Concert Industry Struggles With ‘Bots’ That Siphon Off Tickets

Description:  As the summer concert season approaches, music fans and the concert industry that serves them have a common enemy in New York. And in Russia. And in India.  That enemy is the bot.

Source: nytimes.com

Date: May 26, 2013

rock concert

“Bots,” computer programs used by scalpers, are a hidden part of a miserable ritual that plays out online nearly every week in which tickets to hot shows seem to vanish instantly.

Long a mere nuisance to the live music industry, these cheap and widely available programs are now perhaps its most reviled foe, frustrating fans and feeding a multibillion-dollar secondary market for tickets.

According to Ticketmaster, bots have been used to buy more than 60 percent of the most desirable tickets for some shows; in a recent lawsuit, the company accused one group of scalpers of using bots to request up to 200,000 tickets a day. READ REST OF STORY 

Questions for discussion:

1.   Why should concert promoters care how the tickets are sold? Whether by scalpers or by actual fans?

2.  What do you feel is the best way to solve the “bot” problem?

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23 thoughts on “Concert Industry Struggles With ‘Bots’ That Siphon Off Tickets

  1. Liz Martin

    I don’t know if concert promoters should be concerned with whether they are selling their tickets to humans or to bots; I think as long as they are profiting from the sale I’m not sure it should matter…to them. But from both the customers and the concert artists point of view I think this is a pretty big problem. If the secondary ticket service doesn’t sell all the tickets it initially purchases, then less seats are filled at the concerts, some fans miss out on the concert for nothing and I would assume it disrupts the logistics of concert planning (as we might have initially assumed that unfilled seats were due to lack of interest).

    Reply
  2. Yaqian Diao

    There will be a bad effect on the price of the tickets and the success of the concert, if the tickets are sold by the scalpers. At the beginning of the selling of tickets, the scalpers use a variety of methods to get the tickets to prevent the real fans buying, and then they sell the tickets to the real fans with a higher price. Or the scalpers hide the real tickets and sell the fake ones to the audience. Therefore, it does harm to both the fans and concert industry. Fans have to pay more money for the tickets, and sometimes they can’t enter the concerts because of the fake tickets. On the other hand, due to the more expensive tickets and the hidden tickets, the audience might give up the chance to attend to the concerts. Thus, the concerts may not run successfully any more. In my opinion, the hosts should build and improve the information technology to protect the websites. Secondly, they also need to follow the trail of bots and strictly punish the scalpers. At the same time, the system can make a limit sell. For example, a person just can purchase 3 or 5 pieces of tickets with their ID number.

    Reply
  3. Ahmed Awad

    It is very interesting how technology could be used to effect sales in a good or a bad way (depends on how you would look at it). A lot of people think that bot are bad but the reality is they could be used for good and bad reasons. The concert industry should not be worried about it as long as they sell their tickets they should be okay and very profitable to them; in there defense bots are not stealing tickets, they are simplify buying out all the tickets. And depending on the reason of the bots creation, they could be resold again for perhaps a cheaper or more expensive price. While this could be considered illegal however to the industry it isn’t and becomes really profitable. However, Ticketmaster is considerably the only sectors that are effect by bots. The main purpose of Ticketmaster is to sell tickets, and make some sort of profit on it; while bots can buy all allowable tickets, they are stealing their job. So instead of Ticketmaster making a profit of maybe 1% bot can do it for free. Fans on the other hand are under the bots mercy, if the bot was made for made to replace Ticketmaster job and resell the tickets for much cheaper price and not to make any profit out of it then the idea of making bots is good. While not all bots are created equally, some bots buy out all ticket and then sell them for twice the price , this is considered bad for fans whom re-buying the tickets again. One last idea is if a bot was created to prevent actual fans from buying the tickets then this is bad.

