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MPs grill tout site chiefs

By | Published on Wednesday 16 November 2016

Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Ticket Abuse

Representatives of the big secondary ticketing sites felt the heat in Parliament yesterday as the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee put the spotlight on online ticket touting.

The hearing also saw artist manager Ian McAndrew, the Music Managers Forum’s Annabella Coldrick and Josh Franceschi of off You Me At Six call for tighter regulation of the secondary market, while criticising resale sites for publicly distancing themselves from the industrial level touts who use their platforms while behind the scenes offering the very same re-sellers preferential treatment.

Arguing that the continued growth of secondary ticketing was having a negative impact on the live music business, and on the artists who rely on it as their key revenue stream, Franceschi told the committee, according to the Telegraph: “There are a lot of derelict large music venues being shut down regularly because the business isn’t going through those halls”.

Plus, of course, it’s the fans who lose out most, he noted, adding: “If you get up in the morning and other people beat you and the shows are sold out … that’s one thing, but the idea of being ripped off, that doesn’t leave a nice taste in the mouth”.

He concluded: “There needs to be legislation. I’d like to see tickets only being sold through primary websites”.

In terms of regulation, while something nearing an outright ban of online touting is now being considered in Italy, that’s not currently on the table in the UK. Professor Waterson, who conducted the government’s recent review of secondary ticketing and also spoke yesterday, said a complete ban would likely be unworkable, reckoning that online touting continues in France despite a ban on industrial level secondary ticketing there being introduced a few years ago.

What the anti-tout FanFair Alliance has called for is enforcement of existing regulations, most of which stem from last year’s Consumer Rights Act, as well as the outlawing of so called bots that some touts use to buy up large quantities of tickets as they go on sale. Efforts to introduce a bot-ban through the in-development Digital Economy Bill were put on hold after the government said it wanted to investigate whether such technology was already illegal under the Computer Misuse Act.

In terms of enforcing existing secondary ticketing rules, a big part of the debate is whether the resale sites like Viagogo, eBay’s StubHub and Ticketmaster’s Seatwave and Get Me In! have a responsibility to ensure that sellers using their platforms are complying with the law. It was on that issue that reps from StubHub and Ticketmaster felt the most heat yesterday.

The tout site bosses mainly adopted a “not my fucking problem” stance, with StubHub legal man Paul Peak saying his company was “under no legal obligation to police users of our site”, while Chris Edmonds from Live Nation’s Ticketmaster said he considered his resale sites to be “fully compliant” with the law. He then presented the secondary ticketing industry’s classic defence, that if touts were not allowed to sell tickets without providing all the information campaigners want listed, “we will just drive those guys to offshore sites where they can resell those tickets elsewhere. And that will be in nobody’s interests”.

To which Conservative MP Damian Collins seemed to vocalise the mood of the room when he responded: “I think you’re being extraordinarily complacent in your attitude towards that and I find your answer on this point extremely unsatisfactory”.

Attention was also given to the live music industry’s own participation in the secondary market, a scandal around which kickstarted the latest assault against touting in Italy. Final speaker Reg Walker of Iridium Consultancy outlined how some venues and promoters provide tickets to the secondary market, possibly without the knowledge of their artists.

Meanwhile McAndrew confirmed that he had been approached about providing tickets for his act’s shows direct to the secondary market. According to IQ, he said: “That’s a proposal I’ve refused on a number of occasions, but I can understand how that might be a temptation for [those] who want to maximise revenue”.

He added: “That’s why I think we need to look at transfer of tickets from the primary to the secondary market”.

As previously reported, Culture Minister Matt Hancock has committed to call a meeting of stakeholders to consider the bot issue this side of Christmas, after which the government will announce how it intends to respond to the aforementioned Waterson report. Certainly there seems to be plenty of support now in Parliament for at least doing more to enforce existing rules, including obliging the secondary sites to ensure that happens.

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