Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Concert-goers are getting hosed. The law won't fix it.

Being a tech analyst means I get to track the hottest stories in the space, then explain them in plain English because I'm too brain-addled to do it in any other language. I've been talking about this one on-air all week, and I thought I'd share it here:

In the bad old days before the Internet came along, devoted fans of a musical act - or a sports team, or a play, or a whatever - would line up outside their favorite venues, sometimes for days, to buy tickets and avoid the eternal disappointment of missing out.

Then technology came along and did what it always does: Made it easier, faster, and cheaper, and saved us from the tyranny of lawn chairs on cold city sidewalks. An improvement. In theory.

There's a but coming. Because while it may indeed be infinitely more convenient to sit at home in your jammies and buy tickets through an app or browser, removing the physical box office from the equation also made it open season for scalpers. High-tech scalpers now rip us off by using "bots" - sophisticated computer programs and algorithms that can snap up huge numbers of tickets mere seconds after the first go on sale, then almost immediately list them for sale on secondary ticket-selling sites at double, triple (or more) the original face value - to pad their pockets.

If you've ever logged onto a ticket buying site only to be told mere minutes after go-live that they were sold out, this scam has already happened to you.

While major ticket-selling companies like TicketMaster claim to have invested millions in technologies and platforms that give regular fans a fair chance, the sad reality is we're still getting hosed. If we really want to Be Right There, increasingly our only choice is to suck it up and pay scandalous prices to electronic scalpers.

But salvation could be at hand. Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi is asking for public input into the problem of "bots" He says the eventual goal is for the province to introduce new laws that would outlaw the practice and give consumers a "fair shot" at snagging concert, sports and other event tickets without getting ripped off.

Sadly for the province, this isn't an easy problem to fix. Like so many online battles, this is a cat-and-mouse, cops-and-robbers-type affair, and the concept of a "bot" that snaps up tickets before we can get at them tends to greatly oversimplify what they are and how they work. This isn't a case of some optionally-legal losers hitting "Send" on their smartphones and beating us to the punch. The villains in this fight are slick, well-funded and persistent. They roll with the punches and seem to survive like Whack-a-Moles, popping up in another place no matter how many times they get smacked by the good guys.

It takes the best of everything - brilliant coders, and ultra-fast networks and computers - to be a large-scale scalper in the online age. Unfortunately for us we're competing against a well-resourced, highly sophisticated enemy, as well as an industry that doesn't seem to care that its fans are getting hosed.

Venues and artists pay lip service to the problem, often expressing disappointment for their true fans. But only when pressed. And let's get real: Once the show is sold out, it really doesn't matter to them what happens to the tickets afterward. A sellout is a sellout: And if the tickets are resold at increasingly scandalous prices later on, they can easily pretend a) they had nothing to do with it and b) they're mortified. But we all know they kinda don't care because they get paid either way, so there's no real incentive for them to do more than throw fans a quick verbal bone at the post-concert press conference.

I'll give the Ontario government an A for effort. They're trying to tackle an issue that's been bugging many folks for years. It isn't quite on the scale of immorally high electricity rates or health care access, but it still strikes a nerve because it's a craven example of fraud that takes place right out in the open. As much as I wish the government could fix it with a law, the sad truth is we've seen this dog and pony show before, and if other jurisdictions can't solve it, we won't either.

Your turn: Would you pay above-face-value for a ticket?


Tabor said...

this has been a problem in America for many years and they keep saying there is a fix, but scalpers still make profit by purchasing batches of tickets. I am not a popular concert goes, so do not get impacted. But I do agree that it makes it bad for the fans.

Muse & Views Bookclub said...

In 2009 I went online to buy tickets to a Leonard Cohen concert at the NAC here in Ottawa. I was not only online but also on the phone. The concert was at the NAC but not presented by them, they had rented out the hall to the promoters. I was not able to get tickets, and I was very upset. I called the NAC and complained and then found out they were not the presenters. However, a couple days later, I got a call from the NAC and they had a series of tickets they had obtained for their members and parliamentarians and had not managed to give them all away (why would someone refuse tickets to a Leonard Cohen concert I don't understand). So they offered them to me, not free of course but it certainly paid to complain that time!

Cynthia J. Coleman said...

I'm glad we no longer have to wait in line anymore, in America or wherever, but in a way that was more fair and more exciting and in some concerts, there was a general admission. There are pre-sales now if you join an artist's fan club.