March 19, 2010 By Alfred Branch Jr.
Only time will tell whether the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger will end up being fair to promoters, venues and ticketing companies, and in the meantime the live entertainment industry should look toward innovation to stay competitive, Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney reportedly told a crowd of concert professionals and others at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference Thursday.
Varney and the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) spearheaded the year-long review of the merger, and the DOJ ended up approving the deal with conditions, such as requiring that Ticketmaster sell its Paciolan ticketing division to rival Comcast-Spectacor, operators of New Era Tickets.
Another condition was that Ticketmaster license its ticketing software to Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which would allow the competing promoter to create its own ticketing operation. Yet, despite the requirements, promoters and others have criticized the deal because they believe Ticketmaster and Live Nation are a monopoly.
“We’ve tried to create some competitive ground for you all to move around the industry and see to which extent you can shake things up,” the Los Angeles Times reported Varney said.
Live Nation Entertainment, as it is now called, not only holds dominant positions in ticketing and concert promotion, but also owns or operates well over a 100 major venues and amphitheaters in North America, which promoters believe gives the company the power to control where acts perform or not.
That aspect of the merger was left largely unchecked, other than the DOJ told the company that it would monitor its behavior and penalize it if it retaliated against promoters or venues that did not use Ticketmaster or Live Nation services.
“I know it’s not a satisfying answer,” the Times reported Varney told the largely disbelieving audience. “We are constrained by the law. The overlap that we found was in ticketing. That’s why the remedy rests in ticketing.”
Both Michael Rapino and Irving Azoff, the respective president and CEO and executive chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, were asked to speak at the conference on the same music and government panel as Varney, but they declined, organizers said.
“We’re talking to bands, managers, promoters, a lot of people, understanding how our proposed consent decree is working, not working,” the Times reported Varney said. “But the only way we know if it’s working is to hear from you.”