Entertainment Industry

Category: Live Entertainment

Live Nation: Strong ticket sales boost first-quarter revenue

Creamfields Live Nation

Concert giant Live Nation Entertainment Inc. posted an uptick in first-quarter sales, driven by higher ticket sales along with losses that were slightly less than expected as the company continues to spend heavily on upgrading its online ticketing infrastructure.

The Beverly Hills-based company, which also operates Ticketmaster, said Wednesday that revenue grew 2% in the quarter ended March 31 to $868 million, up from $849.4 million a year earlier. It also posted a net loss of $70.2 million, or 37 cents a share, up from a $54.3-million loss, or 27 cents a share, in 2011. The losses stem in part from the company's multiyear effort to build up its online marketing, ticketing and e-commerce capabilities.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial on average had expected slightly higher revenue at $870.8 million, as well as higher losses of $71.3 million, or 39 cents a share.

Live Nation's Chief Executive Michael Rapino noted that ticket sales were especially strong in the first quarter. 

"Importantly, we also saw a 6% increase in ticket sales this quarter as compared to last year, reflecting strong demand for our live events and giving us great confidence that we are well positioned for the summer concert season," Rapino said in a statement.

The ticketing and live events company also announced it had acquired Cream Holdings, a British organizer of the Creamfields electronic music festivals and DJ club events. The companies did not disclose the purchase price.

Live Nation said Cream Holdings founder and chief executive James Barton will become president of Live Nation Electronic Music, charged with leading the company's expansion into the rapidly growing genre.

Live Nation's shares gained 10 cents to close at $8.31 prior to the earnings release.  

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-- Alex Pham

Photo: A Creamfields music event. Credit: Creamfields.

Live Nation: Still losing money, but not as much

Roger Waters The Wall

After a year of singing the blues in 2010, concert and ticketing giant Live Nation Entertainment Inc. had cause for a modest celebration, posting a 6% uptick in revenue and narrower losses in 2011 despite a tough global economy.

Propelled by strong sales of concerts from Jimmy Buffett, Van Halen, Roger Waters and others, the Beverly Hills company on Thursday said sales for the year that ended Dec. 31 were $5.38 billion, compared with $5.06 billion in 2010.

Meanwhile, its net loss narrowed to $83 million for 2011, from $228.4 million in 2010, as Live Nation de-emphasized its less profitable amphitheater concert venues and focused on its higher-margin arena events. As a result, ticket revenue largely represented by its Ticketmaster unit grew 14.5% last year, while the concert promotion business eked out a 2% gain in sales.

“The bottom line is that they’re still losing money, but not as much as they had before,” said Gary Bongiovanni, publisher of Pollstar, a trade publication that tracks the live event business.

Live Nation also shrugged off the loss of ticket sales from the NBA lockout last quarter, posting a 6% jump in ticketing revenue. That’s mostly because of strong presales of tickets for 2012 concerts, Live Nation Chief Executive Michael Rapino said in a call with Wall Street analysts.

For the fourth quarter that ended Dec. 31, overall revenue fell 4.2% to $1.19 billion, from $1.24 billion a year earlier. The company did not report a net income figure, saying only that operating losses narrowed to $66.7 million, down from $86.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Live Nation ended the year with $844 million in cash.

Looking ahead, Rapino said 2012 is shaping up to be a decent concert year, particularly for music festivals and with major acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews scheduled to hit the road. He predicted that attendance would see a “low single digit” percentage increase, though overall ticket revenue would be flat to slightly higher for the year.

Bongiovanni agreed that music festivals appear to be doing well, with events such as Coachella and Stagecoach sold out months before they are set to happen.

“The key this year is whether tickets will be priced right,” Bongiovanni said. Many of Madonna’s tickets, for example, are selling well above $300 apiece, he said. “She’s not meeting up with much price resistance, but that doesn’t mean others will be so lucky.”

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-- Alex Pham

Photo: The stage from Roger Waters' The Wall tour last year. Credit: Ticketmaster

 

Facebook offering tickets with Ticketmaster, ScoreBig, others

Ticketmaster Facebook

Five major ticket sellers, including Ticketmaster, StubHub, ScoreBig, Eventbrite and TicketFly, launched an online store on Facebook Wednesday night -- all hoping to tap into the social network's 800 million users to boost sales.