    Reply
  4. Songxuan Wu

    Of course the promoters should care how the tickets are sold. There is a huge results difference for the scalpers or the actual fans get the tickets. If the actual fans get the tickets, they could go to watch the show by the regular price and have a good memory. But if the scalpers get the tickets, they will sell the tickets for a very high price to get the arbitrage. The more the scalpers they could make, the worse for the actual fans. The actual fans may have to pay 2 to 3 times money for the tickets! They will not have a good memory the show or the event they are going to attend. This is also bad for the promoters, the same thing happen for once, twice and more. The more often it happened, the worse and bigger influence will happen to the real fans!
    The best way to solve the bot problem is the promoters’ cares more about the buyers. For example, one fan could only buy maximize two tickets once a time with a government issued ID. And the tickets will has the name, which must be the same with the ID’s holder. The tickets could only sold and use for once. If that person can not use it, they could return it to the promoters’ place, but they can not sale it.

    Reply
  5. Xinying Du

    It kinds of interesting that companies like target to know the customer’s secret. The reason that concert promoters care how the tickets are sold is because bot is to make sure that how many people will show up on the concert. The promoters care about their profit. Bot can bring significant benefits from selling tickets. As we can see that bots have been used to buy more than 60 percent of the most desirable tickets for some shows; in a recent lawsuit, the company accused one group of scalpers of using bots to request up to 200,000 tickets a day. Bots computer program is very useful to sell tickets. It can bring money to ticket promoters. It is profitable to use it. If companies do not sell ticket using bot, they would not sell the ticket so quickly. The best way to solve the bot program is that using hacker to track the bot program. People can knowing how bot program works and then stop their function. So, they cannot use it when promoter selling tickets. Then, customers can buy desirable tickets for the real shows.

    Reply
  6. Litchi Peng

    I think concert promoters should care how the tickets are sold whether by scalpers or actual funs. For actual fans, these people who are really crazy about the concert and want to experience scene. I think sales manager must consider making prices of the tickets. If tickets are sold out because of scalpers, actual fans have to buy from scalpers so that they can have a chance to listen to concert in sense. At this time, it is a supply market which means there are more buyers but a few suppliers. For fans, they are crazy about their idols, and they would love to buy tickets from scalpers at least they can go and see their idols. This behaviour is illegal since scalpers reap staggering profits. However, in other side, if promoters leave this kind of issue alone, they may lose some customers who are not willing to purchase a ticket from a scalper. In my opinion, the best way to solve the “bot” problem is to realize buying tickets by signing up on the official website. Each person can fill in a form about their basic information. After signing up, the website can offer a ID number something like that, then customers can get a concert ticket relying on the number as a password.

    Reply
  7. Carlie Willimont

    Concert promoters should care how tickets are sold to ensure a distribution of tickets for real fans. Not everyone can purchase concert tickets generally due to the high price they are sold for. However it makes it even more difficult for the average North American to purchase a ticket to their favorite concert or event if “bots” are beating the system, purchasing thousands of tickets and then re-selling them for hundreds more. Concert promoters should have an interest in ensuring real people and real fans are getting access to these tickets.

    I don’t know if there is a best option in solving the “bot” problem, it seems complex. From my knowledge its extremely hard to prevent this from happening because the people who run these are in distant locations, are very intelligent and always seem to be one step ahead of law enforcement. If there was a way to completely prevent “bots” from purchasing tickets then I believe that’s the right thing to do. This gives the average person a fair chance at purchasing tickets at normal cost instead of having to bargain off sites such as stubhub.

    Reply
  8. Eric Choi

    The Concert promoters should definitely care how the tickets are being sold, because this affects the concert-going consumers. It is true, that the revenue will be affected slightly because the tickets are sold out, but the experience of attending the concerts and there is higher chance of increasing revenue due to alcoholic beverages, food, and merchandise sales within the concert that won’t be tapped due to not able to filling up the concerts because the tickets re-sell value from the bot-acquired tickets are too expensive. In theory, this method is not illegal, but it is highly unethical. Before the internet era, the same thing happened, where instead of bots, people who wanted to sell the tickets literally waited in line themselves to sell it for a higher profit.
    I believe the best way to solve this problem is to pre-sell the tickets, 12 hours earlier for people waiting in line with 2 pieces of I.D. verification and with 5/person. Then the remaining tickets could be sold online, but where 2 pieces of I.D. verification would be impossible to implement, a better method is to that a verification code will be sent to the user after 5 min, where the tickets would be held for that user for 10 minutes. So within the 5 minutes, the credit card number, address, name and all that information could be inserted within that time frame. The additional security measure would be, per credit card, only 5 tickets can be purchased.

