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Viagogo fails to stop Channel 4’s secondary ticketing exposé from airing tonight

By | Published on Thursday 23 February 2012


Secondary ticketing is to go under the spotlight tonight as Channel 4 airs a ‘Dispatches’ programme about the resale market, including secret filming within the operations of two of the market leaders in the UK resale sector, Viagogo and Seatwave.

The rise of ticket touting online, initially via general auction sites like eBay, and then through bespoke ticket resale services like Viagogo and Seatwave, has been criticised before, of course, by punters, politicians and some key players in the music community, including managers and promoters.

A few years back, the then Labour government called on the live sector to act to stop consumers being ripped off by the growth in touting, threatening to introduce new laws if it failed to do so. Though when some key promoters said there was nothing they could do about it and that they’d welcome new legislation to combat the touts, ministers went quiet on the issue.

The secondary ticketing service providers would argue that there is nothing wrong with fans reselling tickets to in-demand events for profit, even if they bought the tickets specifically to resell, and that doing all that via an independent website that offers guarantees to the end-consumer is better than having touts gathering outside venues selling tickets on the night, old school style, or taking money via websites where there is no assurance that tickets actually exist.

Some would like to see all touting banned outright (as it already is for tickets to football games), but others who oppose the likes of Viagogo and Seatwave would stress that their opposition isn’t to grassroots fans making a few quid reselling a couple of tickets here and there, but to industrial scale touting, where companies buy up large numbers of tickets to in-demand events – either by utilising software that can make multiple bookings via primary ticket websites quickly, or by forming semi-secret alliances with gig promoters or artist managers – and in doing so make it hard for actual fans to get access to tickets from official sellers, so they are forced to pay hiked up prices via the resale services.

And it’s that kind of industrial touting that Channel 4’s documentary tonight will focus on. It will accuse some of the resale services of directly participating in such activities themselves, often in partnership with established promoters in the live sector. Said companies, the programme will allege, are ripping off the consumer by artificially hiking up prices while pretending it is fans selling tickets to other fans. And that latter point – ie the dishonesty – might contravene consumer legislation, an expert is expected to claim on the documentary.

In a trailer for the programme, Channel 4 includes a quote allegedly from a Viagogo employee, who says: “We have allocations, for example, for very big events – Rihanna, Westlife, Take That – we are getting allocations from the promoter, so we are allowed to sell them on our website, with our internal accounts, so on these ones, the seller is basically us. I mean it is really important that we never communicate to anyone that these accounts exist and that we do have tickets, because that is something internal that they are not supposed to know, and as far as we are concerned we are a ticket exchange and we don’t own any tickets”.

Key players in the resale sector went into damage limitation this week. Viagogo unsuccessfully tried to get an injunction to stop the ‘Dispatches’ programme airing on the grounds the secret filming was a ‘breach of confidence’. Confirming that the High Court had declined such an injunction, Channel 4 said in a statement yesterday: “We are pleased that we can now broadcast in full a programme of important public interest. It is disappointing that having provided Viagogo with a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations uncovered by our investigation several weeks ago, they chose instead to seek an injunction which would have effectively stopped the broadcast of our programme”.

Justifying his company’s injunction bid, Viagogo’s UK Director Edward Parkinson told CMU: “We sought an injunction to prevent customer information being made public. Our number one priority is to protect our customers’ data, so we will always do whatever we can to prevent that information from falling into the wrong hands”.

Seatwave, which also seemingly appears in the programme, went the PR route, sending an email to its customers condemning Channel 4’s tactics and encouraging those who have happily bought tickets via the service to take to their social media accounts to communicate their happiness. In the email, the company’s CEO Joe Cohen writes: “We know now that ‘Dispatches’ sent in an undercover reporter some months ago, to pose as an employee and surreptitiously film and record how we do business ‘behind the scenes’. As we’ve been told to expect by the programme producers, there will probably be a selection of Seatwave employees appearing on-screen and speaking – unfairly, and likely out of context, in my view – about the company”.

The email continues: “For the record: Seatwave has done nothing wrong, and in no way do we accept that surreptitious filming was justified in the development of this programme … From the outset, we set up guarantees to ensure that fans would get the tickets they paid for (TicketIntegrity), and wouldn’t be out of pocket if an event they’d bought tickets for was cancelled (TicketCover). With guarantees like these, we have consistently led the ticketing market towards more customer-friendly practices. Transparency and security were, and still are, our top priorities”.

Viagogo said something similar in its response to Channel 4’s investigation, explaining: “Viagogo exists to provide a safe, secure marketplace for the buying and selling of live event tickets. Viagogo is an open marketplace, and while the majority of sellers are individuals we do not disallow larger sellers, including event organisers, from selling on our platform. Above all we provide a guarantee that buyers will get the tickets they have paid for which has helped dramatically reduce ticket fraud and scams in the UK”.

It remains to be seen what impact Channel 4’s exposé has on the UK ticket resale market, if nothing else it will presumably offer a boost to those consumer rights groups and MPs who have been grumbling about the secondary market for some time. Within the live industry it might also reignite a debate that has been off the agenda for a couple of years now, since many promoters went the ‘if you can’t beat then join them’ route and started selling an allocation of tickets to their own events via resale sites, taking a cut of any mark up.

Those promoters will likely argue it is better for artists and their associates than the shady touts to profit from marked-up resold tickets, though if the Dispatches show paints the sector in too bad a light some artists might seek to distance themselves from the practice, giving those in the industry who have been critical of Viagogo, Seatwave et al throughout the upper hand.

‘The Great Ticket Scandal’ airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 4, with the broadcaster hoping to spark debate on Twitter using the hashtag #TicketScandal.

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