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Senators from both sides of the aisle and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, accused the entertainment giant of being a “monopoly” that gouges consumers and exploits artists during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
“May I suggest respectfully that Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me,'” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said during the hearing.
Blumenthal’s statement was indicative of the hearing as a whole, which featured a stream of strong criticism aimed at Ticketmaster occasionally peppered with references to . While Ticketmaster has faced for decades, issues stemming with its dominance of the ticketing industry were thrust into the national spotlight after the botched rollout of tickets for Swift’s “Eras” tour in November. Massive demand for tickets overwhelmed Ticketmaster’s online system, forcing millions of fans to endure frozen queues and site crashes as they struggled to secure their seats.
The hearing focused less on the technical issues that led to the debacle and more on how Ticketmaster’s extraordinary power in the industry may stifle competition, drive up prices and leave artists with few alternatives when touring.
Ticketmaster controls about 70% of the ticketing industry in the US In 2010, the company merged with Live Nation — a major concert promoter that has a similar hold over the live-events industry. During the hearing, several senators argued that the merger turned the newly aligned companies into such a dominant force that it violates antitrust laws aimed at preventing powerful corporations from choking competition in an industry. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has reported into whether Live Nation abused its power.
Why there’s debate
With its bungling of the Swift ticket release, Ticketmaster accomplished the rare feat of bringing Democrats and Republicans to the same side of an issue. There’s debate, however, over whether the high-profile fervor will lead to any measurable changes to improve the concertgoing experience for consumers, artists and venues.
Optimists are hopeful that this latest push will succeed where past efforts to limit Ticketmaster’s influence, most notably a campaign led by grunge icons in the early 1990s, have failed. They believe it’s possible that the DOJ or Congress could seize on the intense public desire for action to impose new rules that promote more competition in the music industry and ultimately make events less expensive for fans and more profitable for artists. The DOJ or Congress could even go so far, some argue, as to force Live Nation and Ticketmaster to unwind their merger and become separate companies again.
But skeptics question whether lawmakers have the commitment to follow through with any substantive action beyond publicly berating company executives. Others make the case that even the most dramatic action potentially on the table — splitting up the companies — would merely create two separate monopolies in the ticketing and events spaces and wouldn’t measurably improve circumstances for consumers.
Some industry experts say that for all of its mistakes, Ticketmaster isn’t the reason the concert experience has become such a mess. They argue that the company is so dominant because it is the only entity capable of managing the logistics of the modern ticketing process, at least in most cases. Some make the case that no action against Ticketmaster would solve the fundamental problem plaguing the industry: That there is far too much demand for a limited number of tickets to marquee events.
There’s no timetable for when the DOJ might complete its investigation into Live Nation’s actions. If the DOJ ultimately decides to file an antitrust lawsuit, the matter would then go before a judge who would decide whether the company should be split up.
The Swift debacle is such a massive mistake that it could really upend the ticketing market
“Live Nation may finally have created a PR nightmare from which it won’t be able to save itself by bullying businesses. … It’s clear that Live Nation isn’t following the pledges it made. Rather than try to nudge the company to act correctly through incentives, it’s time to reverse the merger and break up the Live Nation-Ticketmaster behemoth.” — Mike Konczal
The public will keep pressure high to enact change
“I think we could only expect Live Nation-Ticketmaster to continue with its practices while this is going on. Obviously, it’s under the spotlight now, but it continues to defend its actions with platitudes and false statements. And it will continue to point the finger at baseless reasons for why we are getting the outcomes we are getting in ticketing. I think the public sees that and is now sufficiently skeptical and outraged. Actually putting that under the spotlight is a really, really good thing.” — Diana Moss, American Antitrust Institute president, to
The Swift mess has turned an entire generation of voters against monopoly power
“Legions of new anti-monopolists were born. They have enormous potential to change the game: shrewd social media skills, undying loyalty, and encyclopedic knowledge. They’re Taylor Swift’s superfans – and they just might be the reason that the government breaks up Ticketmaster.” — Bella DeVaan
The political environment is ripe for change, but artists will have to play a major part
“Today, for the first time in decades, regulators are determined to fully enforce antitrust laws, and public tolerance of monopolistic abuses is increasingly waning. … A taller order may be convincing stars and industry insiders to speak out against the leviathan that feeds them.” — Maureen Tkacik and Krista Brown,
The situation could have big implications for more than just the concert industry
“There is mounting evidence that the dangers posed by corporate concentration are best addressed by simplifying the government’s approach to antitrust enforcement: When a concentration of corporate power would cause clear harm, don’t try to tinker with it. Block the deal.” — Benjamin Appelbaum
Ticketmaster isn’t going anywhere
“As some of Swift’s exes can attest, a tongue lashing may sting in the moment but leaves few lasting scars. Live Nation and Ticketmaster have a long history of essentially selling themselves as the bad guy to the public, allowing bands and arenas to scapegoat the company for their own greedy pricing decisions. Tuesday was more of the same, albeit under the glare of a congressional spotlight.” – Jim Sachs
Breaking up Live Nation and Ticketmaster wouldn’t change much
“Ticketmaster was a monopoly and then it merged with another monopoly. If you unwind these two monopolies, you just end up with the same two monopolies. So I don’t know that Ticketmaster customers are necessarily going to benefit from more competition in the marketplace.” — Pablo Manríquez, New Republic reporter, to
The root of the problem has nothing to do with Ticketmaster
“It’s possible more competition would have encouraged more investment in digital infrastructure. But even flawless execution of online orders would not have avoided massive disappointment for many of Ms. Swift’s young fans. The audience demand is simply too great unless the singer wants to price her shows out of the reach of the average fan.” — James Freeman,
Ticketmaster dominates because no one else can do what it does
“One reason Ticketmaster commands this market share is that it offers an appealing service. It has unrivaled reach, (usually) reliable technology, integrated marketing tools, and a wealth of useful data and analytics.” — Editorial,
Lawmakers may lose interest once the cameras are turned off
“The public is frustrated and wants change. The artists are frustrated and want change. But unfortunately our only power is to yell and hope that, this time, the government will listen.” — Kelsey McKinney,
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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Drew Anger/Getty Images, Getty Images