At first glance, Tidal—the music streaming service owned by rapper Jay Z, rivaling Spotify and similar platforms—seems to have had a decent year. It put out exclusive music by artists like Beyoncé and the late Prince, surging to the top of app download charts, and was in talks to be bought by Apple Music.
So why has Tidal cut a deal with US wireless carrier Sprint? The two services announced an “unprecedented partnership” today that will give Sprint’s 45 million retail customers access to exclusive content from Tidal, with Sprint acquiring 33% of Tidal and planting its chief executive officer on Tidal’s board of directors.
But when looking at Tidal’s past year in the context of the broader music streaming field—the need for a big corporate bolstering makes sense. Tidal has lagged, again and again, behind its competitors, in subscriber figures as well as growth.
“Sprint shares our view of revolutionizing the creative industry to allow artists to connect directly with their fans and reach their fullest, shared potential,” Jay Z said in a statement. “Together, we are excited to bring Sprint’s 45 million customers an unmatched entertainment experience.”
Translation: Sprint will hopefully bring a horde of new users to our music-streaming platform, which right now needs all the help it can get.
Even by music business standards, Tidal is grappling with quite a bit of controversy on top of its growth issues. In its short two-year history, Tidal’s run up against a myriad of problems, including but not limited to:
- lawsuits concerning its exclusive music releases,
- lawsuits concerning royalty payments,
- repeated management scuffles,
- clashes with former owners,
- millions of dollars in losses and debt,
- and most recently—accusations that it has deliberately inflated its subscriber numbers.
Compare that to industry leader Spotify’s booming popularity, or Apple Music’s steady roll-out of new features like original television programming. Music streaming is looking more and more like a two-player game between twin giants, with smaller entrants slowly bowing out—for further evidence, just take once-dominant internet radio streaming service Pandora laying off 7% of its workforce earlier this month,