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Senate panel hearing will look into Ticketmaster's dominance in live entertainment

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A hearing on Capitol Hill today will look at whether entertainment giant Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster, has a monopoly on the ticketing industry. It comes after botched ticket sales for Taylor Swift's tour left millions of her fans with no tickets, and it highlighted the lack of alternatives. Leading the effort to regulate the concert ticket industry is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights. Senator, welcome.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, Leila. Great to be on.

FADEL: So let's start - if you could just lay out why you think Live Nation has too much power.

KLOBUCHAR: First, they have 70% of the major ticketing, major concerts. That's a monopoly. Secondly, they also control the promotion of these events. And third, they own a whole bunch of big venues in competition with the small, independent venues. And even with the independent venues they don't own, they often get into three-, five-, seven-year contracts so that no competitors can be involved. So that is a trio of problems that leads to two things. One is what you've seen. It's not just Taylor Swift. It's Bad Bunny, BTS, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Styles. All of these artists have had issues with ticketing because there's no incentive when you're a monopoly. Secondly, fees, hidden fees - one recent government study found 27% of the ticket price was fees that you can't even figure out what they are from this company.

FADEL: Now, this is a problem, though, that goes back almost 30 years, even before the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster. Members of the band Pearl Jam testified before Congress in 1994 about similar issues. So what's different this time? What can you and your colleagues at the Senate actually do?

KLOBUCHAR: You are correct, Leila. Pearl Jam, Pixies, many bands have tried to take this on. What's different right now is that this isn't a singular problem. We've seen consolidation in 75% of the industries in this country, and people are catching on. Taylor Swift fans sure caught on.

FADEL: Yeah.

KLOBUCHAR: So I will get whatever allies I have to take on this case. What is in front of us now are solutions and a newly involved Congress - done some stuff but not enough. One, we just passed more merger fees for - to help the antitrust enforcers, whether it's for tech lawsuits or cases with the ticket industry. And they're reportedly looking at this, the Justice Department. Secondly, these hearings, they give the public a chance to see what's going on, and they create under oath evidence for the investigation that is presumably occurring. And third, and just as importantly, my colleagues get educated. And then from there, we can do bills specific on ticketing. There are Republicans interested in this right now on fees, on the fact that they try to lock in on these multiyear contracts. All of those things are ripe for legislation.

FADEL: Now, you've outlined your concerns in a letter to the CEO of Live Nation. How has Live Nation responded? How has the CEO responded?

KLOBUCHAR: Live Nation did write us back with some of the answers. And then I also spoke with the witness, the president of Live Nation, last week in preparation for this hearing. I believe there are so many questions that I'm going to have and other members are going to have that's really about these fees. It's about how you can have these breakdowns. They said there was a cyberattack, but not all these artists involve cyberattacks, and these fees don't involve cyberattacks. So I think there are going to be many arguments that are going to be made and good questions asked about why do you have to have a seven-year contract and why these venues are afraid to not use Ticketmaster Live Nation? Why? Because if they don't use them, then they're afraid they're not going to get the top acts that they promote. That's the truth. And we have a competitor, a smaller one, albeit much smaller, that is going to testify about what's really going on.

FADEL: Now - but a company doesn't just cede power when it has it. I mean, what can actually...

KLOBUCHAR: Really?

FADEL: ...Be done (laughter) so that there is competition in this industry.

KLOBUCHAR: Right. Well, that's why you have the Justice Department because they - in the past, when you look at what's happened, when they've taken on these big cases - and there's been a paucity of it in recent decades, but now we're seeing a change because the Biden administration has made this a huge priority. When they take these on, they have all kinds of tools. They can do everything from beefing up a consent decree that this company now operates under to implementing it and make sure that there's severe penalties to breaking up a company. Look what happened with AT&T. We saw lower long-distance rates, and we saw the cellphone industry take off after that company was divided, to the point where a former chair said it was actually better for the company because they finally competed. Competition is good. Our markets and our economy are based on competition. If you don't have competition, you have things happen like what happened with the Taylor Swift concert because there is nowhere else to turn.

FADEL: Really quickly, in the few seconds we have left, how important were Taylor Swift fans in getting to this day? You mentioned you'll take any allies you can get.

KLOBUCHAR: They were very aggressive. But I will say we have been hearing this and pushing on this for years. We had a hearing just a few years ago. Senator Blumenthal and I have been involved in this issue. And Senator Lee, conservative Republican, is also very interested. So this has been going on for a while. But let's just say that I take now, as I said, any of them. And when they put their concerns to music on videos, on social media, it does help.

FADEL: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.