About Mark Mulligan

Music Industry analyst and some time music producer. Vice President and Research Director with Forrester Research

How an Economic Downturn Could Reshape Digital Media

Ten years on from the credit crunch, the global economy could be poised to enter another recession. Many of the underlying causes of the credit crunch remain in place, due to governments lacking appetite for structural reform of the faults in the global financial system that catalysed the slowdown. Many of those unchecked factors remain, and with growing volatility in geopolitics a perfect storm could be brewing. A succession of potential unintended consequences could reshape a digital economy that has grown rapidly in an era of abundance and easy access to capital.

During a recession, consumers reduce their spending on non-essentials. Media falls squarely into that category, but digital media is particularly vulnerable for three key reasons:

  • Streaming, easy to leave: The great promise of streaming subscriptions was built on convenience and value for money. These are the subscriptions that digital consumers are most likely to want to retain in a recession. However, they are also vulnerable to cancelling because a) they are contract-free and b) free alternatives are so good. Cost-conscious music fans would find the various inconveniences of downgrading to free (YouTube especially) as a dull pain compared to the cost savings – especially if they use the readily-available stream rippers and ad blockers. Similarly, video subscribers with pay-TV may want to finally cut the cord, only to find that there are early cancellation fees so end up having to cut Netflix instead. This is compounded by the fact that they can simply pop back in for the odd month to binge watch the latest series of their favourite Netflix Originals ­– but will never have an impetus to stay.
  • Millennials hit hard: Recessions typically hit the lower echelons of workforces hardest and earliest. Millennials have been the fuel in the digital media engine, but these young professionals could be the ones who have greatest job insecurity, especially those in the (tech-enabled) gig economy. Conversely, older consumers still in the workforce will inherently increase in value, while those retired will experience little direct impact on their spending power. So, in relative terms, older consumers will become more valuable in a recession.
  • Innovation slowdown: Research and development budgets will be the early victims of belt tightening at many digital media companies, but there will be another factor slowing innovation: ownership shifts. Struggling digital media companies may see investors taking full or partial ownership of the companies in order to protect their investments. This will particularly apply to companies that have used debt financing tools like convertible notes, which can result in investors converting debt into equity if targets are not met. Investors looking to protect their investments will be inherently more conservative in their strategic outlook, resulting in a slowing of costly innovation and product development.

Market outlook: fortune favours the brave

Previous economic downturns and market adjustments have seen winners and losers. Often this has as much to do with financial backing and strategic nous as with the quality of the product sets of the companies. Content budgets will likely contract to match the realities of the market, but those companies brave enough to make long-term bets could be the long-term winners. The labels still willing to invest strongly in new artists and artist marketing campaigns will likely have more impact in a less cluttered market suffering from under-investment. Similarly, TV, movie and games studios that are willing to continue to invest strongly in commissioning will see their content stand out from the rest. More than that, given the long production cycles of content, they will have the strongest rosters of content going into market when consumer spending power recovers. More conservative competitors will be playing catch up, waiting a year or more for their new investments to make it to market.

These findings are taken from the first report in MIDiA’s Recession Impact research series:

Recession Impact: How an Economic Downturn Could Reshape Digital Media

For a strictly limited period you can download this report for free on the MIDiA report store here. This offer ends on Friday 20th December, at which point the report will revert to its original price.

Take Five (the big five stories and data you need to know) December 9th 2019

Take5 9 12 19Go east: Universal Music launched Red Records, an Asian repertoire joint venture label with AirAsia Group. With Western repertoire accounting for around only a third of all streams in Asian markets, UMG needs local bets to benefit from the Asian opportunity. They’ll be hoping for some BTS-style export successes, too.

Gameloft closure: Pioneering French games company Gameloft closed its UK office, following rumours of a Brisbane closure also. The lesson here is that it is hard to build a games publisher with the sort of longevity that music labels and TV studios have. Not many do so (without getting bought, that is).

Manchester City sponsorship: EPL club Manchester City just signed its first training kit partner Marathonbet for an eight-figure deal. The deal illustrates both how much value lies in top-tier sports leagues and how much betting companies are willing to spend on acquiring customers.

