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Ad industry regulator drops sanctions against Viagogo ahead of select committee hearing

By | Published on Tuesday 4 September 2018

Viagogo

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has announced it is removing its active sanctions against Viagogo. The move comes after the often controversial secondary ticketing website changed the way it publishes prices.

The ASA is one of three UK regulators that has hit out at Viagogo in the last year. The ad industry body initially criticised all secondary ticketing websites for not declaring the total price of tickets – including VAT and booking fees – upfront on their sites. Then in May, it confirmed that Viagogo was the only site to not subsequently comply with its demands to ensure total prices were displayed at the start of the transaction process.

However, this morning the ASA said: “We have secured changes to the pricing information appearing on the website of secondary ticketing provider Viagogo, so that consumers aren’t misled. As a result of our work, pricing information will now be made clear with one single price, containing both VAT and the compulsory booking fee, quoted upfront at the start of the consumer journey”.

The regulator added: “We can confirm we are now satisfied that Viagogo’s pricing information follows the advertising rules. Consequently, due to the significant changes that have been made, we’ve removed all active sanctions we had in place, including withdrawing our referral of Viagogo to National Trading Standards”.

Commenting on this development, anti-tout campaigner Sharon Hodgson MP said this morning: “It is extremely interesting, in light of all the developments over the last few weeks in the ticketing world, that ASA have now found Viagogo to be complaint with consumer protection regulations. I suppose it’s better late than never, but what about all those victims of Viagogo that have been ripped off and misled in the meantime?”

The news follows confirmation from Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media And Sports Select Committee yesterday that Viagogo plans to send a representative to a public session tomorrow looking at the live music industry in general and the secondary ticketing market in particular. The firm’s Head Of Business Development Cristopher Miller will sit alongside Wayne Grierson, UK MD of eBay’s StubHub, to represent the resale sector.

The culture select committee previously put the spotlight on the secondary ticketing market in spring 2017. It was during that investigation – ultimately cut short by last year’s General Election – that Viagogo infamously refused to attend a public discussion about secondary ticketing. Those who did show up to defend the resale market – StubHub and Ticketmaster – didn’t come across especially well.

Ticketmaster returns for tomorrow’s session, but this time on the other side of the debate. The Live Nation ticketing company’s UK MD Andrew Parsons will sit alongside long-time critics of online touting – including Adam Webb from FanFair and Stuart Galbraith from Kilimanjaro Live – following the company’s decision to shut down its resale sites in Europe.

Although the live music giant will continue to operate ticket resale platforms elsewhere in the world – principally in the US – Ticketmaster UK recently told its customers in a blog post: “We’ve listened and we hear you: secondary sites just don’t cut it anymore and you’re tired of seeing others snap up tickets just to resell for a profit”.

Assuming Viagogo defender-in-chief Miller shows up, he will face questioning from MPs days after the news that the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority is taking the company to court for various breaches of consumer rights law. The CMA’s legal action mirrors that being pursued by similar regulatory bodies in Australia and New Zealand.

The committee is also publishing evidence that has been submitted to its ongoing inquiry into live music and the ticketing business. It said yesterday that “nearly one-third of the written evidence the committee received was from individuals expressing dissatisfaction with their experiences of secondary ticketing sites – principally Viagogo”.

Viagogo has adopted a wall of silence strategy for years now, with its once chatty founder and boss man Eric Baker having become something of an enigma. So it will be very interesting indeed to see how Miller defends his company.

While many other criticisms of the firm, including most of those listed by the CMA on announcing its legal action last week, still stand – Miller will at least be able to show up with today’s ASA announcement in hand. “See, we sometimes play ball”, he might say. Yeah, sometimes. By which we mean one time.

Commenting on tomorrow’s session, which takes place at 2.30pm and will also hear from Islington Assembly Hall’s Lucinda Brown, the Chair of the select committee, Damian Collins MP, said: “Live music is an incredibly important part of the UK’s culture. With thousands of music fans experiencing both the perks and the frustrations with buying tickets on these sites, the secondary ticketing market urgently needs a spotlight shone on it”.

He added: “The committee has previously looked at abuses in the secondary ticketing market, and how these have led fans to be ripped off when trying to get to see their favourite acts. We want to look at the progress that has been made in reforming the ticketing industry over the last eighteen months, and what more needs to be done”.

Of course select committees don’t have much actual power, their role being to scrutinise government, regulators and their regulations. However, the culture select committee’s investigations into secondary ticketing have played a role in building support in the political community for the enhancement and enforcement of ticket resale regulation. That has been an important development, given that ten years ago UK politicians – even those concerned about the rise of online touts – were generally in no mood to regulate.



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