A 2018 Report on Streaming & the Value Gap

A 2018 Report on Streaming & the Value Gap

Executive Summary

This report will examine streaming and the music industry’s value gap. It will introduce the digital age of music; review streaming and the value gap; and finally, analyse how this problematic situation effects and is affected by, copyright, industry practice and music’s economic value. Various past papers, articles and reports on this subject and similar matters, have been studied and analysed to form a cohesive examination, backed ideologies and potential outcomes.

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Is it time to accept that music may not be economically valuable in today’s world, and that artists need to proceed in focusing on other ways to exploit their talents to gain revenue?

The report concludes that this is a complex time for all organisations surrounding the value gap and that end results could produce required payments from consumer to YouTube, and vice versa from YouTube to the music industry – certain are the monumental changes YouTube will be obligated to make. It is a time where all parties involved in music need to look to the future, and forecast what the value of music will be, and how they can exploit other avenues of generating revenue.

Disclaimer: This report was written in March 2018; before YouTube made a changes to their platform; a new value gap emerged with Tik Tok; and YouTube released their Music Premium.

Keywords: value gap, streaming, YouTube, music industry, consumption, revenue.


  1. Introduction

    1.1 The Digital Age

  2. Literature Review

    2.1. Streaming | 2.2. Value Gap

  3. Analysis

    3.1. Copyright Law | 3.2. Industry Practices | 3.3. Economic Value

  4. Conclusion

  5. References

1. Introduction

The music industry is at an incredible point in time, in terms of re-growth and choice for consumers, however there are still prominent issues that need addressing. “Once music has been recorded and manufactured, its needs to be delivered to consumers and other music users efficiently and profitably” (Anderton, et al., 2012) though, the music industry is still struggling in the reworking of ways to connect with its audiences and develop the value in their services and products (Vella, et al., 2016). It consistently endures the distorting effect of unfair competition from unlicensed services (IFPI, 2017) and seems to forever be in a state of flux (Vella, et al., 2016), yet the fight against safe habour laws is not unreasonable, as Sony Music CEO, Edgar Berger stated, “we don’t want anyone to claim being protected by safe habours once they monetize and distribute music” (Jones, 2016). This is the fundamental issue of the ‘Value Gap’, and one of these ad-supported services in particular are Google owned, YouTube (Moore, 2016).

Although Apple and Spotify have both had their criticisms, they are rewarding the music industry with sufficient amounts of revenue. Platforms like YouTube, in comparison to their user and revenue to the music industry statistics, are not.

1.1. The Digital Age

An interesting shift has occurred, as once profitable formats such as CD, cassette and vinyl now “constitute cultural artefacts with considerable symbolic meaning and value” (Anderton, et al., 2012). Whilst digital music, music retailers and streaming services are online – potentially placing their service in every home across the world (Anderton, et al., 2012).
An infamous and innovative quote by David Bowie has aligned perfectly with how the recording industry is today – “music itself is going to become like running water or electricity” (2002) . Music really has evolved into an “on-demand industry” (Pollack, 2000) and musicians must adjust to these consumer demands (Vella, et al., 2016). Their choice for accessing music has never been wider (Moore, 2016) and it seems the internet has done a great deal for the music industry, however, Pollack (2000) states that these “new technological advances continuously upset this balance by facilitating the ability to copy works with permission from copyright holders” . Faster modems and processors combined with compression technologies, mean that songs can be downloaded in minutes rather than hours (Coats, et al., 2000), furthermore, MP3’s are not embodied with copyright management systems (Pollack, 2000), resulting in maximum ease for music piracy. The internet is “changing the nature of music dissemination and forcing the major record labels to rethink their strategies” (Casey, et al., 2008).

