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UK MPs urge Google action on Viagogo

The UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, along with campaign group FanFair Alliance and the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), has written to Google urging the web giant to stop taking advertising from what they describe as “one of the world’s least-trusted” brands, Viagogo.

In the letter, addressed to Google’s president of EMEA business and operations, Matt Brittin, and managing director in the UK and Ireland, Ronan Harris, the signatories highlight how, despite 2018 having seen “major progress in tackling online ticket touting” – and Google having “played an important part in his change” with its new certification system for ticket resellers – Viagogo still tops Google’s search listings for many high-profile shows.

The controversial secondary ticketing site is currently the subject of legal action by the Competition and Markets Authority for alleged breaches of consumer law, and last week once again snubbed a UK parliamentary inquiry at the 11th hour, leaving StubHub’s Wayne Grierson as the sole representative from the resale sector.

“We urge you to protect consumers who daily put their trust in Google and act now to restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence”

With Viagogo believed to operating illegally in the UK, the letter suggests accepting advertising from Viagogo breaches Google’s own AdWords guidelines, which “state clearly that advertisers are expected ‘to comply with the local laws for any area that their ads target’”.

Speaking to IQ in June, a Google rep said the company does not comment on specific advertisers, but that it is committed to working with the music industry to protect consumers.

The letter is reproduced in full below:

 


Matt Brittin, President of EMEA Business & Operations
Ronan Harris, Managing Director UK and Ireland
Google,
1-13 St Giles High St,
London,
WC2H 8AG

Friday 7th September 2018

Dear Matt and Ronan,

This year has seen major progress in tackling online ticket touting.

Google has played an important part in this change. In February 2018, Google launched a new certification system for ticket resellers, with the aim of providing clearer information for consumers. However, Viagogo’s use of Google paid-for search to achieve prominence to consumers continues to concern all signatories to this letter, now more than ever.

On Friday August 31st, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) issued court proceedings against Viagogo for potential breaches of consumer protection law.

Last Wednesday (September 5th), Viagogo failed for the second time to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in an evidence session on secondary ticketing. The Committee’s Chair, Damian Collins MP, described this as a “pattern of evasion, disrespectful to the House and disrespectful to consumers.”

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, the truth will do you no harm,” he added. “If you want to be safe, do not buy tickets from Viagogo.”

Repeated research by FanFair Alliance has highlighted how Viagogo systematically tops Google results for tickets, even when primary inventory is still widely available or, most worryingly, when the tickets listed will be invalid for entry at the event.

This results in confusion, and risks your users clicking through to Viagogo unaware they are being transferred to a ticket reseller.

Working with the campaign group Victim of Viagogo, FanFair has helped many individuals who believe they were mis-sold tickets to claim back hundreds of thousands of pounds. The vast majority of these customers tell us they were led to Viagogo through Google search and unaware they were buying a resold ticket.

It is an untenable situation.

In effect, one of the world’s most trusted brands – Google – is being paid to actively promote one of the least trusted.

Viagogo’s search advertising is also, we believe, breaking Google’s own AdWords guidelines. These state clearly that advertisers are expected “to comply with the local laws for any area that their ads target” and that Google will “generally err on the side of caution in applying this policy because we don’t want to allow content of questionable legality.”

We understand that Viagogo is a valuable client to Google, spending considerable sums each year on paid search advertising.

However, we urge you to protect consumers who daily put their trust in Google, and act now to restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence.

We look forward to working with you to achieve these goals,

Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse
Adam Webb, Campaign Manager, FanFair Alliance
Jonathan Brown, Chief Executive, Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers (STAR)

Countersigned by:
Nigel Adams MP
Pete Wishart MP
Lord Tim Clement-Jones CBE

Annabella Coldrick, Chief Executive, Music Managers Forum
Claire Turnham, Founder, Victim of Viagogo
Lucie Caswell, Chief Executive, Featured Artists Coalition
Martin Ingham, Chair, National Arenas Association
Michael Dugher, Chief Executive, UK Music
Neil Tomlinson, President, The Entertainment Agents’ Association
Paul Reed, Association of Independent Festivals
Phil Bowdery, Chair, Concert Promoters Association

Star (full member list at star.org.uk/all-members)
Julian Bird, CEO, Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre
David Allfrey, Chief Executive & Producer, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Edward Snape, Chair, League of Independent Producers

England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)
Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA)
Lawn Tennis Association (LTA)
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC)
Rugby Football Union (RFU)
The Football Association (FA)

 


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UK parliament announces new live music biz inquiry

The British parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, is to launch a fresh inquiry into the UK live music business, focusing particularly on secondary ticketing and the declining number of small music venues.

