Genie Back In The Bottle

The huge bang that would rock the planet was expected during the opening session of ILMC in London March 9, but it was a false alarm and the afternoon passed with nothing more than a whimper.

The subject of touting, or “secondary ticketing,” has caused fresh controversy since Channel 4 screened an investigative documentary on how the business works.

The news that promoters provide tickets direct to the secondary market probably didn’t shock anyone in the business, although it still brought another howl of protest from those who oppose any form of touting.

Probably in anticipation of an extremely lively debate, ILMC did well to make room for some discussion on the subject at such short notice.

Greg Parmley’s panel included some top execs from CAA, AEG and Live Nation, one of the companies accused of feeding the touts, but what it lacked – through no fault of Parmley’s – was any meaningful participation from the floor.

What the session really needed was the strident debating technique of someone like legendary global promoter Harvey Goldsmith, the expletive-ridden invective of Aussie promoter Michael Chugg, or anyone capable of seriously questioning the morality of the secondary market.

The discussion didn’t have a contribution from Carl Leighton-Pope, who used to chair ILMC’s opening session in his own charismatic way and was always more than capable of livening it up.

In addition to being the agent for acts including Bryan Adams and Michael Bublé, Leighton-Pope also acts in an ambassadorial role for Viagogo.

Eric Baker’s firm was the main subject of the TV documentary, which produced evidence suggesting it gets 2,000 tickets for some shows, deducts its handling fees and then pays 90 percent of the profit back to the promoter – or the act.

Leighton-Pope and Viagogo were to co-host a drinks party immediately after the session.

Soon after the documentary, which was part of Channel 4’s “Dispatches” series, the secondary ticket-seller pulled out.
The gathering at the Elgar Room in London’s Royal Albert Hall, just down the road from the conference hotel, was still well attended.

Meanwhile, StubHub was to open its new UK operation within days of the conference closing.

Former Warner Music International chief exec John Reid, who two months ago was appointed Live Nation Europe’s president of concerts, told delegates how merged partner Ticketmaster is tackling the touts with its paperless ticketing system.

Paul Latham, LN’s UK chief ops officer, told Pollstar the company has never provided an allocation to a secondary ticketer without the act or its management knowing the details and giving their consent.

“We’d probably all prefer it if the secondary market didn’t exist but the genie’s out of the bottle,” Latham explained. “The promoters take the risk and the artists do the performance, so why wouldn’t we want a slice of the extra money that’s being made from it – rather than see it go to touts and profiteers.”

In the UK some Coldplay fans have asked the act to comment on whether it benefits from the extra hundreds of thousands of pounds that a few British shows could garner from the secondary market.

Those working in the industry and those close to it may not have been surprised by the TV claims, but the promoters named by them are stuck with their obvious and unswerving loyalty to the act.

It may not be a question of owning up to supplying the secondary market with the band’s complicity, as Latham has admitted.

The fans may want to know how much the secondary market is being supplied at the act’s behest.

Radiohead is looking to distance itself from the touts by using the Ticketmaster paperless system Reid described. The band wants its tour tickets to be sold in as transparent manner as possible.

Elsewhere at ILMC, an Emerging Markets panel chaired by Exit Festival chief Bojan Boskovic came close to deciding that the session title is something of a misnomer.

“Ten years ago they were riding bicycles and now they’re driving Porsches,” was how Niels Boe Sørensen from entertainment marketing specialists Kuanhsi Consulting described the Chinese markets.

“What shall we call the panel next year?” Boskovic asked.

Whether it’s emerging markets, emerged markets, developing or developed markets, the session made a refreshing change from hearing the old moan about how these markets are allegedly suffering from bad treatment from London-based agents.

Some markets still have unique problems. Lebanese promoter Naji Baz, head of Buzz Productions, explained how putting on Gorillaz in Syria meant getting government clearance.
“I had to make small changes to the band’s lyrics,” he explained. Apparently, “Give me a gun” became “Give me a bun.”

Apart from the opening session, the best-attended panel was on Sunday morning, when former Dire Straits manager and William Morris Agency UK chief Ed Bicknell interviewed John Giddings.

Although many non-UK delegates leave for home on the Sunday morning, Bicknell and Giddings set a record for the session by attracting about 250 people.

They swapped some highly amusing rock ’n’ roll stories, including one about a rather corpulent Van Morrison hiding behind a sapling while secretly trying to check if Bicknell had left his premises.

Unfortunately, most of the stories lose something in print. You had to be there.

ILMC was at London’s Royal Garden Hotel March 9-11.