2. Literature Review

2.1. Streaming

Gaining access to audio content on the web is now relatively easy (Pollack, 2000) and international music streaming opened new markets that previously barely existed for music – the potential for artists to access global audiences has never been greater, but the selection of music for consumers to access has never been wider (Moore, 2016). Music collections are accumulating 10’s of millions of tracks, posing a strenuous challenge for the average consumer when searching, retrieving and organising their music content (Casey, et al., 2008) – it’s no wonder that many music consumers are turning towards these streaming services, which is now offsetting the decline of downloads and physical sales (Moore, 2016).
Streaming has three eras, consisting of – Phase 1 (2008 – 2012): Market Entry, Phase 2 (2013 – 2018): Surge and Phase 3 (2018 –): Maturation (Mulligan, 2017). This evolution goes from (1) the young music aficionados, formerly spending considerable amounts of money on music that went down to a $9.99 a month subscription; to (2) the digital generation, who are taken in by the ease of having such a vast catalogue on their mobile device; to (3) the markets based either side of 25 – 35, which means converting the older consumer, however with a rapid fruition of car and home technologies, voice and AI devices, this is well on its way (Mulligan, 2017). This maturation phase is specifically interesting as it may be a market particularly suited to Google, parent company of YouTube, and its Google Play Music service, something that will be discussed during a later section.

Streaming platforms | Image Credit: E Birt, ArtCorner, 2018

Streaming platforms | Image Credit: E Birt, ArtCorner, 2018

“Streaming is the biggest driver of this digital transformation” (Moore, 2016), and although Apple and Spotify have both had their criticisms – unbundling albums and free tiers (Edwards, 2017) – they are rewarding the music industry with sufficient amounts of revenue (IFPI, 2017). Whereas platforms like YouTube, in comparison to their user and revenue to the music industry statistics, are not (IFPI, 2017; Pollack, 2000).

2.2. Value Gap

Pollack, a leading journalist and analysist of digital music and copyright, stated that “the digital music revolution will more equally shift the copyright balance between creators and public” (2000), this is true except for one area. With the explosion of music consumption, resulting revenues aren’t being fairly returned to its creators and owners (Moore, 2016) – “the value gap exists as a result of a boom in music consumption, without an accompanying boom in revenues” (Jones, 2016).

Subscription platforms have 76.4% less users than ad-supported services, yet are generating 85.8% more revenue.

The value gap exists as a result of a boom in music consumption, without an accompanying boom in revenues.

Figure 1: Global Music Industry revenue.

Figure 1: Global Music Industry revenue.

Figure 2: Revenue supplied to the Music Industry.

Figure 2: Revenue supplied to the Music Industry.

Both figures above were constructed through data taken from IFPI, BPI and Music Business Worldwide. To put things into context, advertised-supported user upload services are the biggest source of recorded music (Moore, 2016); with YouTube securing 1 billion hours of watched video per day (Goodman, 2017). To convert these monetary statistics shown in Figure 1 and 2 from IFPI Global Music Report’s 2015 to 2017, we can evaluate this to the percentages that these ad-supported services contributed just 4.2% of global industry revenues in 2015 (Moore, 2016) and 3.5% in 2016, while holding an estimated user amount of more than 900 million (IFPI, 2017). Compare these findings to those of subscription based platforms, like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music, show us that these platforms contributed 13.3% of global industry revenues in 2015 and 24.9% in 2016, with an estimated user number of 212 million (IFPI, 2017) – subscription platforms have 76.4% less users than ad-supported services, yet are generating 85.8% more revenue. Also shocking, is the estimated revenue per user figure presented by IFPI (2017), a streaming service like Spotify generates $20 per user, whereas YouTube generates just $1.
This shows a “dramatic contrast between the proportionate revenues generated by user upload services and by paid subscription tiers” (Moore, 2016), “it’s not only fair to take action, it’s also desperately needed to secure sustainable growth” says Warner CEO, Stu Bergen (Jones, 2016). This is the value gap, and has come about, as “inconsistent applications of online liability laws have emboldened certain services to claim they are not liable for the music they make available to the public” (IFPI, 2017).