Not buzzing now: Last year MIDiA predicted BuzzFeed would either close or be bought. It is now under threat of strike-off from regulators for being two months late filing accounts. In its prime, BuzzFeed was a pioneer in making digital-first content and – for better or for worse – helped shape today’s digital media landscape. Unfortunately for BuzzFeed, in doing so it taught the world how to compete with it. 

More woe for Saatchi and Saatchi: Another accounting error for the UK ad agency (this time bigger…) sent shares tumbling. The ad agency sector is in crisis phase. Beyond accounting scandals, the whole premise of agency ad buying is challenged by the power of self-serve ad platforms and companies wanting to own their customer data.

Music Subscriber Market Shares H1 2019

Music Subscriber Market Shares 2019 MIDiA Research

The global streaming market continues to grow at pace. At the end of June 2019 there were 304.9 million music subscribers globally. That was up 34 million on the end of 2018, while the June 2018 to June 2019 growth was 69 million – exactly the same rate of additions as one year earlier.

Spotify remained the clear market leader with 108 million subscribers, giving it a global market share of 35.6%, EXACTLY the same share it had at the end of 2018 AND at the end of 2017. In what is becoming an increasingly competitive market, Spotify has continued to grow at the same rate as the overall market.

Meanwhile both Apple and Amazon have grown market share, though Apple is showing signs of slowing. At the end of 2017 Amazon (across all of its subscription tiers) had 11.4% global market share, pushing that up to 12.6% by end June 2019 with 38.3 million subscribers. Apple went from 17.3% to 18% over the same period – hitting 54.7 million subscribers, but while Amazon added share every quarter, Apple peaked at 18.2% in Q1 2019 before dropping slightly back to 18% in Q2 2019. Though at the same time, Apple increased market share in its priority market – the US, going from 31% in Q4 2018 to 31.7% in Q2 2019 with 28.9 million subscribers.

Google has been another big gainer, particularly in recent quarters following the launch of YouTube Music, going from just 3% in Q4 2017 to 5.3% in Q2 2019. Google had a well-earned reputation for being an under-performer in the music subscriptions market, a company that did not appear to actually want to succeed. Now, however, Google appears to be far more committed to subscriptions, pushing both YouTube Premium and YouTube Music hard, with a total of 16.9 music subscriptions in Q2 2019, compared to just 5.9 million at the end of 2017.

With the big four all gaining market share, the simple arithmetic is that smaller players have lost it. The share accounted for by all other services fell from 32.8% end-2017 to 28.4% mid-2019. This of course does not mean that all of these services lost subscribers; indeed, most grew, just not by as much as the bigger players. Of the other services, most are large single-market players such as Tencent (31 million – China), Pandora (7.1 million – US) MelOn (5.3 million – South Korea) with Deezer now the only other global player of scale (8.5 million).

In summary, 2019 was a year of growth and consolidation, with the global picture dominated by the big four players and Spotify retaining market share despite all three of its main competitors making up ground. 2020 is likely to be a similar year, though with a few key differences:

  • Key western markets like the US and UK will likely slow from Q4 2019 through to 2020. Meanwhile, emerging markets will pick up pace
  • This could shift market share to some regional players. For example, in Q3 Tencent’s subscriber growth accelerated at an unprecedented rate to hit 35.4 million subscribers. Tencent could be entering the hockey stick growth phase, and at just 2.6% paid penetration there is a LOT of potential growth ahead of it
  • Bytedance could create a new emerging market dynamic with its forthcoming streaming service. Currently constrained to India and Indonesia, Western rights holders may remain cautious about licensing it into Western markets. The unintended consequence is that the staid western streaming market could by end 2020 be looking enviously upon a more diverse and innovative Asian streaming market

These figures and findings are taken from MIDiA’s forthcoming Music Subscriber Market Shares, which includes quarterly data from Q4 2015 to Q2 2019 for 23 streaming services across 30 different markets. The data will be available on MIDiA’s Fuse platform later this week and the report will follow shortly thereafter.

