Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Beat off the bots

    With bots scalping tickets left, right and centre, could mobile change the face of entertainment and ticketing? Rory Maguire, Managing Director of AIME, thinks so. Here he explains how – and what’s at stake

    Early August saw the release of the first batch of tickets for the highly regarded Harry Potter and the Cursed Child after a successful and completely sold out preview season that was a game changer in the way that shows are launched.

    The £10 preview tickets sold on the secondary market for up to £250 each (down from their original value of £2,500) when the tickets were first sold), fuelling the hype value of the tickets for the proper show. Within minutes of the ticket systems opening, one agency had crashed and the other was managing a queue of 65,000 “people”.

    The reason for the quotes is that behind this impressive queue are around 50% real people and 50% robots (or bots). The bots are pre programmed to sit in queues and seize tickets on an industrial scale to be resold via touts at significant mark-up. Anyone studying economics will know that the sell-out aspect of the show, caused in part by the bots, pushes the value of the product way beyond its face value.

    The same happens inside the music industry and for bands with a loyal fan base, it damages the relationship when the prices are inflated by touting. So much so that five Music Managers joined forces to launch FanFair Alliance ( to gain awareness of the issue and to try to persuade the UK government to create legislative changes to stop touts hiding behind the relative anonymity of the secondary market systems – two of which are owned by ticketing agencies who also benefit from sold out primary ticket sales.

    How could Charge to Mobile create opportunities for ticket sales and suppression of touts? The potential solution is created by three significant developments with overlapping benefits.

    The first is the move to mobile-only experiences. Many venues and gigs are giving their audiences end to end experiences concentrated to the mobile device. Ticketing is just the first part of the experience with artist information, updates, travel plans, sample tracks, artist blogs, in-event info, voting, chat back and refreshment booking all enriching the user’s enjoyment of the show. With the ticket and experience delivered solely to the consumers handset, it is very difficult for touts to muscle in on this other than to purchase a bulk load of devices just to carry the barcoded or embedded “ticket”.

    The second development is a GSMA initiative known as Mobile Connect. This takes the mobile operators customer data and encrypts it for access by external parties, either as an identity check without passing any open information or as a permission-based open transfer of data. This ID check does not allow the third party to decrypt the information but performs a match of the information held by the network with the information provided by the consumer to the third party. The open transfer is a similar function to that offered by PayPal to its merchants to provide (with consumer permission) the personal information of the consumer to enable delivery of physical product.

    Mobile Connect is currently undergoing trials with a limited set of operators worldwide and is being implemented by two of the UK operators. It will enable identification checks linked to mobile number at the time of ticket purchases, removing one of the weaknesses that touts exploit by being able to hide behind relative anonymity provided by secondary market systems. Touting tickets is in breach of consumer laws and the venues terms.

    The third potential development is the ability for consumers to purchase or make a deposit on tickets using Charge to Mobile. With a change made to EU regulation for Payment Services (thanks to AIME and UK Treasury), mobile operators can now place charges for transport and entertainment tickets onto the consumers mobile bill. This becomes law in December 2017 but carries some restrictions on maximum values. These values will cover typical cinema and comedy show tickets prices but will only act as a deposit on high value tickets for music gigs and theatre.

    The deposit facility will take away one of the major issues with short-duration, high volume sales as the amount of time needed to collect the consumers address and payment information after a ticket booking occupies valuable server time. With Charge to Mobile operating in the background as a charging and identity facility in one, the selection of the ticket can be made and secured in seconds instead of minutes, particularly for shows where limited seating and date options are being offered.

    The significant additional advantage over touts is that it is very difficult to programme robots to seize tickets if the only sale option is via Charge to Mobile. A bank of mobile phones, all carrying credit and linked to micro computers to simulate human interaction is expensive and difficult to operate.

    By securing the high price ticket with a fairly low deposit, the consumer can complete the purchase at a later stage using their credit card once the rush is over. The potential opportunity for Charge to Mobile is large, AIME is championing this development and although we will meet resistance from existing Ticket Agencies, at least five Music Managers, with their passion being towards the unique relationships between fans and the bands will be the early adopters and pave the way.


    Rory Maguire is Managing Director of AIME

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