Newsletter #105: Ticketing - We're All In This Together...

19 Feb 2014

Credits: @flickblu_j

On the back of another great year for the live sector that was 2013, and with this year’s festival season waiting in the wings, news of another inquiry into ticketing by another All-Party Group of MPs is unsurprising, and for many working in the live sector and their customers, largely to be welcomed.  There is, however, a sense of déjà vu with all this.

The roll call of issues is as varied as it has been ongoing:

  • reforming terms and conditions (T&Cs) of sale that enable consumers to be able to legitimately sell or exchange tickets and where profit isn’t the motive (or an unintended outcome)
  • the level of charges and fees that add to the face value of a ticket
  • the controversy that surrounds for-profit re-selling (secondary ticketing)
  • the spiders and bots used by sophisticated touts which hoover up tickets within a split second, denying genuine fans the chance to obtain tickets at face value to see their favourite artists

There appears to be a clear division between these.  And a perhaps a case of “be careful what you wish for”, too…

T&Cs and the levels of charges and fees applied to tickets are customer service issues that are surely in the industry’s best interests to resolve internally to avoid further alienating music fans.

Whilst no-one would decry legitimate businesses’ delivery of services and products their fair cut, the growing discontent about the level of charges and restrictions really has to be addressed, if, as consumer champion Which? recently claimed in its Play Fair On Tickets campaign, a half of all respondents to its recent ticket pricing survey are put off from buying tickets for an event altogether. Though there is some way to go, it’s to be welcomed that seven major ticketing operations have now agreed to be upfront about its fees and charges.  And will more follow-suit?

Justifications for these services applying a raft of additional charges are many and varied; that the artists themselves insist on low ticket prices that deny a margin for promoters and agents; that the level of investment made in infrastructure and service levels deployed in order to deliver an easy and convenient ticket-buying experience needs to be recouped… At odds with these are what at times amount to conflicting arguments, sometimes by the very same stakeholders; that some artists command such high fees the only way for promoters and ticket agencies to make their margin is by passing on all associated costs of transactions, service and delivery.

With notable exceptions, the difficulty is in knowing who and what to believe…it’s surely in the wider interests for all concerned to redraw the rules of engagement.

Yet whether some of these fees should exist at all is hotly contested, and an issue the House of Commons’ Music All-Party Group, Which? and others intend to investigate.

Further complicating matters are the conflicting consumer regulations on pricing.  Whilst the vast majority of consumer retail prices for goods must include fees and taxes, entertainment ticket prices must exclude these charges. No doubt well reasoned, the unintended consequence of ticket pricing policy is confusion and for some, an opportunity to extract disproportionately more from the consumer than a ticket’s cover price.  Clearly, this is a conversation that needs to go beyond promoters, booking and ticket agents.

But perhaps harder to resolve is the online world of secondary ticketing platforms and tech-savvy touts.

The open and free market lobby make a case for the secondary market that is based on the freedom of choice argument; that it is a logical development in a technologically-driven world, benefiting the consumer (more choice) and the live industry ecosystem (multiple and diverse revenue channels). Indeed, these and many other well-argued points were made at MusicTank’s mini ticketing summit, by Stub Hub’s Navin Kekaine, and subsequently posted online.

Whilst championing individuals’ rights to determine price, aside from those who choose to collude in the secondary market, it is the for-profit aspect these platforms enable that draws indignation from many quarters.

As it stands, one proposed ‘fix’ is for a 10% cap to the resale value of tickets – an intervention drawing much criticism from the secondary sector. It remains to be seen how regulation might be introduced that doesn’t result in the secondary market’s commonly held view that will drive this form of resale underground.

Meanwhile, it is certainly reassuring to learn of Ticketmaster’s calls to outlaw bots – the web spiders beloved by touts who make millions out of this criminal activity – in what amounts to a rare incidence of the ticketing industry seemingly welcoming intervention through regulation.

One thing’s for certain; any reforms to the processes of selling tickets requires transparency, honesty and collective industry agreement, free of vested interests and short-termism.  We watch this space with interest.

Editorial by Jonathan Robinson.


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