The announcement is part of Facebook's ambitious plan, unveiled in September, to become an entertainment hub for its users, an online touchstone for discovering new bands, watching the latest viral videos, finding local concerts, and organizing friends for a night out on the town.

That extension, from online socializing to real-world get-togethers, is what live entertainment companies such as Ticketmaster and ScoreBig want to capitalize on. 

"Today’s launch marks a new frontier for fans of live events," said Adam Kanner, chief executive of ScoreBig, an online name-your-bid ticketing company based in Hollywood. "Our members and their Facebook friends will now have a much more robust experience discovering live events.” 

Ticketmaster also has high hopes for its Facebook storefront. Already, the company is among the world’s largest e-commerce sites, selling billions of dollars worth of tickets through its online platform each year. But the Beverly Hills ticketing giant thinks it can do even better by leveraging social media to get people to go out more.

Its Facebook application, for example, looks at each user's list of favorite bands or genre of music, as well as their approximate location, to recommend upcoming concerts in their area.

"We can use that data to make targeted recommendations about what people want to go see," said Kip Levin, Ticketmaster's executive vice president of e-commerce. Levin and other ticketing industry executives estimate that about half of concert seats go empty simply because fans weren't aware the bands were in town.

"It’s really about focusing on the online fan experience and making it easier for them to learn when their favorite band is coming to town, organize with their friends and paying for it," Levin said.

Media analysts say the move to social networks is a no-brainer for companies such as Ticketmaster.

"In any business, when you can take your business directly to where 800 million people are already congregating, it’s a good move," said James McQuivey, a senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

The shift to social media carries a risk for Ticketmaster, whose brand is among the most reviled among consumers. Its young, charismatic chief executive, Nathan Hubbard, said at a San Francisco conference in November: "People want to eat my kids, they're so angry." 

But Hubbard is forging ahead, putting the company out on Twitter and Facebook in hopes of repairing its reputation and winning over customers. 

"People say they hate a lot of things -- advertising, arrogant newspaper reporters and Ticketmaster," McQuivey said. "But the fact is, they still need and value those things. Ticketmaster doesn’t need to win your hearts. They just need to win your mouse clicks." 

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-- Alex Pham

Live Nation says concerts business is stabilized

Roger Waters 2011 Tour

The live music business, which last year faced a crisis of audience apathy that resulted in empty seats and canceled engagements, has stabilized this year and is expected to remain healthy into 2012, said Michael Rapino, chief executive of Live Nation Entertainment Inc., the nation's largest concert promoter and ticketing company.

“Live events are a strong … consumer proposition, despite the tough economic times,” Rapino told analysts during a discussion of the company’s third-quarter results Thursday.

The renewed vitality of the concerts business is good news for Beverly Hills-based Live Nation, which derives most of its revenue from promoting live events and selling tickets.

Last year, the company posted a $228.4-million loss as the tight economy discouraged people from venturing out to costly shows. Compounding that was a surfeit of high-priced amphitheater concerts, like those featuring Rihanna and the Eagles, which audiences shunned in favor of newer and smaller arenas with more amenities.

This year, Live Nation and other promoters have scaled back the number of shows, lowered prices for concerts in amphitheaters and trimmed ticketing fees.

The strategy appears to have paid off so far. Although revenue was down 2.5% to $1.79 billion in the quarter ended Sept. 30, net income improved 1.4% to $51.7 million. More significantly, net income for the first nine months of the year rose to a $16.5-million profit, reversing a $104-million loss for the same period last year.

Live Nation's adjusted operating income, which excludes acquisition and other expenses, was $203.6 million for the quarter, narrowly beating analysts’ expectations of $202 million.

“They clearly selected more profitable concerts this year,” said David Joyce, an analyst with Miller Tabak & Co. in New York. “This demonstrates that, in good times or bad, people still go to at least one concert a year.”

For the fourth quarter, Live Nation said the NBA lockout could affect the estimated 700,000 pro basketball tickets it sells through its Ticketmaster business. A $10-million drop in revenue could result if the impasse between players and team owners ends in the cancellation of all games for the year.

