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Obama antitrust policy put to test

From NBC's Pete Williams
In an early test of the Obama administration's antitrust policy, the Justice Department today approved a merger between the Ticketmaster, the world's largest ticket-selling network, and Live Nation, the biggest concert promoter, but extracted what the government believes are major concessions.

Ticketmaster's proposed merger with Live Nation produced howls of protest when it was first announced a year ago. Bruce Springsteen said it would produce "a near monopoly situation."

But under the deal as approved today, Ticketmaster must:

  • Sell off Paciolan, a ticket company it owns, which is used by some of the nation's largest sporting-event venues. The likely buyer will be Comcast-Spectacor (which is a joint venture between Comcast and a private investor).
  • License its ticket-selling software to other companies willing to buy the program. That will include AEG, the nation's second-largest concert promoter.
  • Agree not to take any retaliatory action against a concert venue that decides to do business with a different ticket agent.

Ticketmaster will remain the world's No. 1 ticket seller. But the Justice Department predicts that because of enhanced competition, tickets for major events will be cheaper.

"When you see robust competition, you see prices coming down," said Christine Varney, the assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division.

As a practical matter, the increased competition will come between venues and ticket dealers. The government believes that with more ticket sellers to choose from, venue operators can get better deals, including lower ticket prices.