Hey, I hope y'all are doing well this week. I’ll be frank I’m not, but that’s fine, lol. YouTube Music launched yesterday and so probably expect me to write about that in the next couple weeks once I get a bit more time to mess with it. Otherwise this week is all about Tidal. I do a lot of quoting this week, so please forgive the lack of my usual charm. Also hi new subscribers if you wanna reach out my email is email@example.com. Open to all comments, questions, or blind gossip items.
Jay-Z Isn't a Math Guy
I’ll dive into Tidal’s more recent controversies in a minute, but I’d like to go back to the origin of the company for a second. Project Panther Bidco, a subsidiary of Jay-Z's S. Carter Enterprises, bought Aspiro in March of 2015, which is the Norwegian company that owned WiMP and launched the Tidal music streaming service in October 2014. When Aspiro was bought there was a decent amount of coverage around just how large the company was at the time of purchase. The New York Times reported: “However, those services represent a small portion of the market. According to an announcement from Aspiro in October, WiMP had 512,000 paying users, 20,000 of whom subscribe to its high-definition version.” I'm gonna dive deep in Tidal subscriber numbers and while it may be a bit confusing that feels like a norm for those inside and outside the company.
[Quick editorial note: This week all bolding is emphasis I added.]
According to their Q3 2014 earnings released in October, Aspiro held 512,000 subscribers right before they launched Tidal. The last breakdown that was released before Aspiro was bought by Project Panther Bidco put the total number of subscribers on Jan 31, 2015 at 503,000 subscribers with Tidal accounting for only 17,000 subscribers for the three month old service.
On April 26th Jay-Z took to Twitter to announce that Tidal sat at 770,000 subscribers. Wait, wait, wait. The service gained 760,000 subscribers in 3 months? Or was Jay-Z conflating the subscriber numbers that weren’t either Tidal or WiMP, but rather ones attached Aspiro teleco deals. Specifically I’m talking about what was described in this Dagens Næringsliv piece as:
A large amount of Wimp’s subscribers ahead of the sale to Jay Z, received their subscription as a bonus after other purchases at Norwegian companies like the cable tv provider Canal Digital or the telecom company Telenor, as well as the Polish telecom company Play, says Aspiro’s annual report in 2014.
So was Jay-Z also counting teleco partnered subscriptions? Perhaps? On September 29 Jay-Z tweeted that Tidal achieved 1,000,000 subscribers and announced the Tidal X concert in celebration of the milestone. Now before we celebrate milestone let's look a bit closer at that number.
In 2017 Dagens Næringsliv reported that Tidal in September 2015 only had 350,000 subscribers. That’d be roughly a little under a third of what Jay-Z tweeted. We know according to Aspiro's pre-being bought by Tidal that the number of subscribers in January 2015 was 17,000, 350,000 subscribers doesn’t quite sound too far off if one is strictly looking at Tidal subscribers not total subscribers of the Tidal company.
I’ll admit this where things really start to go off the rails. On March 29th, Tidal announced that after Anti and The Life of Pablo were release the total number of subscribers jumped to 3,000,000. The only issue is that the same Dagens Næringsliv reporting that disputed the September 2015 numbers, placed Tidal’s subscriber based in March 2016 at 850,000. Now this reporting might not be correct, but I’ll say that a streaming service going from 17,000 subscribers to 850,000 in 14 months certainly makes a bit more sense than suddenly leaping to 3,000,000.
The other fun wrinkle is that Jay-Z filled a suit against Aspiro, the company he bought the year before, for allegedly fudging their subscriber numbers. Tidal said to USA Today: “It became clear after taking control of TIDAL and conducting our own audit that the total number of subscribers was actually well below the 540,000 reported to us by the prior owners.”
Speaking of lawsuits, Kanye West actually provided some interesting Tidal stats, when last year TMZ reported that he was suing because he alleged that he rose the subscriptions from 1 million to 2.5 million. If the actual number of subscribers was 850,000 in March of 2016 then where exactly are these “sources connected to Tidal” getting these numbers? I’m rhetorically asking this question, but also somewhat existentially.