If you are not yet a MIDiA client and would like to know how to get access to this report and dataset, email stephen@midiaresearch.com

Take Five (the big five stories and data you need to know) December 2nd 2019

Take5 2 12 19Bytedance / TikTok split: Bytedance appears to be getting nervy about the impact of Chinese censorship regulation on TikTok, to the extent that it is reportedly mulling spinning off the app as a separate company. This follows negative reactions to the closure of an account of a TikTok user that posted about Uyghurs. TikTok’s value to Bytedance is external to China, so it appears to want to ring-fence it from China. Whether Chinese authorities will permit that is another issue entirely.

Netflix at the movies: Netflix is reopening an iconic, boutique movie theatre in New York. This is all about cultural relevance and credibility. Netflix already does small screenings of some of its movies to be eligible for awards. This enables it to have red-carpet, star-studded premiers which will help its actors, directors and producers feel like they are still in the movie business. Old-world hangover.

Joyn (not a typo): ProSiebenSat.1 and Discovery have added a premium tier to their free OTT service Joyn (which is apparently a combination of ‘joy’ and ‘join’…). Naming quibbles aside, we are going to see more and more video services launching. Consumers will have to spend ever more in order to get all the shows they want to watch. The original streaming promise of replacing expensive pay-TV with a couple of cheap streaming subscriptions is dying on its feet.

Create Music, one to watch: Streaming and independent artists are rewriting the music business. A new(ish) breed of companies is emerging, playing by the new rule book. One to watch in 2020 is Create Music Group, which just signed a global distribution deal with Latin and hip hop label First Order Music.

Piracy is back: Well, maybe. But the principle that piracy could be the big winner of the streaming wars is valid. The more expensive it becomes to stream all the shows you want due to service fragmentation, the more likely people are to start pirating again, and streaming piracy is way harder to deal with than peer-to-peer downloads.

Take Five (the big five stories and data you need to know) November 25th 2019

Take5 (3)Disney tidies its streaming stats: Disney is tidying up its streaming subscriber numbers in preparation for reporting the performance so far of Disney+. In the shake-up, ESPN falls from 3.4 million to three million while Hulu goes from a 28.5 million to 29 million. All figures Q3 2019. Headline: Disney is already a streaming powerhouse and is about to become even bigger.

Spotify awards: Spotify is moving into the music awards space. The only surprise is that Spotify didn’t do this sooner; this is the equivalent of MTV moving into the awards space in the 2010s. Spotify will be hoping, probably with good reason, that it will be able to make its awards a bigger deal than YouTube has its YouTube Music Awards.

Tecent’s global gaming empire: Tencent has invested in 40% of Fortnite owner Epic Games and 11.5% in competitor PUBG. By using access to the Chinese market as leverage for getting equity stakes in western games publishers, Tencent is building a global games business. It may even be en route to becoming a global tech major. It has a long way to go, through.

YouTube creators can take a break, perhaps: YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki claims her company’s analytics can take a break from making content and come back with bigger metrics. The data is likely skewed by a) under-performing channels taking a break, and b) the novelty factor of a returning creator. The underlying truth, however, is that YouTube’s monetisation system skews strongly towards high-volume output. The system needs changing if creators are to genuinely be able to take breaks.

Throw ladders down: Meghan Rapinoe’s acceptance speech for her Woman of the Year award presents a new vision for how those with influence should use their platform for others’ voices, by ‘throwing down ladders’ for others to climb up. She tackles inequality in many forms in her speech and sounds more like an accomplished activist politician than a sports personality. If only all sports people (and politicians) could make contributions like this. Go watch the video.

Why the Music Industry Needs Bytedance to Disrupt It

Back in September 2018 I suggested that Spotify faced a Tencent risk,with the potential of Tencent launching a competitive offering in markets that Spotify is not yet in. This would effectively divide the world between Spotify in Europe, Americas and some of Asia, and Tencent potentially everywhere else. Since then, Tencent has been distracted by acquiring a 10% stake in Universal Music. The fact it is now reportedly looking for partners to share the investment could point to Tencent getting spooked by slowing streaming growth in the second half of the year, something MIDiA predicted in November last year. Meanwhile, as all this was happening, Bytedance’s TikTok has become a global phenomenon – adding 500 million users in 2019 to reach 1.2 billion in total. On the back of this success, Bytedance has picked up Tencent’s dropped baton and has been working on a subscription service that now looks set for a December launch. The streaming market desperately needs a breath of fresh air; the only question is whether music rights holders feel bold enough to let Bytedance launch something truly market changing.