Looking ahead, Rapino said in a statement, “we believe the stabilization of consumer demand for live events will continue into 2012.”

Still, the entertainment giant is looking to grow its business by finding ways to reach "casual" fans. This year it set up an online discount service with Groupon to sell surplus tickets. It has also started to roll out ticketing kiosks at Wal-Mart stores. Collectively, the initiatives have sold a combined 1.5 million tickets through Sept. 30, Rapino said.

Live Nation shares rose 20 cents, or 2.1%, to $9.57 on Thursday.

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-- Alex Pham

Photo: Roger Waters in concert this year during "The Wall" tour. Credit: Live Nation

House of Blues goes back to its roots

House of Blues logo
Legend has it that beneath every House of Blues stage is a metal box filled with Mississippi River Delta mud. The idea is to convey the spirit of the deep South to every musician playing on the stages above.

In similar vein, the entire franchise is reaching back to its roots in an effort to revive the buzz and cachet it enjoyed following its 1992 launch. Partly inspired by "The Blues Brothers" movie and John Lee Hooker's album, "House of the Blues," the first House of Blues clubs were modern-day juke joints with a reputation for having top-notch players.

"People didn't see them as bars with music," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a publication that tracks the live entertainment business. "They saw them as clubs where you could see serious music and have some food on the side."

After its purchase in 2006 by Live Nation Entertainment, the franchise drifted on autopilot. Then in December, Live Nation tapped the former chairman of Universal Studios' theme-park business, Ron Bension, to liven up the clubs.

Starting this month, Bension is rolling out a new menu, designed by Food Network celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, and pumping more events through the 13-chain clubs to keep the crowds, and the beer, flowing.

Will his plan work?

It's still early, but the effort is being helped by a healthier concert business thus far. Attendance is up 10% compared with last year, and Bension is expecting 5 million people will come to the company's 13 House of Blues and 23 other theaters and night clubs by year's end.

"It's definitely turning out to be a better year," Bongiovanni said.

-- Alex Pham

Twitter/ @AlexPham

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Live Nation swings to a profit as concert attendance grows

U2

Bolstered by reviving concert attendance, Live Nation Entertainment Inc. posted a 23% jump in revenue and reversed a year-earlier loss.

The world's largest concert promoter, which merged a year ago with Ticketmaster, benefited from rising attendance at its events such as the U2 tour, as well as higher spending by concertgoers on concessions, parking and other high-margin products.

The report appears to bode well for the overall concert business, which slumped last year as consumers, spooked by the wobbly economy, pared down discretionary spending.

Live Nation, along with many others in the concert industry, revamped its approach this year by lowering the prices for less expensive seats on the lawn and in the back of the venues, while raising prices for more desirable seats closest to the stages.

To attract more value-minded consumers, Live Nation teamed up with Wal-Mart to add ticket kiosks in stores. And it partnered with online discount company Groupon to create Groupon Live, which has sold 422,000 discounted tickets so far this summer for Live Nation. Live Nation also pumped up its music festival business, adding eight new festivals this year for a total of 40.

The gambits worked. Attendance rose to more than 13 million in the three months ended June 30, up 6% from a year earlier. For the first six months of the year, attendance climbed to just over 20 million, up 4%.

The Beverly Hills company said sales rose to $1.56 billion for its second quarter ended June 30, up from $1.27 billion a year earlier. It posted a profit of $13.3 million, or 7 cents a share, for the quarter, compared with a loss of $32.8 million, or 19 cents a share, a year earlier.

"Despite tough economic conditions, if we price concerts rights, fans will come," said Live Nation Chief Executive Michael Rapino said in a conference call with analysts.

The company's shares lost 60 cents, or 6.4%, to close at $8.78 prior to the earnings release.

-- Alex Pham
Twitter/ @AlexPham

Photo: Bono of the rock group U2 performs at a July concert in Montreal promoted by Live Nation. Credit: Paul Chiasson / Associated Press

Live Nation says concert business looking good but not yet out of the woods

GAGA

The concert season is off to a good start, but don't set your cigarette lighter too high just yet.