The value gap is the structural flaw in the music industry market place (Bouchoux, 2017; IFPI, 2017; Moore, 2016), but it is not something the music industry can fix, that is for policy makers to legislate (Vella, et al., 2016).  “[The value gap] is a legislative issue caused by the misapplication of the so-called ‘safe habours’ to user upload services” (Moore, 2016). Safe habour laws are cemented by laws such as the DMCA (Jones, 2016) and EU Piracy Laws (Europa, 1995), platforms can ultimately evade legal accountability for copyright infringement on its service (Jones, 2016). Fundamentally, YouTube can dismay claims against them by using the shield of not being responsible for the music distributed on their channel (IFPI, 2017). This allows user upload services to exploit music licenses in a way that is exceptionally unfair and devaluing of music (Moore, 2016), furthermore, for them to generate revenue from illegal content without any fear of penalty (Jones, 2016). “The hugely influential platform [YouTube] is locked in a long-standing and seemingly intractable war with the music industry over money and control of content” (Goodman, 2017). In the US, hundreds are speaking out about this issue and in Europe, “a collection of industry bodies are calling for legislative change from the European Union to fix the value gap” (Moore, 2016).

3. Analysis

To analyse this subject and work towards a bright future of music, we need to first recognise that physical items and digital files, along with streaming, have fundamentally different properties and characteristics – each having its own parameters, procedures and economic frameworks (Anderton, et al., 2012). So, to continue an industry based on practices and laws created for physical manufacture and distribution is impractical. Discussions surrounding copyright laws have been abundant in the last few years (Pollack, 2000), and “pressure is now building against safe habour” (Jones, 2016), furthermore, “legal arguments, policy positions and research papers that support this [issue] are traded continuously” (Edwards, 2017). Significant as it finally seems, the pressure is at an all-time high for YouTube.

The music industry has long claimed that its product is a dominating factor of YouTube’s significance in today’s digital age, yet their payments to artists and copyright owners are lagging (Goodman, 2017). There many potential circumstances the majors would love of course, like YouTube releasing 70% of its revenue from music to copyrighted owners (which Spotify claims to do) (Jones, 2016), or being offered shares in the company – similar to which happen with Vevo (Jones, 2016).
In support of Google, many of the music industry personnel failed to understand YouTube’s basis on how it monetizes content – it’s not about per-stream rates, but ‘Watch Time’ (Edwards, 2017).

Those with power must constantly and consistently balance the law’s objectives in order to have a fair copyright within the internet, for the music industry.

3.1. Copyright Law

All forms of copyrighted materials have been affected by digital technology, but its disruption to music has been most significant (Pollack, 2000) – “this endless re-working/bundling/re-contextualization of digital music is, of course, not well served by the older 19th century frameworks of copyright protection” (Vella, et al., 2016). As a result, we are seeing the cracks and there is “tremendous potential for copyright infringement” (Downing & McCarthy, 1999).

Music is primarily a copyright business (Wikström, 2010) and the introduction of technology has meant that this and copyright law have been entwined in an ongoing legal conflict since the Gutenberg printing press (Blades, 1999). Those with the power must constantly and consistently balance the law’s objectives (Pollack, 2000) in order to have a fair copyright within the internet for the music industry – that is what needs to be accomplished here. Digital piracy undermines the licensed music business via unlicensed streaming websites, peer-to-peer (P2P), file-sharing networks, cyberlockers and aggregators, stream ripping and mobile apps (IFPI, 2017).
Acts that pursue to redefine copyright law in this digital age (Pollack, 2000) such the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (U.S. Copyright Office Summary, 1998), the No Electronic Theft Act (United States House of Representatives, 1997) and the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRSA) of 1995 (Public Law 104-39, 1995), help in the way of music piracy and recordings that are digitally performed by subscription platforms (Bloom, 1997), but not by non-subscription based platforms (Abrahamson, 1997) such as YouTube.

The music industry is responding with a “comprehensive, multi-pronged approach” including consumer education on music value and copyright, dealings with law enforcement, battling against pirate services and infringing apps, and engaging with policy makers and legislators (IFPI, 2017). Proposals to narrow this value gap by slimming the user-generated content loophole of safe habour have been met with the support of Matt Hancock, UK digital and culture minister, who speaks on the backing of copyright reform (Orlowski, 2017). Additionally, the European Commission has projected a filtering obligation, which does not change the requirements of Directive 2000/31/EC or provide an adaptation of Article 3 of Directive 2001/29/EC, but could potentially modify protections of internet service providers (Europa: Council Legal Service, 2017). All of which is significant as we see people and organisations joining together to speak out against the issue – we will need to wait and watch to see if this significant for a real change?