Change, but remain the same

TikTok has undeniable scale, even though the 1.5 billion figure likely refers to installs rather than active users. While it is certainly bigger than previous music messaging apps, the tech graveyard is full of once-promising, now-dead or near-obsolete ones (Musical.ly, Flipagram, Dubsmash, Ping Tunes, Music Messenger etc). In order to ensure it does not go the way of its predecessors (i.e. burn bright but fast) TikTok must learn how to expand and evolve its content offering but remain true to its users’ core use cases. The smart digital content businesses do this. Facebook and YouTube have both dramatically changed their content mixes since launch, yet fundamentally meet the same underlying use cases they started out with. It is essential for TikTok to ensure it grows with its young audience in the way Instagram has – otherwise it risks following the unwelcome path of its predecessors.

Do first, ask forgiveness later

The three global-scale consumer music apps which are genuinely differentiated from the rest of the streaming pack are YouTube, Soundcloud and TikTok. All three have one thing in common: they did first and asked forgiveness later. Rather than coming to music rightsholders to acquire rights and then building platforms around whatever rights they were able to secure, they built apps, built scale and then entered into serious licensing conversations. Crucially, they did so from a position of strength. The rest managed to secure fundamentally the same sets of rights, resulting in a marketplace of streaming services that lack differentiation. They all have the same catalogue, pricing and device support. They are even competing largely in the same markets. They are forced to differentiate with extras, such as playlists, personalisation and branding. This contrasts sharply with the highly-differentiated streaming video market and is the equivalent of the automotive market telling everyone they have to buy a Lexus but can choose what colour paint they want. Those three disruptors did exactly that: they disrupted, and in doing so fast-forwarded the rate of innovation.

The music market needs Bytedance to do something transformational

This is the context in which Bytedance is building a music subscription service. What the music market really needs is for this to be something that builds on the ethos and use cases of TikTok rather than becoming a cookie-cutter “all you can eat” service. Soundcloud and YouTube both found themselves dumbing down their core propositions in order to launch music subscriptions. Now, with streaming growth slowing, the market needs a disruption more than ever. It needs a Plan B to reinvigorate growth.

It is all too easy to say that rights holders have held back the market, and in some respects they have. But they also have an obligation to protect their rights and core revenue source: streaming. Indeed, there is an argument that YouTube is currently holding back streaming potential by delivering such a compelling free proposition – something that would not have happened if it had licensed first and launched later.

Emerging markets testbed

Music experiences from China, Japan and South Korea look very different from the ones that have come from the West, whether you are looking at Tencent’s music apps or K-pop artists. While there is a temptation to say that these reflect the unique cultural make ups of their respective markets, in all probability much of it will export. Indeed, we already see this happening with the success of BTS and of course TikTok in Western markets. What unifies these experiences is monetising fandom rather than consumption (which is what Western services do). The problem is that it is difficult for music rightsholders to agree with digital service providers (DSPs) on how much of the assets monetised in fandom platforms should bear royalty income, and just how much. This is one of the main stumbling blocks in monetising fandom.

Emerging markets may be the perfect testbed. We have already seen this approach in Brazil, where Deezer launched a prepay carrier-billing-integrated 60% discounted music bundle with local carrier TIM and has enjoyed strong subscriber growth as a result. The fact that Bytedance may launch first in emerging markets such as India, Indonesia and Brazil suggests that this approach may be being followed. If so, there is a chance that we might see something genuinely innovative coming to market.

While this may not yet constitute the Tencent risk model, there nonetheless remains a chance that Bytedance could end up being an emerging market counterweight to the Western market incumbents. The streaming market needs something new to up the innovation ante; let’s hope Bytedance can take on that mantle…

Take Five (the big five stories and data you need to know) November 18th 2019

Take5 18 11 19Bytedance subscription: Bytedance, parent of TikTok, is reportedly close to launching a music subscription service, initially focused on emerging markets. The big question is whether Bytedance will get the deals to launch something genuinely new, built on TikTok’s foundation, or just end up launching a cookie-cutter “all you can eat” 9.99 service.