    Reply
  9. Valentine

    I think concert promoters should care on how there tickets are sold .The selling of tickets in some ways generates revenue for the concert organizers. By having ,their tickets ‘scalped’ by scalpers.,does not bode well for any profit that should come from the selling of this tickets.Also I think it is not fair to the people who paid for their tickets honestly,and who waited in line to purchase their tickets.They did it the right way ,while a bunch of other people did it wrong. I think that those people who use the so-called programs called ‘bots’ to make illegal purchase of tickets ,should be treated as criminals,and punish according to law. The use of such programs is an obvious indication ,of the way in which electronics of today,are enabling those to commit the crimes and felonies of tomorrow.

    Reply
  10. Regi Rocha

    Buying a large number of tickets with the malicious intention to resell at a high price is not new. Before technology I saw people standing in the line for hours to get many tickets only to resell later. Not long ago in Lethbridge, some people spent hours trying to get tickets for Elton John, not so they could go to the concert but so they could sell later for much more than the original price. This abuse is not only unethical but unfair because it is dealing with people’s emotions. Some concerts happen just once in a lifetime in places like Lethbridge, so it is great to see them in your home town rather than a big city. I think concert promoters and artists want fans to see their shows so, they should be concerned about how tickets are sold. People will stop buying tickets the traditional way because buying from “scalpers” will become the normal way to purchase tickets if this is not stopped.

    Companies like Ticketmaster are doing little to discourage these kinds of activities, and unfortunately bots still work in broad daylight. Sadly someone with a creative mind will deplete the pocket of innocent fans. In my opinion the best way to solve the “bot” problem is to have the artists, computer software, Ticketmaster and law enforcement work together to ensure people are getting the right number of tickets at a fair price and punish those who are reselling at criminal prices to gain an unfair profit.

    Reply
  11. Calvin Chu

    In my opinion, I consider this is an important issue and the concert promoters have to worry about. They should really check where and how the tickets sold. Why? Because the concert promoters are responsible to check and know how many people will attend and acutally show up in the concert. This is a must do thing. Because I am sure no one wants to run the show without any or little audience. Moreover, they have to becareful and watch out the fake tickets since they are illegal and unethical. There will be few trouble happening if the concert promoter do not take serious on these problems. 1) They will end up helping those scalpers in order to charge more on the tickets during the selling process. They will also lose their customer loyalty. This is the worst situation which they do not want to happen. They should not allow buyer purchase more than a certain number of ticket as they might end up trying to sell it online to earn more profit.
    Honestly, I would suggest the concert promoters to post out poster or information online and ask the buyer to show their Identification in order to purcahse tickets. The promoters have to make sure that to ask every single buyers. Like what I said above, record their ID and set a limit of ticket to each buyer. Therefore, people can make sure theirselves can have a ticket and purchase it at a reasonable price.

    Reply
  12. Kai Zhao

    1.Yes, concert promoters should definitely care about how those tickets are sold for several reasons. First, concert promoters need a specific number about how many fans are willing to show up for the concert, no body wants to leave seats empty while they are singing. Secondly, scalped ticket is unethical and illegal. If concert promoters do not care about how their tickets are sold, they are helping scalpers in some kind of level to charge real fans more to get their tickets, which is lack of responsibility and accountability. Last but not least, in this case, fans are concert promoters’ customers. If they do not concern about their tickets selling process, they would lose their customer loyalty, which is obviously not something that they want to see. Imagine, what if someone buy out all the tickets, and put all of them on Ebay or some kind of station to sell them, that would be a huge issue.
    2.In order to reduce the phenomenon of “bot” problem, I strongly recommend that concert promoters should ask for ID when people come and buy tickets, and set a limit for each ID. For instance, I bring my student ID card, drive license, or passport, concert promoters only allow me to purchase 3 tickets. In this case, scalpers’ tricks will not work, and “bot” problem will be no longer exist. Therefore, real fans would most likely to get tickets for concert with the most reasonable price without paying extra money or paying for the so called third party.

