Just What Is Tencent Up To With Streaming?

Tencent is building a global streaming empire. Back in December 2017 Tencent Music did a 10% equity swap deal with Spotify and now it has led a $115 million investment round for India-based streaming service Gaana. India may only be a small subscription market, with just 1.1 million paid subscribers at the end of 2016, but it one dominated by local players and has massive free streaming potential. Tencent now has major streaming stakes that give it reach across Asia, Europe and the Americas. The key missing parts are the Middle East and North Africa (Anghami is probably waiting for the phone to ring). Right now, Tencent has a streaming foothold in the world’s three largest countries:

  1. China: population 1.4 billion. 100% ownership of QQ Music, Kugou and Kuwo which together account for 70% of subscribers
  2. India: population 1.3 billion. Undisclosed ownership of top three streaming service Gaana
  3. US: 330 million. 10% ownership of leading subscription service

What Tencent is doing is building a global network of strategic positions in the streaming market that individually might not have global influence, but, collectively could be brought to bear to in an impactful way. Much like John Malone’s Liberty Media, Tencent is taking minority stakes in a strategically selected portfolio of companies. This provides it with the ability to exert some degree of influence and extract some benefit without the risk and resource required for a majority ownership. Minority stakes can also be used as beachheads for majority ownership further down the line.

In some respects, Tencent does not have a huge amount of choice in the matter. Last year the Chinese government placed restrictions on the amount Chinese companies could spend on overseas companies, in order to slow the outflow of capital from China. But, rather than let this be a hindrance Tencent is now using the policy to shape a bold internationalisation strategy. Coupled with other minority investments (12% in Snap Inc., 5% of Tesla) Tencent is positioning itself to be king maker in the future of digital media.

Radio Is Streaming’s Next Frontier

This week MIDiA held its latest quarterly research and networking event at Gibson Brands Showrooms in the heart of London’s West End. The event was heavily over-subscribed and was a great success (there are some photos at the bottom of this post).

The event combined a presentation from Pete Downton, deputy CEO of our event sponsor 7digital, a keynote from myself and a panel of leading industry experts. Here are a few highlights of my presentation.

radio blog slide

Streaming music has got where it has today largely by being the future of retail and replacing the download model, which in turn replaced the CD model (though vestiges of both remain). That premium model will continue to be the beating heart of streaming revenues for the foreseeable future but will not be enough on its own. The next big opportunity for streaming is to become the future of radio, which incidentally is around double the size of the recorded music market. In doing so, it will be a classic case of disruptive insurgents stealing market share from long-standing incumbents.

The opportunity for streaming is to build ad revenue around the younger audiences that are simply not engaging with traditional radio in the way that previous generations of young music fans once did. As the chart above shows, radio’s audience is aging and has an almost mirror opposite demographic profile to streaming. What is more, radio’s audience is declining by around one percentage point each quarter. It might not sound like much, but you normally do not measure change in terms of consistent quarterly trends. Instead there is normally quarterly fluctuation. So, this is nothing short of a major decline.

However, what is interesting is that free streaming is not growing by the same rate radio is declining. Instead, what is happening is that radio and streaming audiences are co-existing, with many that have spent a long time doing both eventually shifting all of their listening to streaming. Added to this, older consumers tend to embrace change more slowly than younger audiences. So, radio’s older listener base effectively acts as a disruption buffer.

What all this means is that radio is facing an existential threat like no other but it has some time to get its house in order, to identify how it can meld the best of the radio model with streaming experiences to start its fight back. And make no mistake, radio has so many unique assets that streaming does not (local content, talk, news, sports, weather, travel, brand personality etc.) and Apple’s underwhelming success with Beats 1 shows that hiring a bunch of radio people and launching a station does not guarantee success. Nonetheless, streaming services will get there. And Spotify’s recently launched Pandora-clone in Australia indicates just how serious the radio frontier is to streaming.

