMA, there are “only a few rival music promoters in the region”, and the majority of these sell tickets to events via Live Nation-owned ticketing platform Ticketmaster.
“If it [Live Nation] were to acquire MCD,” reads a CMA statement, “it may be able to stop rival promoters selling tickets through that platform post-merger.”
The CMA believes such an outcome could reduce the promotion services available to artists, drive up ticket prices and limit the live music events on offer.
“If Live Nation were to acquire MCD, it may be able to stop rival promoters selling tickets through that platform post-merger”
The regulator states that other aspects of the companies’ businesses, such as music festivals and access to venues, does not raise competition concerns.
If LN-Gaiety and MCD fail to address CMA’s concerns, the watchdog will undertake a secondary investigative phase.
Desmond comments that “we will work with the CMA to allay any concerns they have.”
The UK watchdog began investigations into the LNG-MCD merger in May, following in the footsteps of its Irish counterpart the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).
The CCPC cleared the acquisition earlier this week, after a ten-month investigation.
CMA pursues legal action against Viagogo
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has confirmed that it is moving forward with legal proceedings against Viagogo, as the secondary ticketing site continues to show non-compliance with consumer law.
The CMA has today notified Viagogo that it will be taking action to find it in contempt of court. The decision follows several warnings from the British competition authority that Viagogo had not done enough to overhaul to way it presents information on its website.
In November 2018, the resale site avoided trial by agreeing to address demands made by the CMA and a legally binding court order was drawn up to ensure Viagogo comply with the requirements.
Eight months down the line, the watchdog remains dissatisfied with Viagogo’s efforts.
“After the CMA repeatedly raised concerns with Viagogo, and also took the time needed to give proper consideration to the findings of an independent review of Viagogo’s compliance, we are very concerned that it still hasn’t done what it was ordered to do,” says CMA chief executive, Andrea Coscelli.
“We are now taking the next step in legal action to ask a court to find Viagogo in contempt.”
In particular, the CMA believes that the secondary ticketer does not give sufficient warning to fans that tickets bought through the site may not allow them to enter an event.
“We are now taking the next step in legal action to ask a court to find Viagogo in contempt”
The watchdog also maintains that Viagogo uses misleading information, especially relating to the number of tickets available.
Incomplete ticket and seller information on the site is another point of contention. In many cases, seat numbers and sellers’ business addresses are not disclosed to customers.
The CMA does point out that “many positive changes have been made”. Viagogo has paid out over £40,000 in refunds to people whose claims had been wrongly rejected, and customers now have access to more information than previously.
However, according to the watchdog, these changes do not constitute full compliance with the court order.
“It is simply not good enough that Viagogo is continuing to drag its heels by not complying in full with this important court order,” says Coscelli.
“We secured the order on behalf of people who use these resale websites and deserve to know the facts before parting with their hard-earned money.”
Adam Webb, campaign manager of FanFair Alliance, says the anti-touting group “fully supports” the CMA’s decision.
“This company can be allowed no more excuses to delay or drag its heels.”
“Our campaign has consistently raised serious concerns that Viagogo remains short of full compliance with UK consumer law, and trust that any court action will take place without delay,” comments Webb.
“This company can be allowed no more excuses to delay or drag its heels.”
The British parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee similarly welcomes the decision.
“The CMA clearly shared our concern and we look forward to a speedy resolution to end what has been a troubling and distressing time for music fans who’ve had bad experiences with the site,” states DCMS Committee chair Damian Collins.
Viagogo and the CMA have also been in court on a separate issue in relation to the use of ‘hover text’, or text that is only visible when the mouse pointer is placed on it, to display the face value of tickets and refund deadlines.
A hearing took place on 18 June and the CMA is now awaiting the outcome.
Viagogo is locking horns with competition authorities across the world, with varying results. The Italian Competition Authority, AGCM, recently returned a €1 million fine to the resale site, after a court rejected claims of non-compliance.