    Reply
  13. Kristina Madarasz

    Concert promoters should care about how tickets are sold in order to get an accurate number of actual tickets being sold to people in order to track the popularity of the function at question. This is important for demand and supply. Currently it appears that a Justin Bieber concert sells out in 1 minute, but perhaps without the bots, the concert wouldn’t sell out at all. This greatly affects the price at which the tickets are being sold at. If less people actually buy the tickets, this means that the promoters might actually sell the tickets for less to get the demand back up. Currently with the bots, accurately tracking the demand and supply posses to be a challenge, that is why it is important to solve the bot problem.

    The best ways to solve the bot problem would be to track how the bots actually function compared to how a human functions, like the article says, and then finding a way to block the bot from successfully purchasing the tickets at checkout. Maybe there should be additional security screening at the end of the purchase that only allows legitimate people to get through? This then would hopefully limit the number of bots able to get through and purchase vast amounts of tickets.

    Reply
  14. James Mahoney

    The promoters should care about how the tickets are sold because there is strong argument that they are loosing money when people are scalping tickets for double the face value. If the promoter decides that they want to give fans a break by charging what would be considered a discount, the bots are essentially making the this discount obsolete by charging the true value of the tickets. Personally I don’t have a problem with people that scalp tickets outside an event in person, but when you’re buying tickets with bots over the web and then turning around and selling 60 of them at double the face value a month before the show it doesn’t seem ethical. One of the best ways to make bots a non-factor would be to increase the number of tickets that are available at the ticketmaster vendors. Normally when I buy tickets in Calgary I go to the vendor in Mount Royal University and only wait in line behind 2 people for the tickets I want at the time they go on sale. With a greater influence on the person-to-person sale it would severely reduce the number of bots that automate the purchasing process

    Reply
  15. Jingyi Wang

    The ticket company cares about the bots because they care about their profit and the attendence to the concert. Some people wil use the bots to buy thousands of tickets and use them in the secondary market to resell and make money. However, they will have their desired price for the tickets, people can buy the tickets only when they pay the desire price, or the scalpers will rather to keep them in hand than sell them in a low price. Because of this, even all of the tickets have been sold out, there will still be a 20 percent absent from the concert, and the real fun will not have the oppotunity to go to the concert they like. The other thing is that the ticketmasters also want to make money in the secondary markets, so they have contract with the big resellers. While, due to the bots, those big resellers can not get the tickets they want, this will cause problems in the secondary market and lower the resellers’ revenue.
    I know that many websites are facing this problem, not only the ticketmasters, but the bots will also steal pictures, documents, or comments of the websites and sell the information to make a profit. And I think one of the solution I have seen can work for this problem. That website ask for a member registration in order to buy products, and you will have to provide your email, phone number, address, and a user name. Everytime you buy things, you were asked to provide these information and a regular change picture( you need to tell the right order of the picture or tell the name of the thing showing on the picture), I think this can effectively prevent the bots. In addition, the country should try to set up laws for this behaviour in order to protect public’s rights.

    Reply
  16. Jill

    A well-attended concert adds profit to not only the concert promoters, but also the organizations that run the concession and souvenir stands inside the venue, as well as the food and drink establishments near the venue. If the scalpers cannot sell their tickets, and the concert is empty, then the businesses that depend on a successful concert will suffer. In time, the concert promoter will lose business. If the concert promoter were to raise their original ticket price to the price that scalpers would sell it for, then scalpers would make less money. Eventually, they would put the scalpers out of business. If scalpers can charge that much, there must be a market for the higher priced tickets: why hasn’t the concert promoter realized that and raised their initial price?