That was the message from Live Nation Entertainment Inc., the country's largest concert promoter, which reported a 17.4% increase in its first quarter revenue and a narrower loss thanks to growth in its ticketing and festivals businesses.

The Beverly Hills live event conglomerate posted sales of $849.4 million in the quarter ended March 31, up from $723.4 million a year ago. The company lost $54.3 million, or 27 cents a share, down from a $123-million loss, or 83 cents a share, a year earlier. That loss included $77.5 million in write-offs related to Live Nation's 2010 merger with Ticketmaster and other factors.

The improvements were driven by Live Nation's concerts business, which accounted for more than half of the company's revenue. Thanks to strong ticket sales by Lady Gaga, U2, Prince and others, its concerts division saw a 10.1% uptick in revenue to $449.3 million, from $408.1 million a year ago. Its ticketing business, which includes Ticketmaster, TicketWeb and TicketsNow, grew 41.7% to $296.3 million, from $209.1 million last year.

But Live Nation Chief Executive Michael Rapino cautioned against projecting those gains into the rest of the concert season, which peaks during the second half of the summer.

"Even though the numbers look good for the first quarter, we think it will normalize ... and maybe even eat into our early leads," Rapino told analysts in a conference call. "This year, the good stuff went out early. Now, we're in the thick of the season, and we're starting to see some softness" among lesser-known second- and third-tier performers.

Part of the uncertainty stems from an economy that continues to stagnate. Irving Azoff, Live Nation's executive chairman, also pointed to soaring gas prices, which eats into the bottom line of tour acts as well as the discretionary income of potential concert goers.

"We can better predict what's going on if we knew what gas prices are going to be," Azoff told an analyst who asked about the company's projections for the next few quarters.

One factor that has contributed, albeit in a minuscule fashion, to Live Nation's profits is Charlie Sheen, whose personal drama temporarily fueled ticket sales for the actor's live stage show, "Violent Torpedo of Truth," which is produced by Live Nation.

Asked by an analyst whether Sheen's tour helped the company's bottom line, Rapino answered, "We absolutely did. It's rock 'n roll, and we're not the moral cops, but we did deliver to the bottom line for the company."

-- Alex Pham

Photo: Lady Gaga cuts loose. Credit: Rick Diamond/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

Ticketmaster moving to flexible ticket pricing

Ticketmaster In the music business there is a old adage that says there is no such thing as a bad concert, just bad prices.

So it was with this in mind that Live Nation Entertainment Inc.'s Ticketmaster on Monday announced it would adjust ticket prices based on consumer demand. The world's largest purveyor of live event tickets said it has partnered with MarketShare to help price its shows.

Ticketmaster will begin rolling out the "dynamic pricing" sometime this year, initially for major sporting events and concerts, and for arts and theater at a later date.

That means a concert that's not selling well may get a price cut. If tickets start moving fast, the price could theoretically go back up. Scalpers often take advantage in situations when demand for tickets exceeds the supply, creating a surplus of buyers willing to pay more than face value. Discounters such as Goldstar work the opposite end, when there is a surplus of unsold tickets.

In many retail sectors, such flexible pricing techniques are common. Clothes, shoes, airline tickets and hotel rooms are among the many commodities that adjust prices according to market demand.

Concerts and many professional sports games, however, are rarely if ever discounted. That's because discounting can cast a pall over an event by creating the impression that the promoter is desperate.

Such concerns seem to be outweighed by the effect of last year's disastrous concert season, when promoters were left with too many unsold seats and faced large losses.

Live Nation Entertainment, the Beverly Hills parent of Ticketmaster, last year saw a 7.6% drop in the number of tickets it sold from the year before. Much of the decline came from theater and concert events. Ticket revenue fell 12.5% in 2010 to $1.04 billion, down from $1.19 billion in 2009.

"Efficient pricing is one of the most important and untapped opportunities," Ticketmaster Chief Executive Nathan Hubbard said in a statement. "By utilizing MarketShare and Ticketmaster’s technology, our clients will be able to retain economic value that is normally siphoned off by the secondary market, and to sell more of their tickets that go unsold today. Meanwhile, more fans will have more opportunities to enjoy live entertainment events because tickets will be more accessible and pricing options will broaden."

