Magazine article Variety

Guide to Field of Streams

Magazine article Variety

Guide to Field of Streams

Article excerpt

OVER THE PAST Few years, no facet of the music business has been subject to more analysis, controversy and passionate hand-wringing than the streaming music space. Which makes sense, as the format seems poised to do to the mp3 market what the mp3 market did to compact discs. And yet, for the average consumer, all the talk must be a bit mystifying: The major services are far more similar than different, and the core questions over the space's future - whether ad-supported free streaming has a future; whether the market can support multiple services simultaneously - all involve business-side decisions more than consumer ones. Nonetheless, the services all offer their own distinct identities, benefits and drawbacks.

APPLE MUSIC

* U.S. launch: 2015

* Subscribers: 11 million

* Cost: $9.99

* Catalog: 37 million

Easily the most significant new player to enter the U.S. digital music space since Spotify, Apple Music was powered by a $3 billion acquisition of Jimmy lovine and Dr. Ore's Beats Music. Having already sold more than 25 billion tracks on iTunes, Apple benefits mightily from brand allegiance, and the simple fact that a sizable portion of music buyers have already given the company their credit card number. But ironically, the service's most attractive innovation is actually a very old-school one: Live, 24-hour radio programming via its Beats 1 station. With Zane Lowe helming its flagship hour, Beats 1 offers weekly shows from the likes of Dr. Dre, Drake, St. Vincent and Josh Homme, helping to inject some personality into what can often be a sterile, static listening experience.

Forecast: The core dilemma facing Apple Music is identical to the one facing nearly every nonSpotify streaming service: Accruing enough paying subscribers. For that, October will be its first moment of truth, when most of the 11 million already on the service will see their three-month free trial period expire. But if the service can keep attracting noteworthy exclusives - Taylor Swift's monster "1989" is only available there, and Dr. Dre's "Compton" launched as an exclusive - it could be the name to beat.

SPOTIFY

* U.S. launch: 2011

* Subscribers: 20 million (paying); 75 million total users

* Cost: free; $9.99

* Catalog: 30 million

Spotify was the first streaming music service that most Americans ever heard of, and like Kleenex, Xerox and Google, its brand name is nearly synonymous with its function. Though its free tier represents its biggest lure, the Swedish company has converted a very healthy number of free users to paying subscribers, and its wealth of curated playlists - including, most recently, one from President Obama - helps to compensate for its lack of an attractive radio option.

Forecast: Spotify's early dominance in the space makes it a target, both for new competitors and for artists and labels unhappy with its royalty payments. But assuming it can keep industry grumbling at bay and keep its free option attractive, it has all the momentum to be around for the long haul.

TIDAL

* U.S. launch: 2015

* Cost: $9.99; $19.99

* Subscribers: 500,000

* Catalog: 25 million

Launched by Jay Z last spring, Tidal was built on the back of acquired Swedish service Aspiro, and was marketed as a sort of combination luxury product (with high-quality audio files and video content) and United Artists-esque musicianowned company. …

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