Netflix and Nickelodeon team up: Netflix and Viacom’s Nickelodeon have announced a multi-year partnership to create kids shows. This shows two things: 1) Netflix is ensuring its kids offering is up to competing with Disney+, and 2) not all traditional TV companies see Netflix as being the enemy. This is becoming a heavily nuanced market.

Tencent looking for backingTencent is reportedly looking for external partners to come in as part of its $3.3 billion acquisition of 10% of UMG. Given Tencent was bullish about going it alone and paying a premium, something feels odd here. Maybe Tencent got spooked by slowing streaming growth in Q3 – something MIDiA said at the start of the year would happen.

Disney streaming woes: Good news for Disney+ with 10 miillion sign ups in 24 hours – that’s more than Apple Music got in weeks after launch. Bad news: it couldn’t cope with the demand, with widespread user complaints.Turns out it is just as hard for a media company to become a tech company as vice versa. There will be broad grins in Netflix towers.

BT keeps Champions League rights: UK telco BT has secured television rights for the European Champions League for another three seasons from 2021. The deal is reported to be worth £1.2 billion ($1.6 billion), with streaming service DAZN missing out in the bidding process. Sports rights remain a highly valued asset, but the bubble will burst at some stage in the next five years or so.

The Attention Economy Has Peaked. Now What?

Regular followers of MIDiA will know that we’ve been writing about the attention economy for a number of years now. Throughout 2019 we have been building the concept that we have arrived at peak in the attention economy – that all of the addressable free time has been addressed. In 2017, Netflix’s Reed Hastings said sleep was his biggest enemy. By 2019 he claimed Netflix was competing more with Fortnite than HBO (it wasn’t really, but the concept of competing in adjacent markets is valid). In the old world, media was nicely siloed by dedicated formats and hardware (print newspapers, books, DVDs, CDs, radio sets). Now, though, we access through devices where everything is separated by nothing more than a finger swipe. Attention saturation was always going to be an inevitability, not a possibility. The important question is not why this happening, but what will come next and what the right strategies are for surviving and thriving in this post-peak world.

A mine full of canaries?

What got MIDiA first thinking about peak attention was seeing the mobile gaming audience declining every quarter in our quarterly tracker surveys. Mobile games were the canary in the mine for peak attention. When we first got mobile phones, we didn’t have a huge amount to do with them. We couldn’t watch our favourite shows, and we couldn’t easily (legally) listen to new music. So many consumers filled their ‘dead time’ by playing games, as they were de rigueurin the early days of the app stores. Before long casual gamers were the core audience of titles like Angry Birds and Clash of Clans, while your middle-aged aunt was spamming you with Facebook invitations to play Candy Crush Saga. Once Netflix, Spotify and others had got traction, however, those casual gamers started reverting to consuming the content they actually liked the most. The result was a long steady decline in the mobile gaming audience. Now, music looks like it may be following suit.

another canary

Across the US, UK, Australia and Canada, the share of people that listen to the radio declined steadily between Q1 2018 and Q2 2019. Meanwhile, those streaming audio for free remained relatively flat. The net result is that the combined audio audience declined. So many lapsing radio listeners exited the audio market as a whole (though a share shifted to podcasts, which is not considered in the above chart). The ‘share of ear’ battle is looking a lot like a minor theatre of conflict in a much larger conflagration. Amazon will continue to do a good job of shifting older, high-net-worth consumers to streaming, but that is not enough to stem the tide – especially as Amazon’s global footprint is unevenly distributed.

This is what happens in the era of attention saturation.

