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Live Nation CFO on Taylor Swift ticket chaos: Don't blame me, bots made me crazy

Attack was three times the size of anything company had seen – they couldn't shake it off

Live Nation Entertainment's CFO is expected to testify that the breakdown of its Ticketmaster website at the release of Taylor Swift concert tickets last November was caused by a deluge of bots.

Joe Berchtold is scheduled to testify on Tuesday in a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "That's the Ticket: Promoting Competition and Protecting Consumers in Live Entertainment."

A prepared statement from the CFO said the company knew bots would attack the sale and planned accordingly, but was hit with three times more bot traffic than ever before. Additionally, the bots attacked the company's Verified Fan access code servers.

"While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales. This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret," the statement reads.

The incident caused such chaos that Ticketmaster was forced to cancel its general sale. Swifties were obviously disappointed, as were some politicians including Senator Amy Klobuchar, who chairs a committee on antitrust and consumer rights. She penned a letter to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino demanding [PDF] answers.

"Ticketmaster and Live Nation dominate the live entertainment supply chain with powerful positions in primary ticketing, secondary ticketing, concert promotion, artist management, tour sponsorships, and event venue operation," Klobuchar told Rapino.

"Ticketmaster's power in the primary ticket market insulates it from the competitive pressures that typically push companies to innovate and improve their services. That can result in dramatic service failures, where consumers are the ones that pay the price.

"I have been skeptical of the combination of these companies since you merged in 2011, when the Senate held a hearing into the merger."

According to the prepared statement, Berchtold is expected to offer some navel gazing on how Ticketmaster could do better moving forward, including staggering sales and tapering fan expectations. However, he presents much of the situation as being out of the company's control, calling the defense against bots an "ever escalating arms race."

The CFO's prepared statement calls for both legal reform and the "need to recognize how industrial scalpers breaking the law using bots and cyberattacks to try to unfairly gain tickets contributes to an awful consumer experience."

The statement will claim that "given our level of investment in artists, it is also critical for Live Nation to have the most effective platform possible for selling tickets. Most people tend to think of a ticketing platform as a transaction engine. That is part of it, but the ticketing system is also a critical tool for marketing concerts."

Congress passed the Better Online Ticket Sales Act (BOTS) act in 2016 in an attempt to prevent automated processing of purchasing ticket using bots. Berchtold's statement says the act moves in the "right direction" but is too narrow with not enough enforcement, and pushes for the ability for the company to bring civil cases against resellers who obtain tickets through bots.

The livestreamed hearing will also include testimony from the CEO of Ticketmaster competitor SeatGeek, the CEO of Chicago-based concert promoter JAM Productions, an exec from free-market think tank The James Madison Institute, an exec from the American Antitrust Institute, and singer-songwriter Clyde Lawrence.

Get out the popcorn. ®

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