Showing posts with label U.S. Senate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label U.S. Senate. Show all posts

Monday, January 30, 2023

Senate inquisition of Ticketmaster is antitrust theater

Ginny via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Inquisition of Ticketmaster in the Senate last week made headlines, but it's so much antitrust theater, and Ticketmaster and parent Live Nation know it.

Senators love to play hard-nosed before the cameras, and then assiduously do nothing to alienate the corporatocracy. Breathless reporting on the hearing in the Judiciary Committee would have you believe that this is Ticketmaster's first dance. It's not.

The Justice Department signed off on Ticketmaster's very merger with Live Nation in 2010 (N.Y. Times). The N.Y. Times Dealbook Newsletter further recalled:

In 2019, [Sen. Amy] Klobuchar [D-Minn.] and Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, urged the Justice Department to investigate the "broken" ticket industry.

Artists have long complained about Ticketmaster’s role. The band Lawrence, whose co-founder, Clyde Lawrence, wrote a Times Opinion essay on the topic last year, included the line "Live Nation is a monopoly" in its 2021 song "False Alarms." Perhaps most famously, Pearl Jam filed an antitrust complaint against Ticketmaster in 1994—16 years before it merged with Live Nation—kicking off a federal investigation that ultimately fizzled.

(Read more about the Pearl Jam claim from Rolling Stone in 1995. (UPDATE, Feb. 5: On the Media looked back at the Pearl Jam matter two days ago.)) House Democrats asked the Biden Administration to take another look at the Live Nation merger in the spring of 2021, well before the Taylor Swift ticketing fiasco (N.Y. Post).

Founded in 1976, Ticketmaster was on its way to market dominance and a lousy reputation with concertgoers by the time I was a teenager. Already transnational, it took the market lead when it acquired Ticketron in 1991.

Live Nation was once a growing competitor to behemoth Ticketmaster. In 2000, Live Nation was acquired by Clear Channel Communications, and then was spun off in 2005. It soon started work on the Ticketmaster merger, which was announced in 2009 and approved by the Obama Justice Department in 2010.

Clear Channel itself is another chapter in the government's pathetically permissive record of antitrust enforcement in media and entertainment. In 2001, Jesse Morreale, a Colorado concert promoter (and my first cousin), along with partners in Nobody in Particular Presents, Inc., sued Clear Channel for shameless vertical integration in the music business.  The federal district court in Denver denied Clear Channel summary judgment in 2004 (more behind pay wall at Rolling Stone). The case subsequently settled. Clear Channel's vertical integration was a more sophisticated descendant of simple payola, an unfair practice in the music industry as old as regulatory agencies themselves. 

It's a normal market dynamic for industry and antitrust regulators to play a cat-and-mouse game over the long term. But Ticketmaster has been only a clever Jerry to the government's buffoonish Tom for going on half a century.