CMA investigates Live Nation-MCD merger
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating LN-Gaiety Holdings’ (LNG) planned merger with Irish promoter MCD Productions, joining its counterpart in Ireland which launched a ‘phase 2’ investigation into the acquisition in January.
LNG – a joint venture between Live Nation UK and Denis Desmond’s Gaiety Investments – announced its plans to acquire Desmond’s company MCD Productions in August. Desmond succeeded John Probyn as Live Nation UK and Ireland chairman in 2015, although MCD remained independent. The acquisition was described as the “logical next step” for the two companies.
The planned merger first caught the attention of the Republic of Ireland’s consumer protection agency, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), who launched an investigation into the deal.
“The logical next step” for LNG, the acquisition would significantly strengthen the relationship between Live Nation UK and its chairman
The Irish competition watchdog then embarked on a further ‘phase 2’, after being “unable to conclude that the proposed transaction will not lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market for goods or services”.
Now, the CCPC’s UK counterpart has announced its own investigation into the acquisition.
The CMA launched a similar investigation into Live Nation’s 2017 takeover of Isle of Wight Festival, concerned that the deal would stifle the British festival market. Live Nation was cleared in September of the same year.
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) requested a separate inquiry into Live Nation’s alleged dominance of the UK festival market in August 2017, although CMA did not act on the appeal.
CMA is expected to give its decision based on stage one of the investigation by 11 July.
CMA clears Isle of Wight Festival takeover
The Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) has cleared Live Nation’s acquisition of a majority stake in Isle of Wight Festival, finding the deal does “not raise competition concerns” and that British consumers will “continue to be able to choose between festivals owned by Live Nation and a variety of competing festivals”.
The competition watchdog opened an investigation into the merger in April following complaints from unnamed “third parties”.
Announcing its decision today, CMA – a British government department responsible for preventing anti-competitive corporate behaviour – says its evidence indicates “Isle of Wight festival and Live Nation’s existing festivals were not competing particularly closely for customers. After the merger, people will continue to be able to choose between festivals owned by Live Nation and a variety of competing festivals.”
It further notes that customers can “choose between going to a festival and other activities”, ensuring “Live Nation continues to face sufficient competition” in the live events space.
The investigation – for which CMA sought the views of a number of “sector experts”, including promoters and industry bodies, and Isle of Wight Festival customers – further examined whether the acquisition would allow Live Nation to stop rival promoters from being able to book artists of their choice.
“Isle of Wight festival and Live Nation’s existing festivals were not competing particularly closely for customers”
Its conclusion is that “the merger will not materially strengthen Live Nation’s position in booking artists, and that a sufficient range and quality of artists will continue to be available for rival organisers of live music events.”
A separate inquiry into Live Nation’s alleged dominance of the UK festival market was requested last month by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), although CMA has not yet signalled any intention to act on AIF’s appeal.
AIF’s Paul Reed says it is “disappointing that CMA has not taken the opportunity to broaden the scope of the investigation into Live Nation’s overall position”, which he describes as having “tentacles across all aspects of the business”. “The question is, how many festivals do Live Nation need to acquire before CMA take this seriously and give the issues the proper scrutiny they deserve?” he asks.
Around 42,000 people are thought to have attended Isle of Wight 2017, which was headlined by Rod Stewart, Arcade Fire and David Guetta and Run-DMC.
UK parliament recommends fresh ticketing inquiry
The British parliament’s Culture Media and Sport (CMS) Committee, which yesterday heard evidence from managers, artists and ticketing companies in a session on ‘ticket abuse’, has recommended a fresh investigation into “the whole area of ticketing” in response to “far-ranging and disturbing factors in the market”.
In a statement, issued this morning, the committee says it was “aware of the distortion of the ticketing markets caused by the use of technology (bots and software) to ‘harvest’ large numbers of tickets as soon as they went on general sale”, but that evidence from those opposed to the current resale market – and unsatisfactory responses from the ticketing companies represented – “led us to conclude that a fuller investigation of the whole area of ticketing is needed”.