Ticketmaster is not the first company to explore dynamic ticket pricing. ScoreBig, a Hollywood startup founded by former sports and concert industry veterans, has been testing a proprietary ticketing system that automatically adjusts prices according to how fast they're selling or how well similar shows have fared, among a host of factors. The service, which has been available to a small, invite-only audience, is set to launch to the general public later this year.

"This year, you're going to see a lot more concerts priced correctly," said Jim Guerinot, manager of No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails and other major bands. Translation: expect lower prices this year.

-- Alex Pham

Photo Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press.

L.A. impresario Tim Leiweke: Live concert business is a "broken model"

Tim Leiweke
Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG, which owns the L.A. Kings hockey team. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times.

It's hard to think of Tim Leiweke as an underdog.

He’s orchestrated concerts for the likes of Bon Jovi, Black Eyed Peas and Celine Dion. His company, Anschutz Entertainment Group, owns some of the world's biggest venues, including Staples Center, Target Center and The O2, a 20,000 seat arena in London, just to name a few. Leiweke also pulled the strings to develop the new $2.5 billion L.A. Live entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles.

But when it comes to selling concert tickets, Leiweke stands in the shadows of Ticketmaster, whose $889 million deal to acquire Live Nation received the Justice Department's blessing last week. The merger of the nation's largest ticket seller with the No. 1 concert promoter would create a behemoth that would outsize all of its competitors combined, AEG included.

We recently spoke to Leiweke, whose company also owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, about his thoughts on the merger, why concert tickets are so expensive and the L.A. economy, among other topics. An edited transcript is below:

Do you really believe you can go up against a juggernaut like Ticketmaster/Live Nation?

Ticketmaster owns 85% of the music ticketing business. So, there are existing contracts we will all have to deal with. And Live Nation is twice as large as AEG Live, plus some. When an artist is making a decision of who they want to tour with, size matters. Their influence and leverage are pretty massive. We always worry that decisions will be based on fear. For artists who decide to go with us — Bon Jovi, Black Eyes Peas and Celine Dion — we’ve done a pretty good job. Ten years ago, we were zero percent of the market. Now we have $1 billion in revenue on the live concert side. It will be hard now to dismiss us as irrelevant.

Why are concert ticket prices so high?

The only way for ticket prices to go down is if artists charge less. Building owners and promoters don’t control pricing. That’s controlled by the artists and their managers. Those are the groups that have to make the conscientious decision to give the consumer a break on tickets and pricing.

That said, it’s not all their fault. It’s also the fault of the promoters who bid up the price. We’re our own worst enemies. Agents aren’t going to stop us, because they want to get as much money as they can for the artist. At some point, we need to deal with the mentality of winning the bid at all costs, because, in the end, the consumer ends up paying the price.

Just how abysmal is the outlook for the Los Angeles economy?

The L.A. economy overall is going to struggle. There may be some turnaround being experienced on Wall Street. But we haven’t seen it on Main Street. There are new challenges we face, in particular the amount of national debt and the deficits in our municipalities. That means we have to be wary of inflation, job creation and discretionary spending. We don’t see a magic wand or a quick fix. Until banks start pushing money back into the economy, we’re going to struggle.

Hopefully L.A. Live is doing better than the L.A. city budget.

We are very fortunate. We are close to hitting our numbers on retail. Foot traffic is on track to hit 20 million this year. Advertising revenue is above projection. The events we have created are above projections. Even our suites and premier seats are above projection. We’re doing well considering the recession.

But we have a small, little tower behind us [Leiweke gestures to the adjacent 54-story hotel]. If you were to choose to open a hotel, it would not be right now. We’re on time, and close to on-budget. But it may take us a year longer than we thought to get to the point where this hotel will be a good investment.

That said, this year, we’ll host close to 400,000 guests. We went from having eight major citywide conventions in L.A. last year to 20 this year. That’s going to benefit cabs, limos, restaurants, buses. People call it the trickle-down effect, but I like to say it has a pump up effect.

How are those 224 luxury condos selling? Will you lower prices to move them faster?

