In one of the more surprising pieces of news taking the cycle home before the Fourth of July weekend, Apple is in talks to buy Jay-Z’s musician-centric streaming service Tidal.
Those strong ties to big names in music – Kanye, Beyonce and Madonna have all had exclusive Tidal releases – are Apple’s particular interest. That said, The Wall Street Journal reports that these talks are ongoing, and thus may be headed to nowhere but a lot of speculation over the holiday weekend. But Tidal officials are more close-lipped and deny any talks with Apple have taken place.
Jay-Z grabbed Tidal in March 2015 for $56 million from Swedish firm Aspiro. The rap mogul then gave stakes in the firm to 19 prominent artists and made promises of millions in marketing.
Consumers pay $20 per month for access to Tidal’s 40 million or so song catalog in hi-fi, or they can pay $10 a month for standard quality sound. Tidal claims 4.2 million subscribers, most of which were acquired along with those big exclusive releases. Tidal is also the only streaming service offering the catalog of the late Prince, as Prince had a personal relationship with Jay-Z (he was otherwise unwilling to put his material on streaming services).
But management is something the firm has struggled with – it has gone through three CEOs in a less than a year. The service also hasn’t, as of yet, managed to cough up real revenue, since its subscriber base is small. Spotify AB, by contrast, as about 30 million subscribers and about 70 million free users. Spotify, however, has sparked artist ire by refusing to restrict their music to the paid tier only. Taylor Swift and Adele have withheld new releases from the entire service, with Adele only making her 2015 album “25” available on Spotify this month.
Tidal has thus been in exploratory talks with a lot of music players – streaming service Rhapsody (now Napster) among them.
Apple, at present, brings about 15 million subscribers to the table – and built its service out of Beats acquisition.
But it is unknown if a good match can really be made, given that Tidal is primarily about artist freedom, and freedom is not exactly Apple’s favorite concept. Still, Apple has been trying to forge better ties with recording artists, and Tidal offers an interesting chance.