Senators grill Ticketmaster over Taylor Swift ticket fiasco, lack of industry competition

The Ticketmaster meltdown that angered millions of Taylor Swift fans late last year was at the center of discussion on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

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Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the ticketing giant over the fiasco and heard from others in the entertainment business about the lack of competition in the ticketing industry.

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Much of the debate stems from the merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster in 2010, which music artists and fans say has led to higher prices and virtually no other options.

“The monopoly needs to be broken up,” said Penny Harrison, a Taylor Swift fan who protested outside the U.S. Capitol during Tuesday’s hearing. “We want some answers from Ticketmaster. What Ticketmaster is doing should not have been allowed in the first place.”

Joe Berchtold, the President and Chief Financial Officer of Live Nation Entertainment, testified on behalf of the company.

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“We apologize to the fans,” said Berchtold. “We apologize to Ms. Swift. We need to do better, and we will do better.”

Berchtold blamed what’s known as bots for causing them to slow down and pause sales during the Taylor Swift ticket fiasco. Bots are when a person uses automated software to buy tickets in bulk to resell them later.

“We were then hit with three times the amount of bot traffic that we’d ever experienced,” said Berchtold. “This is what led to a terrible consumer experience which we deeply regret.”

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But those in the entertainment industry weren’t buying it.

“You can’t blame bots for what happened with Taylor Swift,” said Jerry Mickelson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jam Productions, LLC. “There’s more to that story that you’re not hearing.”

Critics said the problem is really about the lack of competition within the industry.

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“Due to Live Nation’s control across the industry, we have practically no leverage in negotiating them,” said Clyde Lawrence, a singer-songwriter. “If they want to take ten percent of the revenue and call it a facility fee, they can and have.”

Lawmakers from both parties criticized Live Nation for its handling of the Taylor Swift ticket sales.

“I’m not against big per say. I’m against dumb,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA). “The way your company handled the ticket sales for Ms. Swift was a debacle.”

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“Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, I’m the problem. It’s me,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

A big question now is whether the Justice Department will take action against Live Nation following the testimony before Congress.

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