For more (a lot more!) data and analysis on how radio and streaming are facing up against each other, check out our new report Radio – Streaming’s Next Frontier: How Streaming Will Disrupt Radio Like It Did Retail which can be purchased directly from our report store here and is also available immediately to MIDiA clients as part of our research subscription service.

MIDiA Radio Event 1MIDiA Radio Event 2

Yonder And Streaming’s Less Travelled Path

Back in 2012, a music service that had raised $174 million in funding closed without yet having launched to consumers. That service was Beyond Oblivion, a company that intended to transform the music market with music bundled into handsets and phone packages at no extra cost to consumers. Five and half years later, Beyond Oblivion’s founder is finally seeing his latest iteration of the bundled music service model gain traction. Yonder, his new(ish) company, has started off 2018 with a million monthly active users (MAUs) under its belt, with the majority of that growth coming in the fourth quarter of 2017. Yet Yonder is not on many people’s radar, in large part because it is building its business in markets that are off streaming’s beaten track.

yonder graphic

Yonder’s main market is Bangladesh, which makes up just over half of its MAU base, followed by Indonesia and Sri Lanka. It even has tens of thousands of users in Nepal and the Maldives and plans to roll out to markets such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Iraq and Ghana in 2018. These are not markets famed as booming digital music markets, and they’re certainly not priority markets for any of the top streaming services. So, in many respects Yonder is competing around, rather than with the likes of Spotify.

Low ARPU markets

But there is more to it than just that. These are markets with mostly large populations and very low GDP per capita and mobile ARPU. In many of these territories mobile ARPU is significantly lower than the cost of a western streaming subscription. For example, total mobile ARPU in Bangladesh is around $4 a month. This makes fitting the economics of a streaming music bundle into a tariff challenging in the extreme. The standard wholesale tariffs record labels provide streaming services in these regions struggle to fit these wafer thin margins. So, making music bundles work needs a very specific and localized approach. The same principle applies to localization, with music programming requiring a much higher degree of local specialization than many other markets.

More than one way to skin a cat

2018 will likely see a slowdown in music subscriber growth in many western markets. In the meantime, majority of the 9.99 price points will be addressed. Ad supported and discounting will be key to sustaining growth in these markets, but the scale of opportunity for digital music lies in emerging markets. 2017 was the year we really started to see Latin American markets begin to make their mark, while China established itself as a major contributor to subscribers, if not revenue. Services like Yonder are important for the music business, not just because they address new markets but also because they represent another approach. The 9.99 AYCE model will remain the core opportunity, but sticking too tightly to it will limit the scope of the wider market.

Yonder’s model is not without challenges – not least the concept of making premium music feel like it’s free to its users – but it represents one of what should hopefully become a wider selection of alternative paths to making streaming pay.

Join Us At ‘Radio Is Streaming’s Next Frontier’

I’m very pleased to announce that MIDiA is hosting a special industry event on Wednesday 7th February at Gibson Brands in central London, in partnership with 7digital. The event ‘Radio Is Streaming’s Next Frontier’ is going to explore how in 2018, streaming music is going to start impacting radio just like it has spent the last few years replacing downloads. Streaming spent the first phase of its life being the future of retail, it will spend the next phase becoming the future of radio.

In this free-to-attend event we will present some of our latest research, including exclusive data, ranging from big picture trends through to tactical data, such as exactly how much each streaming service is affecting each radio station.

In addition to my research presentation there will be panel discussion from industry experts:

Is Streaming and Radio a Zero Sum Game?

Moderator: Zach Fuller

Panellists:

  • Jeff Smith: head of Music, Radio2 and Radio6
  • Pete Downton: deputy CEO, 7digital
  • Chris Baughen: VP Content and Formats, Deezer

After all this there will be drinks and networking. The event was publicised to MIDiA clients and newsletter subscribers first so there are only a few places left. So, RSVP your slot here now!

Hope to see you there, and watch out for a sneak peak of some of the research soon.

midiaresearch7digitalevent

Free Report: Lyrics Take Centre Stage In Streaming Music

We are pleased to announce the publication of a brand new, totally free, Streaming Music report. In this report, we present the findings of an exclusive consumer survey fielded in November 2017 to consumers in the US, UK and Germany, deep diving into streaming behaviours and the growing role that lyrics is taking. The report download link can be found at the bottom of this post.