    Another way to deter the purchase of scalped tickets is to give the buyer a unique authorization attached to their name as proof of identity that they have to show when they enter the concert. This should work for ticket holders who were given the tickets as a gift, but would be difficult for ticket holders who purchased the tickets from an acquaintance who couldn’t go to the concert. But if concert promoters want to be sure the online ticket sales are sold to an actual person, then they need a way to prove the actual person who is coming to the concert bought them. With online sales, that is a very hard thing to do.

    Reply
  17. Cameron Pituley

    I think that concert promoters should care how tickets are sold because it reflects on the target audience. If an actual fan buys a ticket for $100 but the fan ends up paying double or even more, the fan will go to less concerts overall. Not only is there the monetary point of view of selling tickets but also showing that you care about your fans. Performing artists would much rather have sold out concerts with all the seats full instead of scalpers holding on to tickets that were never bought at the increased price. I would say that it comes down to future ticket buyers and the idea that they want to convince the artists to come back. In the end though, the promoter still gets their asked price for all of the tickets. If you look at it from a purely figures point of view in the short run, it really doesn’t matter who buys the tickets.

    I think a good way to stop the bots would be to cap the limit on how many tickets one individual can buy at a time and possibly even recognize IP address and/or purchasing information (credit card, paypal, etc.)and limit that as well. There are other bot prevention systems that can be put in place such as captcha and spam reporting systems like Akismet that are able to prevent bots from either accessing the system, program, blog at all or just slow them down to a regular persons speed.

    Reply
  18. Crystal S.

    Because it shows how much they care about the fans, scalpers hike up the prices of the tickets and fans can end up paying double or even triple the actual price of the ticket. It makes it harder for the fans to try and buy tickets at a lower price which is offered to them by the concert promoters. The only way to prevent a “bot” problem would be to install some type of software protection in their system that would identify a “bot” and keep it from purchasing tickets at large amounts. I have purchased tickets from a concert promoter and was satisfied with the show and the price I paid, but for some shows that sell out fast I am unable to get tickets. I do know some people who have actually bought tickets from a scalper and paid obscene amounts for just one ticket. I personally would not pay that much for any show and these scalpers ruin the fun for everyone who just want to have a good time at an affordable price and see their favorite entertainers. There is however a consolation to all this, I guess, when the show starts and the scalpers have not sold their tickets they start selling them dirt cheap to recoup any losses, so maybe everything evens out in the long run because who wants to see a show that is halfway done.

    Reply
  19. Brad Melchin

    One would think that it shouldn’t matter how a ticket is sold, because the revenue is the same whether a scalper or an actual fan purchases it. However, even though the revenue is the same, there is an intangible expense that concert promoters need to worry about. Like the article mentioned, when tickets are bought in large sum by bot programmers, it is common for seats in a sold out show to go unused. The expense of this, is the negative effect that it has on the concerts image. Seeing so many empty seats could lower morale and cause the performer to look elsewhere for their next performance. In a professional business like this, it is important to sustain a good image. Also, I assume that if one was to see that a bunch of seats in front of them were going unused, they would feel like they didn’t get the best seat possible for the price they paid. On top of all this, the black (secondary) market, is unfair to true fans. Fans should only have to pay the retailed price, and not suffer from people trying to make money in the secondary market.

    It’s really hard to combat the “bot” problem, especially when there is always someone out there that tries to find a loop hole to your preventative techniques. Captcha’s did work for a while, but people managed to find a way around it by getting a computer to recognize certain captcha’s. From what I know now, I would say that new captcha’s should just be created more often, at a faster pace than those making programs to recognize them.

    Reply
  20. Sean Annis

    If Scalper are the ones who are buying the majority of tickets for major concerts and reselling the tickets at a profit, then the promoters of the concert are losing money by not collecting that profit for themselves. Also when an individual purchases many tickets to resell and does not actually sell all the tickets it can hurt related sales at the concert such are fan memorabilia and concession sales which usually bring in a lot of money. If a concert sells out but 20% of the seats are not filled it can discourage a city from hosting big concerts because of the loss of money through concession and other means.