A Few Recent May Headlines
All are perfectly normal headlines for a successful music streaming company. A brief rundown is that Dagens Næringsliv diligent reporting the last couple weeks revealed Tidal allegedly faked streams for Kanye West and Beyoncé's albums in 2016; Tidal allegedly isn't paying record labels on time; and they are facing investigations by European music rights holders. Unrelated to all of this is that the Swedish lawyers who helped Jay-Z and his team buy Aspiro are seeking unpaid wages for their work. Tidal also asked a third-party cyber security firm to look into whether Tidal experienced a data breach. Perfectly normal headlines.
Numbers...Are Really Hard
I’m not going to look at Beyoncé and Kanye, because I think there is a slightly under-reported part of this story with Rihanna’s streaming numbers. The reason I say this is because Rihanna in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology report is used as an example of high profile artist releasing an album exclusively on Tidal, but not experiencing manipulation of the data. The only issue is that the numbers they report again don’t align with Tidal’s own reporting around the release of Anti.
Rihanna’s released Anti on January 27th through a largely forgotten deal with Samsung where a million albums were given away, then it was available on Tidal for download and streaming. When the album was release Spin reported that the album was streamed 13 million times within the first 14 hours. However the New York Times that weekend reported that Tidal said "the album was streamed 5.6 million times on its service."
Both of those number contradict each other, but neither align with the report that said according the Norwegian University of Science and Technology report: “The top thirteen tracks played on 2016-01-28 was all from Rihanna’s album [Anti], with a total of 4413802 playbacks on this day alone.” That would place her initial day streams at 4.4 million not 13 million in 14 hours. Whether Tidal meant 13 million individual song streams or 13 million streams of the entire album, which would be well over 100 million streams is kind of hard to tell. Throwing in the Times reported 5.6 million just sort makes my head spin.
Now that wasn’t the only numbers that Tidal bragged about for Rihanna’s album. The service also claimed over 400,000 albums were sold on the platform not obviously counting the million album giveaway by Samsung. Now the only issue is that according this report here were the total users numbers around the date of January 27th.
1/24/2016 - 171511
1/25/2016 - 174896
1/26/2016 - 180917
1/27/2016 - 202757
1/28/2016 - 356158
1/29/2016 - 344910
1/30/2016 - 324098
1/31/2016 - 296886
By the end of the week according to the New York Times reported that Tidal claimed the album was downloaded 484,833 times within the first few days. The jump of Tidal users from Jan 27 to Jan 28 was a little over 150,000. Certainly an impressive boost, but at no point in Anti opening week on Tidal did the service ever surpass over 400,000 unique users on a single day. If it never hit that milestone then potentially how could it sell 400,000 albums within only a 14 hour window? Yeah, I don’t really know either.
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Somehow not even the best streaming music news story of May continues to deliver fun headlines and plenty of forehead scrunching.
I gotta say I really hope that Carter gets an office upgrade the next time Spotify rearranges cause he certainly probably cause a few stressful meetings by letting rumors of him potentially leave swirl in the air. Carter squashed those rumors here, but as I highlighted last week that stuff is leaking out does show a slight culture shift at Spotify, a company where there often often the kinds of leaks that we saw in light of this hateful speech policy.
Here are my fairly brief pre-launch thoughts on YouTube Music. An easy test for YouTube Music will be how many months it takes for them to release subscriber numbers and if they’ve release any numbers within the next 15 months. If yes, then maybe it’ll survive. If no, then expect a new music platform by 2020.
So many words to say so so little. Gotta love being an executive, no offense to any hard working executives that read this!
This essentially says a lot of what I said last year when I was the New York Times popcast, but now that the changes are official people are now realizing just much, or how little, this will affect the charts going forward.
This is a nice little history of paid music streaming just in case one forgets that major labels tried all this over 15 years ago to much, much less success.