Monday, October 16, 2017

Songkick lays into Ticketmaster once again as it shuts down its ticketing service | UNLIMITED | CMU


Emails from Live Nation boss Michael Rapino – in which he admits that some of the fees charged by Ticketmaster are “not defendable” – were made public last week, just as the live giant was specifically blamed for the demise of the Songkick ticketing business. Though Live Nation argues that Rapino advocating lower Ticketmaster fees is surely a good thing, while it continues to deny all the allegations made against it by Songkick.

Rapino’s emails were released as a result of the ongoing legal battle between his company and Songkick, which has variously accused Live Nation and its Ticketmaster division of anti-competitive behaviour, trade secret misappropriation and hacking. Both sides are due back in court later today, though the dispute will get its proper court hearing next month.

Meanwhile, Songkick announced last week that, by the end of this month, “it would complete the shutdown of all ticketing operations we began earlier this year when Ticketmaster and Live Nation effectively blocked our US ticketing business”. That announcement follows the sale to Warner Music, back in July, of the live music data set-up and gigs recommendations service that people more commonly associate with Songkick.

That data and recommendations operation was the original Songkick business, of course, it making money from the affiliate fees paid by ticketing companies when fans reached their sites via the Songkick app. The start-up subsequently moved into ticketing itself, prompting a merger with Crowdsurge, another UK-based start-up that provided direct-to-fan ticketing solutions for artists and promoters.

Any start-up entering the ticketing business faces an up-hill battle, especially if it has ambitions to work with mainstream artists and tours. Reaching consumers is actually the easy bit, the challenge is getting access to tickets. Grassroots artists and promoters are often attracted to the better data and user-experience provided by ticketing start-ups, though for bigger shows the ticketing firm’s ability to advance monies ahead of a gig is often key. And, of course, Live Nation is both the biggest tour promoter and owns Ticketmaster.

Songkick/Crowdsurge saw an opportunity to provide specific services around the pre-sale of tickets to an artist’s core fanbase via their official mailing list, promising a set-up that ensured those pre-sale tickets didn’t fall into the hands of touts. It was with that service that Songkick had its public falling out with Live Nation, which it said was exploiting its dominance in both the live sector and artist management to discourage acts from allying with its smaller ticketing rival on fan club pre-sales.

Songkick’s anti-trust litigation against Live Nation, filed in 2015, has been both streamlined and extended since the original filing. The additions were mainly new allegations made by Songkick that staff at Ticketmaster stole trade secrets from the start-up and used them to develop its own rival service. These new claims mainly centred on a former Crowdsurge employee who had subsequently joined Ticketmaster.

As the case continues to work its way to court, last week the judge overseeing the proceedings responded to a request by Live Nation to seal or redact various documents related to the dispute. According to Billboard, this included the Rapino email in which he said that some Ticketmaster fees were “not defendable” and that Live Nation’s ticketing division needed a “simpler more artist friendly policy/rule to meet the reality of today”.

Judge Dale Fischer did allow certain documents to be kept private to protect financial secrets, but said that that requirement didn’t apply to other files Live Nation wanted sealed, which were just embarrassing to the live giant. Though a Live Nation spokesperson denied Rapino’s Ticketmaster comments were embarrassing, telling Billboard: “[The emails] indicate that Michael Rapino favoured lower ticketing fees and changes to Ticketmaster’s Fan Club Policy that would benefit artists. We are at a loss to understand why that is a bad thing”.

The Live Nation rep then added: “The truth is that Songkick’s lawsuit has interfered with the natural evolution of these policies, harming both artists and fans”. The live giant, of course, continues to deny the various allegations made against it by Songkick, insisting that its smaller rival’s litigation is without merit.

But in a note to clients last week, Crowdsurge founder Matt Jones – who ultimately led the combined Songkick business – remained committed to his legal battle with Live Nation. He wrote: “Many of you receiving this note have helped us immensely as we prepare for our day in court, and even as we shutter our business, we will remain focused on pursuing a legal victory and making the live music industry better for artists and fans”.

Jones letter stated that all outstanding monies due to artists and promoters who used the firm’s ticketing platform will be paid in full, while the shutdown of the Songkick ticketing service won’t affect the gig recommendations app, now being operated by Warner.


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