We can also evaluate ‘Blockchain’ – “a public decentralized ledger used in digital currencies… [that] has the potential to be a smart contract embedded within a music file that automatically send licensing, payments and usage agreements to anyone using that file around the world” (Vella, et al., 2016). In contest against this system, David Gerard, et al. (2017), states that no single blockchain can scale the size of the music industry, for example, Apple music’s 40 million songs would all need reconciling. Other than this, issues with data changing, who pays, and security threat models are present for this massive innovation (Gerard, et al., 2017). No matter your stance on this system, Spotify seem to think that it’s a step in the right direction, by acquiring Mediachain – a step to push the “streaming leader’s journey towards a more fair, transparent and rewarding music industry for creators and rights owners” (Music Business Worldwide, 2017).
To briefly conclude here, Blockchain is still in its early days (Vella, et al., 2016), has issues observed previously and could disrupt other areas including industry middlemen and gatekeepers (Elder, 2017); yet it could also, signify the future (Rethink Music Initiative, 2015; Vella, et al., 2016) and enhance copyright.

Innovative new copyright and royalty models are needed (Vella, et al., 2016) and although it seems like this back-and-forth has been playing out for an eternity (Edwards, 2017), as of present, policy makers are responding, by Europe conducting legislative proposals to the value gap and the USA’s examination of the DMCA (Moore, 2016), to follow on, as of 2016 major record companies are either in or about to begin new licensing agreements with YouTube (Jones, 2016) – things are moving.

3.2. Industry Practices

Some say it is a fantastic time for the independent artist, however others state that the internet did not destroy the record label, but in fact made it more important as the primary investor.

Record companies have worked relentlessly to embrace change (Moore, 2016), from copyrighting sheet music to the complexities of this digital age, just like the history between radios and Musicians’ Union and Performing Rights Associations over performing rights, copyrights and getting paid, musicians have had to adapt to technological and social change (Vella, et al., 2016). With this pressure on the record labels, some say it is a fantastic time for the independent artist (Boron, 2017), however Frances More, CEO of IFPI, states that the internet did not destroy the record label, but in fact made it “more important as the primary investor in artists” (2016). Moore also states that she would like to see YouTube take ‘proper licenses’ like those created with subscription services (Jones, 2016). The campaign against safe harbours is not to entirely sweep them away (Moore, 2016). They make sense for platforms who do not select, organize, promote and monetize music – but YouTube, in particular, do (Moore, 2016). SoundCloud, who has caused years of frustration in the music industry, has recently been licensed (Jones, 2016) and with YouTube gathering 46% of on-demand music streaming from 75% of internet users (Orlowski, 2017), its clear to see why the music industry desires this market. It seems that all these free tier platforms are feeling the pressure to conform to the music industry requirements.

YouTube fought back at RIAA statements about comparisons with subscription services, stating that it is incomparable (Jones, 2016), due to how much YouTube offers.  Though, its Watch Time structure is about encouraging its audience to stay on a particular channel and YouTube applies a one-size-fits-all ideology for all content creators (Edwards, 2017) – something of difficulty for music artists, and something discouraged by the music industry.
The value gap argument is potential moving into waters where YouTube would be giving away a much larger portion of its revenue (Jones, 2016). However, unless there was a substantial growth its advertisement market (Jones, 2016), or it was required to do so by law (Pollack, 2000); why would it?

