Hi-fi streaming service Tidal has benefited from a great deal of publicity since it changed hands and relaunched as an artist-driven revolutionary service for the online music space under the leadership of Jay-Z. One of the elements that the celebrity music backers of the service pointed to as a service differentiator was exclusive content. The idea of exclusive tracks and videos to justify Tidal’s subscription-only access seemed promising in theory, to both consumers and performers. After all, if Jay-Z calls, who’s going to say no?
But within days, we’re already seeing that execution of a streaming exclusive can be difficult or impossible. And further, that publicity about failed exclusives can undermine a service’s marketing message.
Both Beyonce and Rihanna released exclusive songs on Tidal. Beyonce’s was a heartfelt love song to husband Jay-Z, filmed by the man himself with a handheld camera. Rihanna’s was the studio version of a new song that she first debuted in a live performance at the March Madness Music Festival. Even though both tracks are getting billed as “exclusives” to Tidal subscribers, anyone can easily find both of them on YouTube and on other websites spanning the full range of legality.
A similar situation arose in December, 2013, when Spotify announced an exclusive deal to carry Led Zeppelin’s entire discography. Anyone could listen to Zep’s music on YouTube, a fully free, on-demand service with a user-generated catalog that can seem bottomless.
That is the central problem — it’s nearly impossible to have a streaming exclusive that stays exclusive. It’s just too easy for somebody with the right tech and know-how to lift audio or video content and redistribute it on the channel of their choice. And for digital natives who have never known a life without cloud access to unlimited content, there is conceptually nothing wrong with that sort of sharing.
Several different rips of the two Tidal exclusives have appeared online and then disappeared thanks to DMCA copyright takedowns. Trying to control a single audio track can quickly turn into a game of digital whack-a-mole.
While last week’s media coverage of Tidal was all about the launch and new celebrity ownership, today the publicity is all about how one key subscription value is not worth paying for, because the content is everywhere.