    Bots aren’t necessarily a problem if they could be managed. If there were a limit to the number of tickets an individual could purchase to certain concert events, and those individuals who are flagged as being machines were blocked from the site for exceeding a predetermined amount of ticket requests, then it would give actual individuals the ability to buy tickets before they sell out to the bots. Also we are beginning to rely on electronics a lot for buying these tickets but if certain tickets were given out to distributors to sell in person it wouldn’t give the bots the ability to buy out the best seats in the house.

    As it said in the article this will be an “Arms Race” of sorts. And i’m definitly not qualified to say which method would be most appropriate to approach these issues.

    Reply
  21. Victoria Wells

    Concert promoters should see this as a huge threat to their industry. It is the fans (not the scalpers) who are the people demanding the artists to appear at these venues. These “bots” discourage real fans from attempting to purchase tickets, and so when the fans give up, the lack of demand will drastically reduce sales and even appearances at the venue at all. Scalpers are out to make money, so if the demand or hype for a concert is no longer there, then the scalpers won’t take the risk of buying such a large volume of tickets in the inevitability that they will not be sold. As well, the markup on the tickets does not benefit the concert venue, the artist, or the fans. It only benefits the scalper selling them.

    While making it illegal may prevent some of the scalpers from engaging in this practice, I don’t believe that it will be enough of a threat to the scalpers to stop the business entirely. For example, re-selling tickets above the face value is prohibited by the Ticket Speculation Act in Ontario and is punishable by a fine of $5000 for an individual or $50000 for a corporation. This fine also pertains to those individuals who buy tickets from the scalpers. Unfortunately, scalping still occurs in the province. In order to truly be able to make a dent in the “bots” ability to rapidly purchase tickets, the ticket companies need to have a ticket limit when purchasing online (as Heather has already stated) as this will force people to purchase large volumes of tickets in person. By forcing large volume purchases to be completed in person, the ability for “bots” to snatch up a multitude of tickets in seconds is thereby prevented.

    Reply
  22. Heather Allan

    Tickets get sold out in minutes nowadays. When trying to buy tickets, customers have to think about presales, sales, and even resales. Tickets will go on sale on ticketmaster and then be gone within minutes, then be resold on other sites for ridiculous prices! It is so frustrating.

    Some shows try to prevent scalpers with presales. Ticketmaster developed a mobile phone app that is meant to enable real fans to get tickets. The Mumford and Son’s May 22nd show offered fans the opportunity to sign up for an “invitation onsale”. The problem is that it is not illegal to sell tickets above face value. I believe that if we wanted to destroy the majority of “Botters” it should be made illegal to buy tickets and sell them higher than face value. This will probably stop most botters because they wont be able to make profit off of scalping.

    Reply
  23. Matthew Malm

    Having dealt with this problem recently, I can confidently say that it is a pain to wait a couple years for your favorite artist to come to town and there is no tickets available in a stadium of a million people. Here is a concert in Calgary that sold out in less than a minute just a month ago:
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2013/04/05/calgary-mumford-and-sons-tickets-gone.html

    With this problem increasing and causing excess frustration for consumers, the concert industry will fall eventually become subject to the tyranny of consumer bans. This is the reason promoters should start to take note of this problem. Another includes the fact that many of these tickets are being sold for ridiculous prices and that is forgone profit for the concert industry.

    In my opinion, putting a limit of ticket purchases by CC numbers is the most effective way. A consumer would be capped at 10 tickets for their credit card number and if additional tickets were required the consumer would have to make a physical purchase.I have written programs in the past that specifically dealt with “cheating” or ” macroing” in games and I would like to mention that the require knowledge to perfect this is easy to come by. In addition, it requires less then a minute to do a search online for macroing software and get a free program for it. One major way to eliminate this problem from a programming perspective would be limiting per purchase order and dynamically changing website colors / button locations per order. Even something as simple as switching the order of the fields in which you enter your credit card information would destroy the majority of “Botters”. Unless of course they specialize in DDTM’s.

    Reply

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