The new investigation replaces the committee’s previous inquiry into ‘ticket abuse’, which was cut short by the snap general election of June 2017, and will once again invite secondary ticketing companies – including previous prominent no-show Viagogo – to contribute evidence.

“This inquiry will be an opportunity for the committee to revisit the important issue of secondary ticket selling,” explains DCMS Committee chair Damian Collins MP (pictured). “We want to hear from the public about their direct experiences with this issue and what they think can be done to tackle it.

“We’ll also investigate what problems many small music venues face, as they struggle to keep their doors open despite the unwavering enthusiasm from the British public for live music.

“The committee also welcomes the government’s announcement [on 18 January] that the agent-of-change principle will form part of the National Planning Policy Framework for housing. As part of this new inquiry, we’ll be exploring other ways in which the government can support upcoming artists and grassroots venues that form such a crucial part of the music scene in the UK.”

“We want to hear from the public about their direct experiences”

Per DCMS, written evidence is invited in the following areas:

Evidence can be submitted via this link on the committee’s website until 17.00 on 28 February 2018.

 


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Viagogo snubs UK ticket abuse inquiry

Viagogo has been heavily criticised by British MPs after failing to send any representatives to today’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee evidence session on ticket abuse.

The hearing – a follow-up to a similar session in November attended by Ticketmaster, eBay/StubHub, Professor Michael Waterson and more – saw a cross-section of industry figures, including See Tickets’ Rob Wilmshurst, Hamilton ticketing director Keith Kenny, Ed Sheeran manager Stuart Camp, Kilimanjaro Live’s Stuart Galbraith, Daily Record journalist Mark McGivern and campaigner Clair Turnham, of the ‘Victims of Viagogo’ group, give evidence to MPs as they consider what action the UK will take on ticket touting.

Committee chair Damian Collins said: “It is of considerable disappointment to us that Viagogo have decided not to send a representative, despite the fact that they have a substantial office in Cannon Street [in central London].

“Given that other companies that operate in the primary and secondary ticketing space, like Live Nation and eBay, have given evidence to the committee, it is of considerable disappointment to us that Viagogo don’t feel they have any oral evidence they can contribute.”

Nigel Adams MP said the no-show demonstrates a “huge lack of respect” on Viagogo’s part.

Nigel Huddleston MP, another member of the committee, said Viagogo had shown “a lack of respect to parliament and, by extension, the British public”.

Mobile ticketing app Dice, meanwhile, used the no-show to take a pot shot at Viagogo, joking it had a “last-minute ticket for the intimate” committee hearing for sale.

According to The Guardian, Switzerland-headquartered Viagogo told MPs by email last night it would not be attending.

The publicity-shy company, which largely adopts a ‘head in the sand’ approach to negative publicity, has recently been hit with multiple speculative-selling lawsuits in Europe, while it – along with eBay’s StubHub and Ticketmaster’s Get Me In! and Seatwave – is under investigation by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority for alleged breaches of consumer protection legislation and HMRC for alleged non-payment of taxes.

Ministers have previously discussed making non-attendance of select committees a crime, although no legislation has yet been introduced.

 


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Scammers target Taiwanese gig-goers

The National Theater and Concert Hall (NTCH) in Taipei – Asia’s oldest purpose-built music/performing arts venue – has warned customers against disclosing their personal information after scammers targeted those who’d used its online booking system.

According to a pop-up on the NTCH website, fraudsters claiming to be from the venue have been phoning ticket-buyers and asking them to repeat their payment details because the payment ‘failed’ the first time. Victims are then directed them to a cash machine, where they are tricked into transferring funds to the criminals.

“Please do not listen to [them], provide any information or go to an ATM,” says the venue, which adds that genuine NTCH staff would not ask customers to repeat their bank details.

Online ticket fraud increased by 55% in the UK in 2015, with live music accounting for 15% of all scams.

 


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