Music’s Role In Digital Content Is Small And Shrinking

This week I delivered a keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on the future of media. I focused on three key areas of digital content:

  • Digital Music
  • Online Video
  • Mobile Apps

Pulling together these three different strands really shone a light on where music sits in the broader digital economy.  One of the key themes I explored was how the streaming music business relies on pretty much the same model as mobile games like Clash Of Clans, i.e. relying on a tiny share of the total audience to pay. The big difference is that the annual ARPU of a King customer is $290.41 while for Universal Music the annual ARPU of a streaming music subscriber is $29.77.  Universal Music rightly got a lot of attention recently for becoming the first billion Dollar streaming music company. Universal has managed to make streaming revenue scale. However streaming remains a revenue stream that is plagued by free. Only 10% of the total streaming audience (i.e. including YouTube and Soundcloud) is paid, and though this small group generates 71% of Universal’s streaming revenue, the blended ARPU is just $4.15. That’s $4.15 for the entire year of 2015, not per month. You can see my full analysis of how free-to-paid conversion ratios and ARPU compare across big media companies here.

media company arpu

But perhaps most revealing is the relative scale of music compared to everything else. As the graphic below reveals, digital music (at retail values) will be just 10% of digital content revenue by 2020, down from 16% in 2015. So digital music is both small and losing market share. Online video, which is at an earlier stage of its development, is already bigger (at retail value) than the entire recorded music business (at trade value), while mobile app revenue is double that of online video.

forecasts midia

Yet music continually punches above its weight. Its impact on culture and emotions far outweighs that of apps (for now at least) and music artists still have far more dedicated fan bases than actors generally do (again, for now at least). Music’s impact is far beyond its revenue, even in business terms. Just look at all the brands, telcos and device companies that fall over themselves to be associated with music.

Nonetheless, the reality that must be accepted is that sooner or later, recorded music’s diminished revenue footprint is going to catch up with it. Major record labels enjoy a privileged position, because rights are so concentrated in music they each have an effective monopoly power because each of them have the power of veto if they say no. (You try launching a mainstream music service without one of the majors). This can sometimes lead to hubris and over confidence. In video and apps, rights are far more fragmented and consequently no single rights owner has market shaping power. (As an aside it is worth asking whether rights concentration is contributing to digital music losing pace with the digital content economy.) The clear risk is that music rights holders eventually overplay their hand, demanding too much from partners with too little flexibility. I have been hearing for some time from a number of ‘partner’ companies that they are beginning to question whether music is worth the hassle. Meanwhile SVOD services and YouTubers are waiting eagerly in the wings…

Another part of the equation is that recorded music revenue only paints a small part of the global music industry picture (i.e. also including publishing, live and merch). In fact, recorded music has declined from being 60% of all music industry revenue in 2000 to around 30% today.  Most artist managers now view recorded music primarily as a marketing platform to drive live revenue. Unfortunately record labels aren’t in a position to think that way.

Whatever perspective you view this from though, one thing is clear, music’s role in the global digital content marketplace is small and shrinking.

5 thoughts on “Music’s Role In Digital Content Is Small And Shrinking

  1. ‘Most artist managers now view recorded music primarily as a marketing platform to drive live revenue’

    Don’t forget that managers usually take a cut of GROSS tour revenues (maybe after a few specified deductions), so they have a vested interest in pushing artists into touring. It is quite possible for a manager to get a handsome profit from a tour while the artist is barely breaking even, if that. David Lowery has been pretty scathing about this: https://thetrichordist.com/2014/07/17/why-some-mangers-and-agents-love-streaming-and-piracy/

  2. The digital audience is massively expanding, so there’s no particular reason why renvenues shouldn’t grow for all digital areas (music, video, gaming). Actually I though this article was old, cos’ this concern is what we talked a lot about 8 years ago in the industry, but something we quickly dismissed.

    Also its a little like comparing oranges and apples, as a digital app-company like King lives a much more “dangerous” life compared to Universal. Universal is a steady business because of the huge catalogue. King lives by (often inflated) stock prices and might not be in business in 5 years time. Its hard to see that Universal wont be especially when seeing huge areas in Asia, Africa and Southamerica yet to be properly monitized.

  3. Pingback: Music’s Role In Digital Content Is Small And Getting Smaller [Mark Mulligan] - South Carolina Music Guide

  4. Pingback: Pollack Media Group – via Music Industry Blog: Music’s Role in Digital Content is Small and Shrinking

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