The report includes data on:

  • Overall music consumption and streaming behaviours
  • Weekly Active User (WAU) penetration of all key streaming music apps
  • Tenure splits of streaming users by streaming service
  • Consumer attitudes towards lyrics
  • Lyric users by tenure length of individual streaming services
  • The relationship between lyrics users and streaming loyalty
  • Key drivers for using lyrics, with gender splits

Here is an overview of some of the findings of the report that we wrote on behalf of LyricFind.

INFOGRAPHIC V 1.1

Streaming music has put the audience in control, letting music fans choose what, when and where they listen. One of the most dramatic changes that streaming has enabled is the expansion of music from a lean-back, linear experience into something far more engaging and interactive. Now fans lean forward to choose the songs they want, build playlists, comment and share. Lyrics are centre stage in this shift, transforming from static-print-hidden-away-inside-album-sleeve notes, to a dynamic extension of the music itself. Lyrics permeate the streaming music ecosystem, from websites, through YouTube and Vevo to the streaming services themselves.

Whereas lyrics in the analogue era used to be domain of music aficionados, in the streaming era they are a mainstream behaviour for audiences as diverse as they are widespread. The motivations are similarly varied, with the most cited being to know the words (81%) followed by being able to sing along (72%). Among streaming services users who are music subscribers, penetration of lyrics usage rises to 88%. What is more, lyrics have a strong link with music subscriber loyalty among 91% of all music subscribers that have been using lyrics for more than three years.

However, many lyrics users want more out of their lyrics experiences, with 56% of subscribers wanting lyrics to be in time with songs. Younger users, in particular, are raising their expectations, with 16-24 year olds the most likely to want new lyrics features.

Streaming is transforming music consumption across the board

Music consumption is in the midst of a transition period, with streaming rapidly ascending to become the dominant format. As with any transition, the old world coexists with the new, due to old habits dying hard and older groups of consumers changing behaviours slower. Thus, we see radio (66%) and free streaming (43%) as the two dominant forms of music consumption. Crucially, a strong overlap exists between the two: 72% of streamers listen to radio and 47% of radio audiences stream music. This indicates: a) that the transition will pick up pace, as nearly half of radio listeners are already swapping out some of their radio listening time for streaming; and b) that there currently remains enough that is different between radio and streaming for the two to coexist. The biggest takeaway though, is that streaming has a massive amount of growth potential ahead of it.

Lyrics are an integral part of the streaming experience

Lyrics are at the centre of the streaming music experiences: 79% of all music streamers use lyrics, rising to a comprehensive 88% of music subscribers. Wanting to know the words to songs is the main driver, with 65% of music subscribers stating this as their reason for using lyrics. Next, 55% of subscribers and 51% of free streamers said they wanted to be able to sing along with their favourite song. More social activities like singing with friends and karaoke score relatively lowly, indicating that lyrics are a very personal and integral part of how music fans interact with music.

Lyrics have a clear correlation with music subscriber tenure and with churn. The longer that consumers have been music subscribers, the more likely they are to use lyrics, while consumers that have cancelled their subscriptions are much less likely to use lyrics. Across Deezer, Spotify and Google Play, an average of 98% of subscribers with three plus years tenure use lyrics. This contrasts with lyrics penetration among churned out subscribers, with an average of just 60% across the same three streaming services. The importance of lyrics features is further underscored by the fact that 55% of streaming lyrics users say they are more likely to pay for a streaming service that ‘has great lyrics features’. For music subscribers overall, the rate is 43%, rising to 48% of Deezer users and 52% of Tidal users.