Cohen with Young Thug | Image Credit: C Johnson, HipHopDX, 2016

Cohen with Young Thug | Image Credit: C Johnson, HipHopDX, 2016

YouTube has effectively taken a step in showing their willingness to this case, in the acquisition of Lyor Cohen as Global Head of Music (Ingham, 2016), although this was unsurprising after Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora brought in Jimmy Iovine, Troy Carter and Questlove (Goodman, 2017). All the same, “the hiring of Lyor Cohen is very significant” (Edwards, 2017) – in the sense of artist and industry relationships, achieving sufficient systems within YouTube, and monetizing (Goodman, 2017).
Though this is important, with YouTube presenting an inclination of integrating themselves more into the music industry via Cohen, (Ingham, 2016), some question how this makes sense. Reviewing Cohen’s personality and career may prove that he’s a “potentially disruptive wild card” (Goodman, 2017), though on the other hand, some say this is a person with the track record to “cut through the silos and shift the trajectory” (Edwards, 2017).
Cohen is an “artist advocate who sees losing as an unpardonable sin, a failing surpassed only by not getting paid” (Goodman, 2017), this surely could help YouTube. It’s no surprise to wonder whether YouTube wishes to share additional revenue, what company would, but having Cohen behind them to secure even more revenue, may make a ‘balance’ even YouTube is interested in.

YouTube is said to launch its own new subscription service in March of 2018, potentially an upgrade from its YouTube Red service (Paine, 2017; Shaw, 2017; Stutz, 2017). But will this service be adequate with the current Google/YouTube tech employees? Although boasting on instructive data and transparency, they need “recognise that artists have a different set of priorities” (Goodman, 2017) – revenue and fair dealings. In favour of Google specifically, they do currently offer Google Play Music, though it is rarely spoken about – “it does not have the same attention to detail to attract an obsessed music fan” (Edwards, 2017). Nevertheless, this is a great opportunity for them to tap into the casual music fan through a simple user interface (Edwards, 2017). Noteworthy, as perhaps Google need to accept the fact that they aren’t going to acquire Spotify or Apple Music’s market – just like similar realization that Samsung had against Apple iPhone. An imaginable area suited to Google Play Music, may be the aim to access the older music listener (the process of Phase 3: Maturation), who could still have the ‘value of music’ engrained in them from buying tapes and CD’s, and convert them to the Google service (Edwards, 2017) through the backing of a widely renowned company despite age, and a simplistic interface.

Optimistic moves are also being made with Cohen wanting to enhance promotional systems that test viewers reactions, which can then be analysed by record companies (Musically, 2016; Goodman, 2017) - another way that YouTube are breaching a better relationship with the music industry. Moreover, to continue on YouTube’s positive functioning’s, its ability to sell users higher valued content, like presenting links to buy movies for example, is great, but needs enabling for music (Edwards, 2017). If they were to do this with Google Play Music, as mentioned earlier, then the music industry would surely see this as a constructive achievement. With the music teams at YouTube and Google Play combining, as it seems they are via content and product development (Singleton, 2017), this may create the pathway to more efficient monetization (Edwards, 2017).

Supposing that the wants of the music industry come to pass and safe habour restrictions are wiped from the board, the industry will then be presented with another issue – competition law (Edwards, 2017). With all the traffic of YouTube being pushed into Google Play Music, the streaming service would surely have a chance of competing with the likes of Apple Music and Spotify, however there is a thin line between growing Google Play to its full potential, whilst not breaching unfair barriers for rival services to access YouTube users (Edwards, 2017) – if the music industry achieves what it desires through this value gap battle, will it not just begin again through another dispute? One regarding unfair advantages?

3.3. Economic Value

Music industry revenues are up in all regions (Moore, 2016), however does that relate to the economic value of a song? “Consumers are now informed, connected, empowered and consequently have more market power” (Vella, et al., 2016) therefore it may be up to the consumer whether music has an economic value. Nonetheless, analysing the blockchain again, enables the artist a chance to claw back at this relationship with the consumer and their music’s value. Robert Elder (2017) speaks intriguingly on its potential, of a system that could create a token-based economy with value strained from the artist’s work, using crypto-currency to turn their intellectual property into revenue and tokens to reflect their creative output. This would build stronger relationship with the audience, being that they are buying into owning a share of the artists creations; as the consumers increase, so does the price of the token. It also creates revenue streams for everyone, artists and consumers; from the ability to buy and sell these tokens. Finally, on the artist’s side, its puts more control in their hands, does away with middlemen and gives them the opportunity to launch, fund and carry themselves through the economy of music.
With this being said, and potentially exciting for the new, independent artist, this system could develop into a stocks and shares-type business and generate more noise in ownership difficulties than we currently have. “The record industry may appear to more closely resemble a manufacturing industry than a culture industry” (Anderton, et al., 2012), and blockchain could augment this, but when manufacturing becomes minimal in revenue, where does one find capital?

