Those in New York might have noticed some flesh-toned ads popping up with a single, simple caption: "4:44." Like any proper, overtly vague ad campaign, the signs immediately started speculation, so people on the Internet put on their detective caps and began investigating. Websites like Complex displayed "4:44" ads online, so crafty users dug into the source codes and found that the ads originated from the Jay-Z owned streaming underdog, Tidal. This connection to Tidal led many to reach the same logical conclusion: A new Jay-Z album is on the way. A surprise album actually makes sense, considering the $200 million Live Nation deal
Jay inked last month, plus the fact he's headlining his Made In America festival this fall. He probably wouldn't have signed a 10-year performing deal without new music, right?
While the writing seemed to be on the wall, it was revealed last night during the NBA Finals that "4:44" is actually a Tidal-exclusive film starring Oscar winners Mahershala Ali, Lupita Nyong'o, and Danny Glover. It's an NC-17 film that's being released in partnership by Tidal and Sprint, and that's about all we know of the time being. If anything, the ad has only raised more questions than answers, but if we look at Tidal's recent activities and business moves, we can at least take a few educated guesses about what's in store for the near future.
Right off the bat, let's look at Sprint's involvement in "4:44," which may seem a little random to people who haven't been actively following Tidal (which, going by their subscriber numbers, is probably quite a few people). We delved into Sprint's $200 million stake in Tidal back in January
, but the SparkNotes version is that through the purchase, Sprint got their CEO Marcelo Claure on Tidal's board of directors, Tidal got Sprint's 45 million customers at their doorstep, and the pair promised to collaborate on exclusive content. Fast-forward to now, and this might be the first major piece of work resulting from that collaboration. Along with the ad that aired on TV, Claure shared a slightly different version of the spot on Twitter, which makes it clear Sprint definitely has their hands in the cooking pot with Tidal.
Sprint's backing might also be why Tidal – which isn't dirt poor but certainly doesn't have the net worth of Spotify or Apple – suddenly had the budget for an apparent film starring three Academy Award winners (especially after their rise in value
after Sprint's purchase). This segways into the next big question: When they say "4:44" is a "film," what does that actually mean? Is it an artistic short film a la Lemonade
, or is it a full-blown movie with plot and characters and such? If we assume the latter, than this could very well mean that Tidal wants to not only be a source for exclusive music, but exclusive movies as well, which would be an unprecedented move for any streaming service on the market. Apple Music has delved into long-form music related videos, and just a few days ago announced their first original series, "Planet of the Apps,"
but neither they or Spotify have made full-blown movies available to stream, let alone movies they personally funded. If this truly is the move Tidal is making, then they might as well add Netflix to their list of incredibly powerful and far-reaching competitors.
Since the service's launch after Jay Z took over, exclusivity has been the name of the game, and for the most part, it's worked pretty well so far. With impressive list of famous owners in the company, Tidal has incredible access to some of the most famous artists in the business spanning across almost every genre under the sun. There's of course Beyonce's Lemonade
, which single-handedly gave Tidal a jump from #202 to #3 on Apple's App Store the week it dropped. But aside from that, there's plenty of other content you can't find anywhere else, from The White Stripes' first TV performance to Daft Punk's 2006 film Electroma to the highly coveted Taylor Swift discography.
It's these types of deals that have kept Tidal in the conversation, but it's still hard to say if this strategy holds much longevity. These surges in downloads and subscribers tend to dissipate in the weeks following a release, as with Lemonade's
case, and as long as Tidal can't grow their modest number of active subscribers (last reported at under 1 million), exclusivity can only get them so far. Not only that, but less subscribers inherently means a smaller reach, ergo artists' sales may end up being much smaller than they could be with a normal wide-release. Granted, artists like Beyonce can afford to take such a hit, but selling fewer copies due to lack of availability might be why, among many other reasons, she didn't walk away with an Album of the Year Grammy this year.
Tying back to "4:44," it looks like it will follow in the same vein of big Tidal releases of only being available to Tidal/Sprint users. Not only that, but the film also apparently has an NC-17 rating, and usually a movie has to be exceptionally brutal/provocative/risqué to earn the MPAA's highest rating. So out of Tidal's already limited number of users, an even smaller number of those users are eligible to watch the film. Whether or not that's a good move will be determined in time, but at the very least, it's no doubt that Tidal always manages to get people talking when it comes to their big releases.
We'll find out what "4:44" really is soon enough, and like other past releases, we'll probably see a gained interest in Tidal again. How long that interest will last is TBD, but if Tidal and Sprint can finally manage to keep the hype going for a substantial amount of time, then they might finally be one step closer to competing in the big leagues on a more even playing field.