LyricFind - cover

Lyrics Take Centre Stage In Streaming – LyricFind – Report

Joining the Dots: How Wixen’s Suit Impacts Spotify’s DPO

While many are still recovering from their festive exertions, Spotify hits the news twice –though for two very different reasons: the long-awaited confirmation of its DPO date and, less expected, a new lawsuit from a music publisher. While they’re totally different developments, their timing is not coincidental. (Note, Spotify is doing a Direct Public Offering (DPO) not an Initial Public Offering (IPO) as many outlets have mistakenly reported – though its SEC filing does mean it could still opt to do an IPO should it decide to).

Spotify has been talking about going public for years and many column inches have been expended on trying (and failing) to guess the date. The one bit that everyone got right was that Spotify could not afford to delay the move for much longer, because its debt was becoming increasingly expensive to service. Those debt costs were the main reason Spotify’s losses grew in 2016. I have written extensively about Spotify’s need to create a new narrative for Wall Street and how it will need to diversify its revenue base to drive profitability. But, it should have a fairly easy ride for its first 12 months—certainly easier than Snap Inc. has had. This is because demand far outstrips supply. The big institutional investors (investment banks, hedge funds, pension funds etc.) that now want a ‘position’ in the music business effectively only have Vivendi and Spotify as options (Sony Music is too small a portion of Sony Corp, while WMG is considered too small by bigger institutions).

Investor demand exceeds supply

The imbalance between supply and demand has been reflected in the grey market of private trading of Spotify stock. So, even if it has some weak earnings Spotify should hold onto much of its value, unless some big hedge funds decide to bet against Spotify, and decided to do so in a big way. In the longer term, if Spotify can execute well, three to five years from now we won’t be thinking of Spotify as a streaming company, but instead as a music platform. It will be a conduit for the plethora of music services and tools – ranging from data services, through e-commerce to services, that we currently largely identify with labels (artist promotion, label services, rights exploitation etc.). Streaming will generate more revenue than any of these, but all of these higher-margin revenue streams will help deliver Spotify profitability.

Wixen puts risk back on the table

Before its transmutation, Spotify has to make sure its DPO is a success and another hurdle just emerged: music publisher Wixen Music filed a lawsuit against Spotify for $1.6 billion. The background to the suit is complex and rooted in an effective loophole in US music publishing practice, which sees music services assume the right to stream songs rather than explicitly requesting it. The NMPA brokered a Spotify settlement for songwriters and publishers (following a David Lowery class action suit) and also helped shape a new piece of legislation aimed at closing the loophole, and crucially for Spotify, making it harder for publishers to file suit. Investors hate risk factors, and the double whammy threat of class action suits and uncapped statutory damages was a risk factor too far. This is why so much effort was put into creating a pragmatic solution that delivered results for all sides, in time for Spotify’s DPO. Only, Wixen doesn’t see things that way.

Wixen’s suit argues that the new legislation and the settlement do not provide enough in terms of compensation, guarantees nor safe guards. By filing before the legislation’s January 1 deadline, Wixen is hoping to be able to set new, improved terms for publishers. Whether the case has merit or not is almost inconsequential with regards to its potential impact on Spotify’s DPO. The mere presence of the suit could spook investors. In practice however, the sheer level of demand for Spotify stock is likely to win the day.

The Top TV Shows Of 2017, And The Inexorable Rise Of Netflix

This is a guest post by MIDiA’s Tim Mulligan (also my brother!)

For the past 15 months MIDiA Research has been tracking every quarter more than 60 leading TV shows across the US, UK, Canada and Australia. With the fragmentation of TV audiences and the rise of streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video that are notoriously guarded with their data, it is becoming progressively more difficult for TV companies and advertisers to know just how popular individual TV shows actually are. Many are increasingly turning to social media as a guide to popularity, but these are demographically skewed. For example, the audiences of Facebook and Twitter are both older, so rankings based on these platforms skew results towards shows that are popular among older consumers. This is why the likes of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones usually top such rankings. (More than half of the audiences for both shows are aged 35 and above, compared to, for example, just 36% for 13 Reasons Why).

This is why we developed the MIDiA TV Show Brand Tracker, surveying 3,500 consumers, to track popularity of shows with a neutral and objective methodology. The results provide a unique view of which shows are resonating with consumers in the streaming era.