Another way to evaluate the value of music is by looking at approximate royalties per stream, ‘potentially the economic value of song’ – Apple Music = $0.0073, Spotify = $0.0044, YouTube = $0.0007. Below is a fantastic chart of mixed data from the leading digital music services named, “Money Too Tight to Mention” (Information Is Beautiful, 2017).

Figure 3: Streaming Services Royalties for Unsigned Artists.

Figure 3: Streaming Services Royalties for Unsigned Artists.

Figure 4: Streaming Services Royalties for Signed Artists.

Figure 4: Streaming Services Royalties for Signed Artists.


Viewing such statistics of that in Figure 3 and 4 show us that possibly YouTube are the ones who need to understand the value of music, offering so little to the music industry when consciously knowing how much music dominates its service – hopefully, having Cohen involved to build a better resource for music and create a healthy relationship with the music industry (Goodman, 2017), they soon will. If only the company were to encourage the huge usership of YouTube to progress onto Google Music Play for a streaming option of the music, then a mass market would truly be enhanced (Edwards, 2017).

It seems, at times, that the record companies fail to consider the realistic future and only have ‘problems’ when those same problems are right against them; in the today, losing them money, not giving them a ‘fair’ share, or disrupting their bright future. This mere open thought primarily being produced by the fact that Universal, Sony and Warner all negotiated use agreements with YouTube after dismissing similar with Napster (Goodman, 2017; BBC News Business, 2001). If this goliath battle doesn’t go in the way of the major labels; and with the realization that an artist needs 2.4m plays to earn minimum wage for themselves (on certain platforms) (Information Is Beautiful, 2017), not to mention potentially having to pay for their team as well, is it time to accept that music may not be economically valuable in today’s world, and that artists need to proceed in focusing on other ways to exploit their talents to gain revenue?

4. Conclusion

The combination of old and new copyright laws, licensing mechanisms, and rights management technologies will allow for the balance of copyright protection and dissemination of works to remain fair (Pollack, 2000). We are at a major point in the path of music and technology – “increased complexity of digitalization, and related changes to cultural products, business, trade and consumption, require massive innovation” (Vella, et al., 2016), but hopefully we are breaching the beginning of this with that which has been mentioned throughout this report.
RIAA chairman/CEO Cary Sherman contributed in a statement, “to the fan, there is often little difference between the multitudes of services available, yet the payouts to creators are very different and vastly impacted by outdated or abused laws and regulations” (Rys, 2017). But for that ‘fan’, why bother paying for a service that you could get for free, with just a little extra time invested – an issue that is sure to arise if YouTube becomes an entirely paid service.

YouTube may be heading in the right direction with Lyor Cohen on their side – someone to advise them on what artists and record labels want, and to help advance new programmes for promoting artists and music (Goodman, 2017). But overall they need to reassess the level of functionality for its viewers – built-in trigger points and upselling to Google Play (Edwards, 2017). This may be the future of music for consumers - something of more effective lawful requirement to be paid for (a law and practice that will evolve in efficiency with time); something that will become harder and harder to locate through piracy; and a digital file that will recognise whether is in fact a copyrighted piece of work or not.

For the individual artist, it may be the present realization that they need to look for, and develop new ways, of producing a revenue. Potentially even allowing the digitally distributed music to be free, but for the fan experiences, live performances, merch and products, brand partnerships, digital time with fans, stocks and shares in the artist/music, other services and entrepreneurial ways of thinking, to be innovated and monetarily exploited more rigorously.

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A 2017 Analysis of the Burning Man Festival

A 2017 Analysis of the Burning Man Festival