The session brought to light “clear indications of too-close relationships between those selling tickets on the primary market and sellers on the secondary market,” reads the statement, which also criticises’ “witnesses’ failure to give satisfactory answers to the committee’s questions about where companies’ main profits are made, the possibility of even Chinese walls between parts of the same company and the willingness of the ticket selling companies to even try to identify, let alone bar, large-scale ticket touts and fraudulent sellers”.
A roundtable discussion, headed by secretary of state for culture, media and sport Karen Bradley and previously only announced as taking place “before Christmas”, will be held at the end of November.
“We will decide how best to take the issues forward once we know the outcome of this,” says the committee, “and in light of the conclusion of a Competition and Marketing Authority [sic] investigation, expected shortly, into whether ticket companies are complying with the law.
“This is fantastic news for all UK music fans and those who have campaigned so long for action …Yesterday, the dysfunctional market and bad practices of the big four secondary ticketing websites were laid bare”
“In the meantime, we will be writing to the secretary of state urging her to study the evidence given to us about the under-reporting of income by known touts and to raise this with HMRC [Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs] as an area which warrants their investigation.”
Despite the committee being unimpressed by the ticketing company witnesses – StubHub was, said MPs, “not doing anything to check who [the people selling tickets on your site] are”, while Ticketmaster UK’s Chris Edmonds was told “you are not helping yourselves”, in response to his admission that tickets for Phil Collins’ upcoming UK tour, for which resale is prohibited, are listed on Ticketmaster/Live Nation-owned Get Me In! – all present agreed on the need to ban the use of ticket bots. “We intend to table an amendment on the report stage of the Digital Economy Bill later this month to effect this,” says the committee.
A spokesman for the FanFair Alliance welcomed the news. “This is fantastic news for all UK music fans and those who have campaigned so long for action,” he says in a statement.
“Yesterday, the dysfunctional market and bad practices of the Big Four secondary ticketing websites were laid bare before members of the Culture Media and Sport Committee. We anticipate that a fuller investigation of this market will lead to much-needed reform. The FanFair Alliance fully supports further actions into the fraudulent activities of online ticket touts and the industrial abuse of this market, as well as an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to ban the misuse of bots.”
Nigel Adams, the MP for Selby and Ainsty, who sits on the Culture Media and Sport Committee, tells IQ today he doesn’t expect the government to respond to the Waterson report until after the roundtable discussion later this month.
When asked if he shares Ian McAndrew’s view that primary ticketing companies passing to the secondary market are violating existing consumer legislation, Adams says that “may well be the case” and will be discussed with Bradley.
He also calls more transparency from promoters and ticketers into how many tickets are actually available to the general public.
Anti-counterfeit ticket mkt worth $38.3bn by 2020
The global market for anti-counterfeiting technology for event tickets and security documents will be worth US$38.3 billion by 2020.
Following news of a boom in ticket fraud in the UK and recent scams involving the Rio Olympics and Drake shows in Canada, Intense Research’s Global Anti-Counterfeit Packaging Market in Security Documents and Event Ticketing report reveals the anti-counterfeit packaging sector will grow at an average annual rate of 9.5% between 2014 and 2020.
According to Intense Research, the North American market current leads the way in anti-counterfeiting technology, closely followed by Europe, although the Asia-Pacific region is expected to grow the fastest – an average of 10.5% – “due to growing awareness of authenticated products across manufacturers and a decrease in the cost of tracing anti-counterfeit technologies”.
Ink/dyes and holograms collectively held around 93% of the marketshare in 2014 and are expected to grow at a “moderate pace”, although newer innovations such as RFID, barcode and track-and-trace technology are expected to gain more ground in the six-year forecast period.
The report, in all its 93-page glory, can be purchased from Intense Research.