British Government Looks to Ban Online 'Bots' Amid Calls for Full Investigation Into Secondary Ticketing Sector

Billboard

The British government is to table a motion banning the use of computer programs, or "bots," to buy up large numbers of entertainment and concert tickets for later resale, often at vastly inflated prices.

The announcement was made today (Nov. 16) by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee following a one-off evidence session into the ticketing business and the "distortion" of the market caused by the harvesting of tickets by 'bot' programs, thereby ramping up prices on the secondary market. In response, committee members will table an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill mirroring the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, or BOTS Act, which is currently being debated by the Senate.

Of graver concern to the U.K.'s leading secondary ticket platforms, Viagogo, Get Me In, StubHub and Seatwave, will be the committee's calls for "a fuller investigation of the whole area of ticketing" after its half-day inquiry -- held Tues 15 Nov. at Westminster - unearthed what it termed "far-ranging and disturbing factors in the market."


One of the issues identified in a statement by The Culture, Media and Sport Committee was "clear indications of too close relationships between those selling tickets on the primary market and sellers on the secondary market."

It was also critical of witnesses' failure to "give satisfactory answers" when questioned about where companies' main profits came from. A lack of willingness by primary ticket selling companies to try and identify and ban large scale ticket touts and fraudulent sellers was also noted, with the committee's findings due to be debated in a parliamentary roundtable at the end of the month.

Chris Edmonds, the chairman of Ticketmaster U.K., Paul Peak, head of legal (Europe) at eBay-owned StubHub and Alasdair McGowan, eBay's head of public affairs and government relations, were among those giving evidence at the committee session, alongside representatives of the Music Managers Forum and Reg Walker, from ticket security firm Iridium Consultancy.

Walker told MPs that secondary ticketing websites were aiding professional touts with "preferential schemes" for large scale sellers. He additionally claimed that some sellers were paid in advance and that "in some cases" secondary platforms "courted" professional touts.


Wildlife Entertainment's Ian McAndrew, who handles Arctic Monkey and Royal Blood, also spoke at the committee session, telling MPs that he had "often been approached" by one of the U.K.'s leading secondary sites to "enter into an arrangement" whereby he gave them inventory in return for a share of the resale profit.

"That is a proposal I've refused on a number of occasions, but I can understand how that would be a temptation for some who want to maximize profits for a show," said McAndrew, who called for greater transparency over the transfer of tickets from primary ticket vendors to secondary tickets.

Elaborating on that issue, Annabella Coldrick, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum called for a "wholesale inquiry into how these tickets are being resold and how they are being acquired."

"It's a very murky market and we need to shine a light on it," she went on to say.

Welcoming the findings of the committee session, a spokesperson for the FanFair Alliance said that "the dysfunctional market and bad practices of the Big Four secondary ticketing websites" had been "laid bare."


Spokespersons for Stubhub, Get Me In and Seatwave declined to comment when contacted by Billboard. Viagogo did not return requests to comment.

Fresh calls for further scrutiny of the secondary ticketing market comes at a time when the sector finds itself under increasing pressure from artists, lobbying groups, such as the FanFair Alliance, and government officials. In the U.K., a Competition and Marketing Authority investigation is looking into secondary platform's compliance with U.K. consumer law, which dictates that all sellers notify buyers of a ticket's original price value and information on its seat number and location inside the concert venue.

Earlier this year, a British government-led review from Professor Michael Waterson found that secondary sites were largely failing to abide by current consumer rights legislation and recommended tighter scrutiny of how ticketing services -- both primary and secondary -- operate.

The conclusions of the Competition and Marketing Authority investigation are due to be announced before the end of the year.