MIDiA Research Top TV Shows Of 2017CBS’s The Big Bang Theory tops MIDiA’s Brand Tracker rankings with an average 45% fan penetration across all of 2017. The Big Bang Theory tends to underreport on Twitter and Facebook rankings but has topped our list in each quarter in every market except for the UK where it is shunted into third place by the BBC’s Sherlock and ITV’s Broadchurch. CBS also takes second spot with 41% fan penetration, holding the same position in the US and Australia, but slipping to third in Canada and sixth in the UK.

2017 was a massive year for HBO’s Game of Thrones with season 7 premiering in July, which drove a three-percentage-point spike in fandom in Q3 – up to 33%. Game of Thrones is a top-four show across all four markets surveyed. Although Game of Thrones is HBO’s only show in the top 20, the network has three other shows in the Top 40 including Westworld (which maintained strong fandom despite having aired in December 2016, suggesting that season 2 will get off to a strong start in 2018).

The BBC is one of the strongest performing networks with three shows in the top 20. AMC’s The Walking Dead takes sixth position with 27% penetration, but fandom varies markedly by market, slipping to just 10th in the UK.

Perhaps the biggest story of 2017 is the rise of Netflix as a TV network. Netflix, with seven, has more shows than any other in the top 40, though only two are in the top 20 (Stranger Things and House of Cards). Superhero shows have been a big win for Netflix with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Daredevil all in the top 40. But, the one to pay attention to is 13 Reasons Why at number 23, driven largely by 16-24-year-old viewers. In the post-linear schedule world Netflix has learned how to super serve audience segments with shows that are ‘prime time’ titles within its service that would not be able to occupy prime time slots on broadcast TV because their appeal to older audiences is limited.

Stranger Things was Netflix’s biggest hit of 2017, taking eighth spot overall, but first among 16-19 year olds and second place for 20-24 year olds. Netflix might have built its revenue business around 25-44 year olds but it is winning the programming battle for younger millennials. Traditional TV networks should pay heed.

If you would like to learn more about MIDiA’s TV Brand Tracker and how to get access to the data, email us at info@midiaresearch.com 

MIDiA Research Predictions 2018: Post-Peak Economics

With 2017 drawing to a close and 2018 on the horizon, it is time for MIDiA’s 2018 predictions.

But first, on how we did last year, our 2017 predictions had a 94% success rate. See bottom of this post for a run down.

Music

  • Post-catalogue – pressing reset on the recorded music business model: Revenues from catalogue sales have long underpinned the major record label model, representing the growth fund with which labels invested in future talent, often at a loss. Streaming consumption is changing this and we’ll see the first effects of lower catalogue in 2018. Smaller artist advances from bigger labels will follow.
  • Spotify will need new metrics: Up until now Spotify has been able to choose what metrics to report and pretty much when (annual financial reports aside). Once public, increased investor scrutiny on will see it focus on new metrics (APRU, Life Time Value etc) and concentrate more heavily on its free user numbers. 2018 will be the year that free streaming takes centre stage – watch out radio.
  • Apple will launch an Apple Music bundle for Home Pod: We’ve been burnt before predicting Apple Music hardware bundles, but Amazon has set the precedent and we think a $3.99 Home Pod Apple Music subscription (available annually) is on the cards. (Though we’re prepared to be burnt once again on this prediction!) 

Video

  • Savvy switchers – SVOD’s Achilles’ heel: Churn will become a big deal for leading video subscription services in 2018, with savvy users switching tactically to get access to the new shows they want. Of course, Netflix and co don’t report churn so the indicators will be slowing growth in many markets.
  • Subscriptions lose their stranglehold on streaming: 2018 will see the rise of new streaming offerings from traditional TV companies and new entrants that will deliver free-to-view, often ad-supported, on-demand streaming TV.

