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Viagogo hits back over anti-tout campaign’s Google ads demand

By | Published on Tuesday 11 September 2018


The newly chatty Viagogo has responded to the call made by anti-touting campaigners to the effect that Google should stop taking the often controversial secondary ticketing platform’s money. The ticket resale site frequently buys its way to the top of Google’s search results, so that people searching for tickets to in-demand events will see the relevant page on the Viagogo site before any official primary sellers of tickets to those shows.

After an eventful week in the world of Viagogo last week, yesterday the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Ticket Abuse, the FanFair Alliance and the Society Of Ticket Agents & Retailers together wrote to Google urging it to stop doing business with the resale platform. Their letter noted the news that the Competition & Markets Authority is now suing Viagogo over alleged breaches of UK consumer rights law, and then cited Google’s requirement that advertisers comply with local laws wherever they advertise.

Referencing the web giant’s advertising guidelines, the letter said: “These state clearly that advertisers are expected ‘to comply with the local laws for any area that their ads target’ and that Google will ‘generally err on the side of caution in applying this policy because we don’t want to allow content of questionable legality'”.

It then concluded: “We understand that Viagogo is a valuable client to Google, spending considerable sums each year on paid search advertising. However, we urge you to protect consumers who daily put their trust in Google, and act now to restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence. We look forward to working with you to achieve these goals”.

Viagogo has operated a wall of silence strategy for years now, never publicly responding to its many critics, whether they be consumers, artists, promoters, politicians or regulators. But as of last week the company has started hitting back at criticism.

Responding to yesterday’s letter to Google, a spokesperson for the company told CMU: “It is legal to resell a ticket and all tickets on Viagogo are genuine. Viagogo is pleased to have reached resolution with the Advertising Standards Authority and welcomes the opportunity to do so with the Competition & Markets Authority through the legal process”.

They went on: “We respect the courts and the legal process and look forward to resolving this with the CMA in the interests of consumers – not the commercial interests of music promoters and other competitors”.

The ASA was one of three UK regulators to hit out at Viagogo in the last year, although it confirmed last week that the ticketing site had now addressed its concerns. The CMA, however, provided a list of the ways in which it believes Viagogo is not complying with consumer rights law, all of which were separate to the issues that the ASA had raised.

Interestingly, now that the wall of silence has been taken down, Viagogo seems keen to present itself as a champion of the music fan, taking on anti-tout campaigners in the music industry. These people, it implies, must have some sort of hidden commercial agenda for wanting to restrict and regulate the resale of tickets for profit.

It also seems to be adopting a strategy often employed by the touts themselves, which is to point out that plenty of people in the music industry have touted their own tickets for profit on the secondary market in recent years. Which they have. Although that’s no reason not to better regulate the market and to ensure that consumers fully understand what they are buying and who they are buying it from.

At least some of those secret touts within the music community would argue that they only went that route when regulation seemed unachievable, on the basis of “if you can’t beat them join them”. Which you may or may not believe, but once regulations are in place and being properly enforced, that will be an opportunity to check the authenticity of that excuse.

Either way, when there is rampant ticket touting, the fans often lose out as much as anyone else. Which has actually made the anti-touting movement stand out from other music industry campaigns, like those seeking copyright reform, in that because fans are also negatively impacted by the status quo, it’s much easier to get wider public support for reform. As we have seen, as things like the FanFair campaign have gained momentum.

Viagogo’s refusal to respond to angry customers and critical consumer rights groups in recent years also hinders its new bid to position itself as the champion of the music fan. However, the firm’s decision to enter the battle and defend its corner is an interesting development. It remains to be seen if the company can placate the regulators and lawmakers who to date have found dealing with the secondary ticketing firm both frustrating and exhausting. Or maybe it only really needs to keep Google onside.