When did we stop caring about the Great Ticket Rip-Off?

This story starts at 9:30am on a mild Friday morning. Phil Collins has not been seen on tour for many years and today he is announcing his first new concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Within 15 seconds of the tickets going live, all the tickets are sold out… 15 seconds!

The Royal Albert Hall’s website falls over (which is strange considering it is hosted on Amazon’s Website Services) and continues to pretend there are tickets available in a form of waiting room queue, but we all know the truth. They’re all gone.

Strangely enough, a few minutes later the secondary ticket market sites like StubHub have lots of tickets for sale at prices ranging from £400 to £1,500 — considering the original tickets were £60 face value. “How could this have possibly happened?” I hear you ask.

Two words: ticketing bots.

Yes, with all the talk of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning being all the rage — we forget that “bots” have been operating for years in the commercial space. In fact we used them in the comparison shopping world back in 1998 — and yes they’ve got more advanced, but fundamentally they often operate without us even knowing…

These ticketing bots are pre-programmed with rules and payment details so they can instantly buy up hundreds of tickets as they go on sale and then resell them at masively inflated prices on their own sites in minutes (even seconds later). They work hard to be disguised as real people and fooling the ticket sites (using multiple accounts, payment details, and even internet (IP) address locations. Most even have direct access behind the scenes to the ticket buying software (through something called API’s) so they don’t have to wait on the normal websites with all the other mugs.

I believe it actually goes deeper than this too — with ticketing touts and services being given bulk tickets at discounted rates early on, to then go on a resell. Purely because the venues are paranoid about unsold inventory, but that’s another topic.

But.. surely this is just Supply and Demand?

It’s a possible argument. If people are buying from these secondary ticket sites at inflated prices, then they value them enough to pay those 8–15x face value prices. Perhaps the ticket source sites (like the Royal Albert Hall) should have priced them higher in the first place.

Well.. doesn’t that then discriminate against people who can’t afford to pay those kinds of prices? What about the true fans who would really value going but can’t spend £1,500+ for a couple of tickets to go and see them. That’s why different seats and ticket prices are set in the first place isn’t it?

“The only people who truly make money from all this are the secondary ticket sites who laugh all the way home to the bank.”

What’s Being Done About It

From what I can tell — bugger all. We’re still talking about it today, despite years of press reviews and TV shows revealing the shady practices taking place. Yet the big players, Stubhub, Viagogo, Ticketmaster, SeatWave.. all seem to be getting away with it. No matter what they say about implementing manual checks for these bots, you get the feeling they’re never really trying hard enough. If they wanted to stop them they could… just look at how Netflix have managed to block people from different countries accessing their content… a massive success. So, the secondary ticket sites make a little effort to get the media and government off their backs — but they’re not really trying.

If they wanted to stop Ticketing Bots — they could. They’re just not trying hard enough because they make so much money from it.

Call for Startups

So — I put it to you.. entrepreneurs, PHD students in Artificial Intelligence, Deep technical founders, teams looking for new ideas in incubators… stop building rubbish weather bots and your social music sharing artificially intelligent toaster apps, and focus on some real worthwhile problems to solve.

Fix ticketing sales.

I’ll even give you a very comprehensive plan and architecture diagram to get you started (fully open source) —here you go:

(creative commons @2016) — the Wilkinson AI Bot Defender for Secondary Ticketing Market Bot Prevention (WAIBDSTMBP)

You’re Welcome!

Seriously though… build a cloud-based AI system that any site selling tickets direct to source (real people) can implement to defend itself from this kind of ticketing bot behaviour and unworthy touting. I will make sure you get it funded.

Let’s do this!

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About the Author

Philip Wilkinson is an entreprenuer as a co-founder of bite-sized messenger learning company Chatterbite and an angel-investor.

Bonus

The video is a bit shaky — but see what BBC Watchdog had to say about this back in 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyHuGwih94w

Or this about the ViaGoGo ticket scandal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWlnL8drSdw