Media

  • Beyond the peak: We are nearing peak in the attention economy. 2018 will be the year casualties start to mount, as audience attention becomes a scarce commodity. Smart players will tap into ‘kinetic capital’ – the value users give to experiences that involve their context and location.
  • The rise of the new gate keepers part II: In 2018 Amazon and Facebook will pursue ever more ambitious strategies aimed at making them the leading next generation media companies, the conduits for the digital economy.

Games

  • The rise of the unaffiliated eSports: eSports leagues emulate the structure of traditional sports, but they may have missed the point. In 2018, we’ll see more eSports fans actually seeking games competition elsewhere, driving a surge in unaffiliated eSports.
  • Mobile games are the canary in the coal mine for peak attention: Mobile games will be the first big losers as we approach peak in the attention economy – there simply aren’t enough free hours left in the day. Mobile gaming activity is declining as mainstream consumers, who became mobile gamers to fill dead time, now have plenty of digital options that more closely match their needs. All media companies need to learn from mobile games’ experience.

Technology

  • The fall of tech major ROI: Growth will come less cheaply for the tech majors (Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Facebook) in 2018. They will have to overspend to maintain revenue momentum so margins will be hit.
  • Regulation catches up with the tech majors: Each of the tech majors is a monopoly or monopsony in their respective markets, staying one step ahead of regulation but this will change. The EU’s forced unbundling of Windows Media Player in the early 2000s triggered the end of Microsoft’s digital dominance. 2018 could see the start of a Microsoft moment for at least one of the tech majors. 

2017 Predictions

For the record, here are some of our correct 2017 predictions:

  • Digital will finally account for more than 50% of revenue
  • Spotify will still be the leading subscription service
  • eSports to reach $1 billion
  • Streaming holdouts will trickle not flood
  • AR will have hype but not a killer device.
  • VR players will double down on content spend
  • Google doubles down on its hardware ecosystem plays
  • 2017 will not be the year of Peak TV
  • Original video content to arrive on messaging apps

Here are some that we got wrong or were inconclusive:

  • Tidal finally sells ($300 million stake from Softbank was a partial sale – full sale likely in 2018)
  • Apple will launch an Apple Music iPhone – didn’t happen but the Home Pod may be the bundled music device in 2018 (see below)
  • Spotify will be disrupted – it actually went from strength to strength with no meaningful new competitor, yet

Disney, Netflix and the Squeezed Middle: The Real Story Behind Net Neutrality

Unless you have been hiding under a rock this last couple of weeks you’ll have heard at least something about the build up to the decision over turning net neutrality in the US, a decision that was confirmed yesterday. See Zach Fuller’s post for a great summary of what it means. In highly simplistic terms, the implications are that telcos will be able to prioritize access to their networks, which could mean that any digital service will only be able to guarantee their US users a high quality of service if they broker a deal with each and every telco. As Zach explains, we could see similar moves in Europe and elsewhere. If you are a media company or a digital content provider your world just got turned upside down. But this ruling is in many ways an inevitable result of a fundamental shift in value across digital value chains.

net neutrality value chains

Although the ruling effectively only overturns a 2015 ruling that had previously guaranteeing net neutrality, the world has moved on a lot since then, not least with regards to the emergence of the streaming economy across video, music and games. In short, there is a lot more bandwidth being taken up by streaming services and little or no extra value reverting to the upgraded networks.

Value is shifting from rights to distribution

Although the exact timing with the Disney / Fox deal (see Tim Mulligan’s take here) was coincidental the broad timing was not. The last few years have seen a major shift in value from rights companies (eg Disney, Universal Music, EA Games) through to distribution companies (eg Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify) with the value shift largely bypassing the infrastructure companies (ie the telcos).

The accelerating revenue growth and valuations of the tech majors and the streaming giants have left media companies trailing in their wake. The Disney / Fox deal was two of the world’s biggest media companies realising that consolidation was the only way to even get on the same lap as the tech majors. They needed to do so because those tech majors are all either already or about to become content companies too, using their vast financial fire power to outbid traditional media companies for content.