We’re not going backwards on pricing. We have the luxury of being patient. It’s a Ritz Carlton brand. These are the only Ritz condos on the market in L.A. More than half our condos are sold. Our buyers are unique. They’re music fans. They’re sports fans. They want the 24-hour room service that comes with the Ritz branding.

We just sold a $10 million penthouse last week. That said, had it not for the recession, we would be in a much better position. It will take until the end of next year to get everything sold. This is not a question of whether they will be sold, but when. But our values have held, and we won’t go backwards. We’re not in a rush.

What inspired the tower’s design?

No, your eyes aren’t fooling you. The building really is curved. [Leiweke chuckles.] Clearly, it is an iconic design that makes it stand out. That was important for this project. We wanted it to be Times Square West.  L.A. is about entertainment, image and entrepreneurial spirit. This hotel reflects that. It’s a very sleek, modern look and yet clean.

So the Kings finally going to win the Stanley Cup?

Now we’re talking about something I love. We have 18,000 employees. The No. 1 music venue in The O2 in London. The new arena in Shanghai. This company has grown and accomplished great things. But we will only be great if the thing that helped us get there is also great. People know us by the Kings, and they judge us based on the Kings’ performance.

Five years ago, we made a decision to build from within. It was a painful five years. People hated me. But the result is that we now have a solid nucleus with Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Not only are we going to have a kick at the cup this year, but we’ll have it for the next five years as well. This is the most fun I’ve had in years.

-- Alex Pham

It's probably not a good time for Comcast to get tangled up in Ticketmaster-Live Entertainment merger

Lets see. Comcast is on the verge of announcing a deal to take control of NBC Universal. Said deal will draw lots of attention from Washington. Even though, on the surface, the deal appears to face few regulatory obstacles, now is the time to maybe think about a low profile in our nation's capital.

TICKETMASTER But either in a case of bad timing or bad judgment, Comcast has become somewhat entangled in the Justice Department's intense review of the merger between Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. and Live Nation Inc., according to Bloomberg, which reported the story this morning. The Bloomberg story specifically says Comcast is "working with Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. and Live Nation Inc. to help the two companies salvage their music industry merger now under U.S. antitrust scrutiny."

The Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger, which would pair the globe's biggest ticketing company with the largest concert promoter and arena owner, has raised red flags both here and abroad. Last month, British regulators said they were opposed to the merger. Here, many lawmakers and consumer groups have warned that the combination would create a powerful monopoly that could hurt both artists and consumers.

ROBERTS Comcast has a lot of interest in the outcome, for obvious reasons. The company is the owner of a couple of sports teams (Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers) and arenas as well as its own ticketing unit -- New Era Tickets. Comcast also owns Ovations Food Services, which has deals with arenas and stadiums all over the country to supply food and beverages. Bloomberg says Comcast could get client contracts and software as part of the concessions that Ticketmaster and Live Entertainment would have to make to get through the Justice Department.

Comcast already testified in support of the merger on Capitol Hill earlier this year. If, as Bloomberg reported, Comcast is now trying to help push the deal through the Justice Dept., this does not seem like the ideal time for such a move, particularly when the deal is facing such dramatic opposition. Somehow, we're guessing that regulators won't be pleased to hear that a huge conglomerate, which is looking to get huger, doesn't not have an issue with another huge merger -- from which it might stand to benefit

The Obama administration has talked about being tougher on mergers than the Bush administration was, and although there is little on paper to stop a Comcast-NBC Universal deal, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to make the spotlight on your company even bigger.

Now if the Justice Department asked Comcast for information to help them decide how to proceed on the Ticketmaster-Live Entertainment merger, that's a different story.

We called Comcast spokesman Ike Richman to try to figure this out, but he wasn't interested in even hearing our questions before offering his no comment. We explained that we'd like to actually ask questions before getting his no comment and then he begrudgingly agreed to listen to one question before again declining comment. For their sake, let's hope he's not put in charge of the schmooze regulators effort at Comcast after the NBC deal goes down.

-- Joe Flint

Photos: At top, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino (left) and Ticketmaster Entertainment CEO Irving Azoff testify about their merger on Capitol Hill in February. Credit: Kevin Wolf / Associated Press. At bottom, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. Credit: George Widman / Associated Press
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