Ticketing: The survival plan
Chair: Tim Chambers, TJ Chambers Consultancy (UK)
Rainer Appel, CTS Eventim (DE)
John Meglen, AEG Live (US)
Andrew Parsons, Ticketmaster UK
Geraldine Wilson, Amazon Tickets (UK)
Paul Wilson, CAA (UK)
Given it’s one of the most debated and occasionally controversial areas of the live business, there was a huge amount of ground covered in this panel – from if tickets count as a licence or a commodity (the answer depends on which link in the live music chain you are) to secondary (of course), dynamic pricing, and if Amazon is a friend or foe for the live business.
Running through the panel was pricing: how ticket prices are set; how fees are applied; what the resale value is; how the house can be priced better. Paul Wilson of CAA explained how it has to adapt depending on if the act is emerging, breaking, a superstar or a heritage act. For smaller acts, pricing has to be keen so they can grow, whereas for bigger and heritage acts, this is where they can focus on maximising their revenue. All these variables have to be navigated with the promoter, the agent, the venue and the ticketing company and the end results can vary wildly.
Asked by Tim Chambers of TJ Chambers Consultancy what the average act/promoter split was, Wilson said it could be 80/20 or 90/10 for big acts. “100% or more for some artist?” asked Chambers. “It has been known!” retorted Wilson.
Geraldine Wilson of Amazon Tickets gave an insight into how tickets became part of the retail giant’s huge range of product types, revealing it was not an easy sell for her and her team to get the arm set-up. She bemoaned the obfuscation that affects a lot of ticketing where consumers are often bamboozled by the extra fees that slowly stack up as they buy online. “Unfortunately, we have dumped all this on the customer,” she said and called for streamlining of pricing, which is why Amazon shows the customer the all-in price from the off. “Our customers expect us to have competitive prices,” she said, giving the example of the theatre tickets they sell and why they should not be expected to pay more on Amazon than they would from the theatre box office. “I personally have problems with booking fees,” she added, referencing back to her company’s all-in pricing strategy.
“Ticketing is a volume game,” she said. “It’s a very complex business as it’s very manual but technology can help us take some of those costs out.”
The issue of secondary was unavoidable. Paul Wilson said, “In principal, I am against secondary as it takes money out of the market.” He added that, “It has opened a door that I don’t think is going to be closed.” He said that acts should, however, be able to charge more for VIP and other upsell options – as long as it is transparent. “Lots of artists want to control their ticket prices and they should be allowed to do that,” he said.
Asked if, with its interests in secondary, Ticketmaster was both gamekeeper and poacher, Andrew Parsons at Ticketmaster UK talked of the company’s recent initiative with Iron Maiden to use paperless tickets linked to ID to stem secondary. He said they did not have 100% control of the inventory for their shows (saying it was closer to half) but that this was not a one-off. He said it was merely “the most public example” of what they are doing, with the subtext seemingly that we will be hearing more about its efforts here.
On this issue, Geraldine Wilson was adamant that Amazon was not going to move into secondary. “We are all about getting tickets to fans in our customer base at a fair price,” she said. “I think it is wrong at every level.” She said – given Amazon already sells music and has a streaming service – it was only natural to move into ticketing. “Our customers love music and this was an obvious place to go,” she said. “We see ourselves very much as friends of the business.”
Parsons talked about Ticketmaster’s API and how it is already linking into giant platforms like Facebook and Spotify to create a more connected experience, hinting that they were only getting started here. “This is a real game-changer for us,” he said. “This is a huge opportunity for us and is going to be a big focus for us in the coming year.”
Finally, he talked about how his company is using dynamic pricing and how it should be used more. The back rows of arenas are, he said, over-charged, while the in-demand tickets near the front are – in context – undercharged. They are seeing front-row tickets sell out immediately but huge sums in marketing have to be spent to sell those final tickets that are furthest from the stage. More experimentation with dynamic pricing would, he felt, fix this problem that has dogged the ticketing industry for years.