Jay-Z recently revealed his plans for Tidal, a high-fidelity music-streaming service. The key differentiators are:
- Tidal will have no free tier
- Tidal will have a $10/mo compressed quality option, and a $20 CD-quality option
- Tidal will offer equity stakes in the company to artists
I’m a little skeptical that Tidal will succeed. Spotify and Pandora are pretty dominant in the streaming category, and iTunes and Amazon seem to have a lock on the download space. With every passing month, Apple’s Beats Music service seems a little less likely to succeed, although I wouldn’t rule them out.
To me, Tidal feels like a more relevant, more millenial version of Neil Young’s Pono Music Player, another artist-supported offering that touts its premium sound. But Pono seems to have proved a Quixotic quest, since (a) the sound seems not to have been “worth it” (b) very few people would carry around a second, dedicated device and (c) most importantly, Pono’s high fidelity catalog was very limited.
I would argue that Tidal will stumble into some of these same pitfalls: (a) I don’t think enough consumers will pony up $20 for premium sound, but (b) the service will obviously be app-based, mitigating the need for a second device, and (c) I think the catalog will be larger than Pono’s but smaller than any of the other streaming or download incumbents.
There is, of course, the Jay-Z halo. The initial launch announced that his, and Beyonce’s albums will make the grade, as will offerings from Nicki Minaj, Jack White, Daft Punk, and others. And although I do think that the equity proposition will be tempting for artists, I think that the value proposition is iffy for fans. Unless it were a zero-sum game, with artists on one service or the other, but not both, it’s hard to see Tidal taking users from Spotify’s free tier, let alone bump them up to the $20/mo premium level, which is likely what the service needs to be viable in the long run.
But I’d be only half-joking to say that, if Taylor Swift signs on, Tidal could spell trouble for other players.