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Beating the Ticket Bots

WZTV

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) —

Music is what makes Music City--- sing. When's the last time you got to see a major act live in Nashville though at a price you could afford?

Tonight, we take you underground to the dark side of ticket robots, gobbling up your access to shows.

From Chris to Keith to Carrie, there's no telling what you'll pay for a concert ticket these days if you even get one.

Nashville attorney Amanda Gentry wants to see Kings of Leon live. She’s visibly nervous as she waits for tickets to go on sale at 10am sharp saying, “I'm hopeful… 14 seconds.” Gentry is racing against ticket robots or BOTS which make up 80 percent of the traffic when tickets first go on sale.

Our sister station Fox 17 partnered with professional hacker Trevor Hearn to better understand how BOTS work. Hearn explains a BOT is essentially a piece of software anyone can buy. He shows us an actual live BOT and the threads that purchase sections of seats in groups of 20. A blink of an eye takes 300 to 400 milliseconds. A BOT works in a fraction of that time, just 10 to 20 miliseconds-- gobbling up a thousand tickets a minute.

Scalpers even write reviews about the BOTS they like best saying things like, ‘I love this product. I can't get enough.’ They rate this particular BOT with five stars. BOTS can even get around this captcha system. You know, the one that asks if you're a BOT.

Professional scalpers using BOTS create artificial demand making what would be a $50 dollar seat suddenly $500 dollars.

Lawmakers say these scalpers using BOTS resell their tickets on Ticketmaster, StubHub, Vivid Seats draining you for 3 to 5 times the face value and cutting the artist out of that profit.

Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine says artists like him don’t get any of that and it happens to his tickets and his fans all over the world.

Mustaine adds, “It hurts the music industry, but you just rise up and you make great songs. When you're a musician you know we don't go to school for finance and oh, just happen to play guitar on the side.”

The secondary ticket market is an $8 billion dollar industry. It’s frustrating to singer-songwriter Phil Vasser too. He says, “$300 - $400 - $500 for a show…. if Elvis came back I don't know if I'd pay that. Maybe I would, but it's just ridiculous. You've got to mortgage your house.”

The problem's just as bad for big sporting events. The Nashville Predators have even blocked secondary sales for the NHL playoffs. The Senior Vice President of booking for Bridgestone Arena David Kells explains, “As part of our ‘Grow The Gold’ campaign, we have turned off resale for the playoff games to make sure the tickets are being sold to the fans.”

The Broadway show, “Hamilton” is beating BOTS at its own game by canceling tickets purchased en masse. Jeffrey Seller, the producer of “Hamilton” testified on Capitol Hill saying, “We know that BOTS purchased over 70 percent of those tickets.”

Eric Church recently canceled 25 thousands BOT bought tickets too which Songkick’s Stephen Glicken calls a bold move for Church’s fans. Songkick is the world's leading direct to fan ticketing platform. Glicken adds, “There's only so much I can tell you, but we're able to identify a BOT and identify a scalper. We were first to market with this patented technology.”

Songkick says it's saved fans an estimated $50 million dollars working with artists like Adele, Jack Johnson and Metallica by cutting out the secondary market completely.

Back at Gentry's office, we can see ticket prices starting to escalate on some sites she’s monitoring. She shows us one site that has tickets with inflated prices of $551. Gentry asks, “Who ultimately is held accountable? Where are the headquarters of Ticketmaster or Vivid Seats or Ticketcenter or Stub Hub?”

Vivid Seats and Ticketcenter did not respond to Fox 17's request for comment.

Stub Hub did talk. Laura Dooley says it starts with the primary seller like Ticketmaster adding, “It's impossible for StubHub to know how they were actually procured, so we believe it's contingent on the primary market to actually monitor those tickets that are bought with the use of BOTS.”

In a statement, Ticketmaster says in part, "Ticketmaster invests millions of dollars every year in technology and human moderation to identify and aggressively block bots. Last year alone we blocked 5 billion attempts by BOTS...."

It's important to note Live Nation owns Ticketmaster and as members of Congress rightly point out, there’s no financial incentive to fix this. U.S. Senator Clair McCaskill says, “So Live Nation is making money coming and going-- making money on the fees of the first sale and turning around and making fees on the second sale also.”

I asked professional hacker Trevor Hearn if ticket sellers have a moral obligation to stop these BOT bought tickets from being sold on their sites. He answered the question with a question and chuckled saying, “Did you really just ask me about moral obligation for businesses?”

There is progress though. Congress recently passed the new BOTS law for B.etter O.nline T.icketing S.ales. and bill sponsor U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn says big ticket resellers hold the key. She adds, “This is a 'served notice' if you will that you need to be figuring out who is a legitimate reseller and who is somebody who is scooping up and trying to resell.”

However, Attorney Joey Fuson can testify this problem still exists. For the Sturgill Simpson concert, he even had employees on computers in his law office trying to get tickets along with his wife, his dad and he was trying too.

As for the scalpers using BOTS…. Megadeth’s Mustaine has one final thought, “We'll send you a CD in prison.”

Live Nation did not choose to comment instead directing us to Ticket Master. If you're looking for fairly priced tickets, Songkick is a good stop. Join the artist's fan club for pre-sale tickets. Finally, American Express and Citibank card holders often qualify for pre-sale tickets too.

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