Social video is eating the world

Four years ago, MIDiA argued that video was eating the world. Now social video is eating the world. Video is becoming the omnipotent format through which we communicate, consume and share. Social video is eating everything. Captioning looked like it was heralding a new era of silent cinema, but it was in fact a trojan horse – a means of enabling us to fit extra video consumption into our wider consumption patterns. Over time, though, sound has become more important and with the increased tolerance of video we are now far more willing to unmute. Nowhere is this better seen than Instagram and TikTok. Audio is the victim in that equation. Not only are there are many other scenarios where audio is slipping, there are even more scenarios where other media formats are losing out. For example, Epic Games’ decision to allow Fortnite players to watch live video of the Fortnite World Cup while gaming hints at how games companies understand that there is a delicate balance between video extending brand reach and competing directly for gaming time.

Looking back gives us a feel for what comes next

Understanding what comes next in a saturated attention world requires looking back at previous markets that have peaked. The mobile phone and PC markets give us some pointers, butthe industrial revolution’s impact on the labour market is an even more useful analogue. Attention is like labour. It is a product of human behaviour and it is scarce. Digital content is analogous to the labour market, and content supply is now beginning to exceed attention output. This is already translating into increased customer acquisition and retention costs.

This is exactly the wrong time for bringing more content to market, but that is exactly what is happening. Nowhere is this better seen that the video subscriptions space with a blizzard-like flurry of new services from Disney, Warner, Apple, Discovery and NBC.

The net result of an over-supply of content is that attention saturation will become an attention deficit for many players, Netflix included. The marketplace needs a new currency for measuring success and monetising audiences.

The MIDiA Attention Economy Event

This is where I am going to cut to credits, leaving you on a cliff edge. For those of you in London next Wednesday (November 20th), come along to our free-to-attend attention economy event, where you can hear my colleague Karol Severin present our attention saturationresearch and our take on what will be the next audience currency that content providers will need to compete for. For those of you not in London there will also be a live stream, which you will be able to find here at 7pm GMT. Also, check back in next week when I will post the next chapter in this story.

NOTE: I shamelessly sat on the shoulders of giants in this post – these ideas were collectively crafted by the entire, amazingly talented MIDiA team.

We’re Hiring: Business Development Manager

MIDiA is hiring for a new position: a Business Development Managerfocused on the TV/video space.

Over the last year we have been fast building our capabilities and profile in the TV and video space, including delivering the opening keynote at Mipcom and launching our next generation TV audience insight platform Index.

We have a huge opportunity in 2020 and we are looking for a driven commercial person to help us realise it.

We want with a passion for the industry, good connections, a proven ability to follow a rigorous sales process and the skillsets to close high value deals.

The successful candidate will join our team based @ the Ministry in London.

You can find more details on the role here:

If you think this could be the role for you then we’d love to hear from you info@midiaresearch.com

Take Five (the big five stories and data you need to know) November 11th 2019

take5 11 11 19BTS, fandom 3.0: The management of BTS’s distributor was trying to work out who had greenlitan un authorized billboard campaign for the South Korean boy band. When it turned out that the fans had paid,it pulled back the veil on a whole new fandom paradigm. (We’ll be publishing a Fandom 3.0 report soon).

Video overkill? Not to be outdone by the likes of Apple, Warner and Disney, Discovery has announced that it too may be launching a video subscription service in the US.On the one hand, the competition represents great consumer choice;on the other,it creates wallet share pressure. Netflix, Disney+, Amazon, HBO Max, Amazon and Hulu (basic) together cost $53.22. Feels a lot like the cable streaming is meant to be reducing.

The great Apple bundlingprocess begins: Apple needs subscriptions not for margin or even revenue, but to prop up device sales average revenue per user (ARPU). Within three years Apple will have full subscription bundles retailed with devices. It is testing the waters with Apple TV+. The latest development is being bundled with the Apple Music student plan.Don’t bet against Arcade also being in there soon.

Recycled bottles = smart speakers:This is a little old but we only just saw it and we value any opportunity to shine a light on the climate crisis and efforts to address it – however modest. Google’s Nest Mini smartspeaker is to be made, in part, from recycled plastic bottles. Compare and contrast with the environmental footprint of Apple’s AirPods.

Fourday week: Microsoft has been trialing four-day weeks in Japan. Productivity was up 40% and electricity consumption down 23%. The contrast with Alibaba’s 996 (i.e.9:00-9:00six days a week)is stark. So far, we have hurtled into the era of tech-enabled consumption and production without taking stock.