The value shift has bypassed infrastructure companies

Meanwhile telcos have been left stranded between rock and a hard place. Telcos have long been concerned about becoming relegated to the role of dumb pipes and most had given up any real hope of being content companies themselves (other than the TV companies who also have telco divisions). They see regulatory support for better monetizing their networks by levying access fees to tech companies as their last resort.

In its most basic form, this regulatory decision will allow telcos to throttle the bandwidth available to streaming services either in favour of their favoured partners or until an access fee is paid. The common thought is that telcos are becoming the new gatekeepers. In most instances they are more likely to become toll booths. But in some instances they may well shy away from any semblance of neutrality. For example, Sprint might well decide that it wants to give its part-owned streaming service Tidal a leg up, and throttle access for Spotify and Apple Music for Sprint users. Eventually Spotify and Apple Music users will realise they either need to switch streaming service or mobile provider. Given that one is a need-to-have, contract-based utility and the other is nice-to-have and no contract and is fundamentally the same underlying proposition, a streaming music switch is the more likely option. Similarly, AT&T could opt to throttle access for Netflix in order to give its DirecTV Now service a leg up. Those telcos without strong content plays could find themselves in the market for acquisitions. For example, Verizon could make a bid for Spotify pre-listing, or even post-listing.

The FCC ruling still needs congressional approval and is subject to legal challenges from a bunch of states so it could yet be blocked. If it is not, then the above is how the world will look. Make no mistake, this is the biggest growing pain the streaming economy has yet faced, even if it just ends up with those services having to carve out an extra slice of their wafer-thin margins in order reach their customers.

Shazam Is Apple’s Echo Nest

apple music shazam midia

Shazam finally found a buyer: Apple. Ever since its affiliate sales revenue model crumbled with the onset of streaming (there’s no business in an affiliate fee on a $0.01 stream), Shazam has been trying to find a new business model. It doubled down on providing tools for TV advertisers but never got enough traction for that to be a true pivot. Shazam’s problem has always been that it was a feature rather than a product – as so many VC funded tech companies are. The fact that it sold for $400 million – just 2.8 times its total investment ($143 million) and well below its previous pre-money valuation of $1 billion, illustrates how much value has seeped out of Shazam’s business. The Apple acquisition though, is one of the few ways that Shazam’s ‘hidden’ value can be realised.

Cool tech without a business model

Shazam was a digital music pioneer. I remember getting a demo from one of the founders back in the early 2000s, and I was blown away by just how well the tech worked. However, quality of tech was never Shazam’s problem, and once the app economy appeared it also had a very clear and compelling consumer use case. Despite competition from challengers in more recent years – especially Soundhound, which has also been compelled to pivot but may now decide to double back down on its core competences – Shazam continued to be the standout leader in music recognition. The irony is that its use case is stronger now than it was back in the download era because people are listening to a wider array of music than ever before. The problem was a lack of revenue model.

Shazam tried to position itself as a tastemaker, with its charts becoming useful heat indicators for radio stations and streaming companies. Labels soon learned to game the system with ‘Shazam parties’ but even without that challenge, this still did little to help Shazam build a business model. Apple however, saw beyond the music recognition and Shazam now gives Apple a music recognition engine. Shazam is Apple’s answer to Spotify’s Echo Nest.

Apple Music needs growth and engagement

Apple, which recently passed 30 million subscribers, continues to lag behind Spotify’s growth. Apple Music is adding around half a million new subscribers a month, while Spotify was adding close to two million a month up until it announced 60 million subscribers in July. The fact Spotify hasn’t announced since then may point to slowing growth, but my money is on a big number being announced in the next five weeks.

Apple’s weekly active user (WAU) penetration is far behind Spotify’s, indicating that Apple needs to do a better job of engaging its users. Better playlists, recommendations and algorithm driven curation all help Spotify stay ahead of the curve. Now, Apple will be hoping that Shazam will provide it with the tools to start playing catch up. And that’s not even mentioning the user acquisition potential Shazam could have when it switches to exclusively pointing to Apple Music. Game on.