Stephen Foley: Why concert merger must be booed off
Saturday 17 October 2009
US Outlook: So Ticketmaster, that dreadful pickpocket who preys on concertgoers everywhere, is scrambling to save its $1.3bn merger with Live Nation, the giant concert promoter. It should stop trying. It is time to give up on an outrageous, monopolistic deal that should never have been contemplated in the first place.
Fresh from having the merger blocked by the UK's Competition Commission earlier this month, the two sides have now been told they must make major concessions if they want to avoid the same fate in their much more important home market.
Ticketmaster is the dominant concert ticket retailer, and it also owns Front Line Management, one of the most powerful artist management groups in the world. Live Nation is the world's largest concert promoter and the owner of 140 major venues, and has been dabbling in artist management deals of its own. For starters, it signed what it calls "360 degree" deals with stars including Jay-Z and Madonna, to promote merchandising and even digital music on their behalf.
Like the consumers who have to pay surcharge on top of surcharge to buy through Ticketmaster, Live Nation had gotten fed up with the fees charged to concert venues and artists whose tickets it sold, so it set up its own rival online service. That would be snuffed out by this deal, eliminating any hope it might bring down ticket costs.
Indeed, the deal is explicitly about raising ticket prices, since both sides say it would make it easier to arrange auctions of tickets for sell-out concerts. I'm sympathetic to the need for artists to make more from live shows, now music is free to anyone with file-sharing software. But I see no reason why prices can't be raised to market levels unilaterally by performers and their promoters, without creating a vertically integrated industry behemoth riven with conflicts of interest.
What Irving Azoff, the Front Line founder who runs Ticketmaster, and Michael Rapino at Live Nation plan is a straightforward land grab in the anarchy that has followed the collapse of the record labels' empires. Their merger could roll back some of the dynamism seen in the music industry, as emerging stars are frozen out of concert venues in favour of artists managed in-house. Other problems are legion. Independent concert promoters could find themselves second-class citizens on the centralised ticketing platform. The merger proposes just the sort of vertical integration that the Obama administration has promised to scrutinise more closely.
The US Justice Department is undoubtedly taking into account the outpouring of opposition from independent concert promoters, artists and a concert-going public that, frankly, wants Ticketmaster to face an investigation for the price gouging it already conducts as a standalone company. One last heave ought to be enough to kill this deal.
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