SoftBank bets on live music revival by backing UK-based ticketing app

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SoftBank and Tony Fadell, the former Apple and Nest executive, are among those investing $122m in ticketing app Dice, betting that the live music industry will not only recover but ultimately benefit from a “rethink” enforced by the pandemic.

London-based Dice was launched in 2014 by music industry veteran Phil Hutcheon, who had become frustrated by the high fees charged by Ticketmaster, the dominant ticketing site, and resellers.

The app partners with thousands of artists, festivals and venues to offer upfront pricing and a “wait-list” system that prevents reselling, as well as giving personalised recommendations of forthcoming gigs to its audience.

Artists including Lewis Capaldi and Nick Cave used Dice’s paid live-streaming service to perform for fans when physical venues were closed last year.

While Dice, which operates in seven countries, has seen a strong recovery in ticket sales this summer, particularly in the US, it was forced to make lay-offs early in the pandemic as the live entertainment industry shut down.

“The ugly underbelly of the entertainment world was fully exposed with Covid,” said Fadell, who is now joining Dice’s board after first investing several years ago. “Artists couldn’t get paid, fans couldn’t get refunds on their tickets.”

Phil Hutcheon of Dice
Dice was launched by music industry veteran Phil Hutcheon, who had become frustrated by the high fees charged by Ticketmaster, the dominant ticketing site, and resellers

In the UK alone, thousands of concerts and festivals were cancelled last year because of Covid-19. In a normal year, professional musicians typically make about half their income from live performances, according to UK Music, an industry body.

TicketMaster’s “monopoly” has “totally screwed up” the live music industry, Fadell said, which was increasingly important now that touring and merchandise provide the lion’s share of artists’ income.

Dice provides audience data to managers and venues to help them plan their tours. “They [artists] need to be in control, like they are with their songs and performances,” Fadell said.

After finding it challenging in Dice’s earlier years to persuade venues to switch from existing ticketing platforms, Hutcheon said last year’s enforced shutdown opened the door for many in the concert industry to consider a new model.

“A lot of people had time to really reflect and think about what was wrong with the industry and how they could fix it,” he said. “When things are super-busy, the switching costs are very high.”

Alongside SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, investors in Dice’s new financing include French billionaire Xavier Niel and Mirabaud Private Equity. Earlier backers included the founders of London AI company DeepMind.

Dice’s latest round values the company at $400m, according to a person familiar with the deal terms. Hutcheson said the company is profitable in its established markets but continues to invest in expansion.

Fadell, after helping design the iPod and iPhone at Apple and then found smart-home company Nest in Silicon Valley, moved to Paris several years ago. His own fund, Future Shape, has backed more than 200 start-ups ranging from “deep tech” innovations in batteries, synthetic biology and material science to Hodinkee, a wristwatch enthusiast site.

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