Looks like the streaming wars just got a little more interesting, as it was announced earlier today that Sprint has purchased 33 percent of Tidal, the streaming service founded by Jay Z
, for a reported $200 million. According to Billboard
, the purchase means that Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure will join Tidal's board of directors, and that Sprint's 45 million customers will have access to exclusive content on Tidal if they subscribe. The partnership won't effect current Tidal subscribers unless they have Sprint for their mobile carrier, and the dozens of artists who own a stake in Tidal, such as Beyonce, Madonna, Kanye West, and Jack White just to name a few, will still be apart of the company.
Other than that information, Sprint and Tidal left the details of their partnership unspecified, but looking at the streaming service's history, we can at least hypothesize what might be next. Since its launch in 2015, Tidal has been the runt of the streaming litter compared to its deeper-pocketed competitors and a bit of a punch line in the music industry. There was turbulence from the very beginning for Jay Z and co., thanks to the company's now-infamous launch video, which showed the many artists behind Tidal drinking champagne and self-righteously predicting how the service would "change the course of history." Big on the hubris but light on the actual substance, the video currently has nearly 20,000 dislikes on YouTube (vs. around 4,000 likes), so the service kicked off without both a clear mission statement and the majority of peoples' respect.
While Tidal has claimed a few victories with exclusive content from artists like Beyonce
and Kanye West
, the service has been struggling to generate paying users, with only an estimated 1 million active paid accounts, which is beyond peanuts when compared to Spotify's 40 million paying users or Apple Music's 20 million. According to The New York Times
, Tidal had lost roughly $28 million in 2015, and lacked sufficient funding by the end of 2016, so all in all, it's been far from smooth sailing for the company.
It may not seem like it on the surface, but the purchase by Sprint honestly might be the best thing Tidal could've hoped for at this point. While Sprint may seem like a random buyer, it makes more sense when you realize that back in 2015, Sprint had reportedly purchased a stake in Tidal as reported by the New York Post
(though at the time Sprint denied doing so). For all purposes, Tidal is keeping it in the family, but just shifting who holds power, and giving part of the reigns to an established, successful company could be a good move to get things on track. Not to mention the fact that 45 million Sprint users suddenly have an incentive to get Tidal, so that's bound to bring in at least a decently sized portion of new users to the platform.
Even with their lack of direction, it's at least clear that Tidal wants to be a streaming service run by artists, cutting out the middleman and giving music directly to their fans, which may make the Sprint partnership sound counterintuitive at first. However, Sprint promises to start a "marketing fund" of $75 million annually for Tidal artists, which could be their way of attracting more artists toward exclusive deals with Tidal. By offering a fund directly meant to benefit artists, Tidal may have finally found a way to do good on their dream, and to lock horns with Spotify and Apple: An artist-oriented streaming service that not only provides artists a platform for their music, but also access to marketing and promotion resources they can't find anywhere else. It could be an appealing alternative for, say, an artist who has their music on Spotify but has no way of directly promoting said music on the site.
The name of the streaming game right now is exclusive content, so if Tidal can wrangle the right artists away from their competition, then we might have a true underdog story on our hands, folks. Of course by "underdogs" I mean massively successful musicians who have more than enough money to burn on a decent idea in hope that it'll eventually catch on, but hey, it's all relative.