Monday, December 21, 2015

Apple’s plan to dominate streaming: Become music’s very own Netflix

Written by Tim Ingham — Of course. It’s video.

Ever since Apple Music was announced at WWDC in early June, we’ve been asking the same question: in a world of locked-down and heavily protected copyrights, how is Apple going to get closer enough to artists to garner a significant business advantage?

Now we know.

Since last night’s announcement that Apple Music would become the exclusive distributor of the official concert film of Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour, MBW has learnt that the star’s independent label, Big Machine, led negotiations in Cupertino.

A spokesperson for Big Machine told us: “Big Machine Records is the sole and exclusive owner of all recordings of Taylor’s musical performances, whether audio only or audiovisual.”

This is no great surprise: Swift’s parents are believed to own a significant stake in Big Machine, and Swift is certainly closer to BMLG’s founder – Scott Borchetta – than your average artist.

(Borchetta is a friend of the Swift family, and the man widely credited as giving the artist known as Tay Tay the creative leeway to shift her trademark sound from country to pop – a decision that launched her career into superstardom.)

The bigger question here: what, exactly, did Big Machine and Taylor Swift get out of this deal?

The obvious answer is a cheque. Stick enough zeroes on it, and even the world’s biggest upbeat pop star will be tempted.

But something about this feels more momentous. Witness the suspiciously assured Apple Music teaser ad for Swift’s 1989 LIVE video.

A dumb but prescient observation: it all feels very… Apple, wouldn’t you agree?

I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that Apple didn’t just bankroll this movie. It created it.

Apple cameras. Apple directors. Apple post-production.

Apple as HBO. Apple as Netflix.

Apple as a record label.

In return, Swift and Big Machine have paid third-parties exactly nothing to generate the super-slick movie that her live opus deserves.

This isn’t just a concert film. It’s a beaming, overwhelming advert for Apple Music. And a beaming, overwhelming advert for Taylor Swift.

The sort of aligned interest that a record label dreams about…

Whatever the reasons behind the latest Apple/Swift commercial tryst, consider this: the Taylor Swift news comes in the same month that Coldplay released a great new video for comeback single Adventure Of A Lifetime, which just happens to double up as a Beats Pill ad. (Quite literally: it’s now been repackaged as a commercial for Beats on UK and US TV.)

As MBW speculated on Friday, perhaps Coldplay’s mini-snub of Spotify with their new LP was, in fact, less of an anti-free statement of intent, and more a case of an Apple Music exclusive gone slightly awry.

Apple surely wanted to lock down an exclusive stream of Coldplay’s new album, A Head Full Of Dreams, in exchange for bankrolling a video creaking at the seams with Beats product placement.

Again, no financial outlay for Team Coldplay. Win-win.

Problem: Chris Martin owns 3% in TIDAL – a streaming service surging ahead with its own exclusive video stream strategy, of live concerts as they happen.

Result: A Head Full Of Dreams is only made available on various ‘paid for’ streaming services.

For Jimmy Iovine, an irritating sudden bout of ABS.

Anyone But Spotify.

So what does all of this mean for Apple music’s strategy, and the culture of artist exclusives in 2016?

Well, we know that when it was touting Connect as an artist’s best distribution channel earlier this year, Apple spooked record labels.

And we know that last month Apple began recruiting expert candidates to “devise, develop and project manage a diverse and multi faceted original content and live projects program for Apple Music”.

These people will work alongside existing Apple Connect puppetmasters such as Sean Glass (one of MBW’s Young Execs 2015).

We also know that Apple has already dipped its toe in the water of creating music videos for artists.

Before Swift and Coldplay, it did so for the likes of Pharrell Williams, Drake, Eminem and indie artist Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear – in exchange for a bit of exclusive distribution.


The creation and dissemination of these music videos would, traditionally, have been a role filled by record labels; functions which would have added to the often mountainous pile of costs an artist is expected to recoup during an album campaign.

Apple appears to be taking it upon itself to reduce that burden, both on the record label, and on the artist.

For acts growing tired of spending their live ticket receipts on the promotional playthings of the record industry, it’s a powerful offer.

With Spotify now finally relenting on its ‘everything free’ demands, Jimmy Iovine’s timing is impeccable.

A potentially awkward conversation for Iovine and his old friend Lucian Grainge: Apple hasn’t just possibly pinched digital distribution for Taylor Swift’s audiovisual content from Universal Music Group.

It’s pinched the rights, too.

It’s probably time, then, to stop wondering about that old poser: ‘What would happen if Apple became a record label?’

It’s already begun. Taylor Swift just sounded the starting pistol.

For now, Apple seems happy to leave the most financially risky element of a record label’s job, actual studio A&R, to the experts.

But there are other rights on the table, and it’s going right ahead and taking a slice.

This isn’t merely a music phenomenon.


Apple is also recruiting gold-standard journalists to work across its Apple News service. Apple TV will surely soon have its very own House Of Cards equivalent.

Meanwhile, Amazon has created a fund to make its own movies, and has tentatively started putting together its very own album releases.

The world’s biggest distributors are becoming blockbuster content creators, all chasing the wildly successful, Emmy-winning Netflix model.

They’ve realised something that record labels everywhere could have told them a decade ago.

The exclusive content which really attracts consumers into digital services isn’t bought. It’s made.

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