A new “dynamic barcode” mobile-only ticketing system is raising questions of consumer freedom and discrimination as it is prepped for a trial in at least three venues using Ticketmaster as their ticketing provider.
Outlined on a Ticketmaster website page touting “The Newest Way to Use Your Mobile Ticket,” the new system features a barcode that changes in 15 second intervals. This is designed to remove the ability of any consumer to transfer their ticket through any system that isn’t Ticketmaster.
One presumably unintended consequence is that large groups of consumers are adversely impacted by ticketing systems which require the use of a smartphone for access, according to research published by the Pew Research Center. While the share of Americans who own smartphones is well into the majority – 77% as of January of 2018 – certain groups lag well behind that average.
Age is a large factor in smartphone ownership. Just 73% of consumers between the ages of 50-64 possess a smartphone. Ages 65+ see a huge drop-off, with just 46% owning a smartphone. Other groups with disproportionately low smartphone ownership include non-high school graduates (57%), residents of rural areas (65%), people earning less than $30,000 (67%). Additionally, 20% of Hispanic individuals in the study own a cell phone that isn’t a smartphone, exceeded only by black respondents (23%).
TicketNews contacted the box office of the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside, California, which manages ticketing for both FPAC and Riverside Municipal Auditorium in the same city, two of the three venues slated to trial the new dynamic barcodes system along with the Comerica Theater in Phoenix, Arizona. They did not respond to a request for information on whether or not consumers without access to smartphones would be able to request a non-locked ticket type.
Non-transferrable and locked-in tickets are against the law in Nevada, Connecticut and New York, but neither California nor Arizona has such consumer protections in place.
“Exclusively offering mobile, non-transferable tickets is another way of blocking people out with less resources. There’s a long history of individuals in power defining which consumers are valuable in the marketplace,” says Scot Esdaile, Executive Director of the United States Minority Ticketing Group (USMTG) and national board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Eliminating such restrictive systems is one of the key priorities of the USMTG, which includes dynamic barcodes and other paperless tickets as one of 11 of what it calls “discriminatory practices” that prevent the existence of an “equal entertainment industry for minorities” according to USMTG.org.
“This fight between the haves and the have-not’s has been a battle since the beginning of time, but USMTG will continue to fight for the disenfranchised, and against monopolies in the ticket industry.”
Beyond concerns regarding consumers left behind from the start are issues of both the technical capabilities and infrastructure for venues using such technologies and the potential for vindictive actions on the part of promoters looking to penalize consumers for transferring tickets they cannot use or selling them to others on the free market.
There are no shortage of examples where mobile-only tickets have seen system failures that led to long lines and consumer frustration at events. A Garth Brooks show at Houston’s Livestock Show and Rodeo last year saw major Flash Seats failures cause huge lines and fan frustration. The College Football Playoff final in Atlanta saw similar issues. And there was a Ticketmaster outage that snarled lines at several events across the country in 2017, among numerous smaller-scale instances of the same.
Ticketmaster’s own website touting the new barcode system anticipates several issues, from poor connectivity at a venue (better download that Ticketmaster app and open your tickets before you get in line and hope they don’t time out and load a new barcode before you get scanned in) to phone batteries dying to making sure your phone is on its highest brightness setting (sorry about those batteries) so they scan properly.
Then, of course, there is the question of assuming good faith on the part of event promoters when you can’t transfer or sell tickets through anyone other than the primary vendor. Transferring too many tickets has led to tickets being cancelled by NFL teams, the New York Yankees, and the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Even this week, event promoters in the UK issued a threat to consumers who use any platform besides the price-capped Ticketmaster “fan-to-fan” system to move tickets around for the Radio 1 Big Weekend in the UK.
Only time will tell whether or not such actions will be in the future for the early adopters of this dynamic barcodes system, but between existing access concerns and future potential for restrictive policing of the growing Live Nation monopoly on ticketing here in the U.S., it is clear that there is ample reason to watch this developing system with a close eye as it rolls out.