2016 was a big year for droids, as two different installments of the Star Wars series finished among the year’s 10 highest-grossing films. But elsewhere in the universe, artists and politicians alike were declaring war on “bots.”

Superstars like Adele, Chance the Rapper and “Hamilton” producer Lin-Manuel Miranda all waged public campaigns against ticket-harvesting software used in the resale market, which they blamed for fans’ inability to acquire tickets. Laws targeting these ticket bots were introduced at the federal level and extended in states like New York.

But in the near future, it’s possible that emerging virtual reality and artificial intelligence technologies could change what it even means to “attend” an event. In the process, they could make the ages-old debate over the morality of “scalping” irrelevant.

With a self-contained virtual reality experience and live 360-degree video, millions of fans could sit in the same virtual “seats” for which scalpers currently charge thousands of dollars. Artists such as Bjork are experimenting with live virtual reality performances. LiveNation announced 10 live VR performances in 2016, while iHeartradio and Universal Media Group integrated virtual reality into several concerts last year.

Virtual reality streaming will give consumers a choice about how and where they experience events. It could make concerts easier to access for international fans or fans with disabilities. Bands could host virtual performances without leaving their hometowns and sports fans could attend away games in their living rooms. The NBA already is leveraging virtual reality to increase ticket revenues and expand choices for fans.

To take part, fans would need a virtual reality headset, a smartphone, a streaming app and generally, a subscription or virtual “ticket.” With those things in hand, they could watch from center stage. The technology makes it possible to customize one’s experience by moving between virtual seats or camera angles, changing the volume or sound quality or inviting friends to experience the same event with you. The social networking service VRTIFY already has rolled out a virtual reality music platform with interactive “mixed reality” functions that allow users to experience concerts from multiple viewpoints.

Virtual reality experiences are not yet a full replacement for in-person experiences. Hardware costs, technical issues and reports of user discomfort remain challenges. Touch and smell are absent in most set-ups, limiting the immersive experience and the sense that you truly are present.

But recent developments suggest that more fans will be experiencing games virtually from the comfort of their couch. Virtual reality headsets and 360-degree cameras are becoming cheaper and integrating with more devices. Last week’s Consumer Electronic Show featured new 3D 360-degree cameras and a live VR-ready 360-degree tour of the showroom.

Even when developers work out all the remaining kinks, it will remain the case that many people will prefer to be there in person for live events. But introducing a substitute that has virtually unlimited supply can’t help but change the market. For example, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that on-demand movie alternatives and the ability to stream movies at home more easily contributed to a more than 3.5 percent decline in movie attendance last year.

For those who do continue to seek out tickets to live events, new technologies are changing that process, as well. For more than a decade, TicketMaster has employed seat auctions, which economists Aditya Bhave and Eric Budish found in a 2014 paper have served to “substantially improve price discovery, roughly double performer revenues, and, on average, nearly eliminate the arbitrage profits associated with underpriced tickets.”

More advanced algorithms use artificial intelligence—a process of computerized learning and decision-making—to better match fans with seats and improve user experience. By analyzing the needs of consumers and the constraints of venues, AI can suggest the best seat for you and help venues adjust their offerings.

Virtual reality and artificial intelligence may not completely drive the scalpers out of business. But by radically expanding the supply of experiences and introducing more efficient ways to match consumers with those experiences, they could serve to make the recurring moral panic about scalpers, bots and high ticket prices generally seem a lot less important.

Image by Halfpoint

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