The Streaming Explosion

By Stuart Fuller


It’s been a mixed week for the music download market.  The big news was the decision at last to made by the rights holders of The Beatles back catalogue to make all of their songs available on the most popular streaming music services.  This means classic albums such as The White Album, Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road will now be available to monthly subscribers of Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon Prime.

The streaming market has exploded in recent years.  In the first six months of this year alone there were 11.5 billion legitimate streams, compared to just under 15 billion for the whole of 2014.  The market is being driven both by technology and the way we consume digital content.  We now consume music wherever we go – all we need is a Wi-Fi connection to access a collection of music that would have taken over a full room in our houses back in the day of vinyl.  Virtually every commuter endures the daily commute by listening to music from a device normally no bigger than a bar of chocolate. 

The word ‘stream’ has even developed a new meaning thanks to the development of digital content.  We can now control music in any and every room in our house from one device, without ever having to ever actually owning the product.  Streaming allows us to taste any musical dish on any menu in any restaurant in the world.  Well, almost every restaurant.

Not all artists share the same sentiment as The Beatles rights holders.  The most in-demand female artist in the world today is undoubtedly our very own Adele.  After a break from recording for a couple of years, the 27 year old Londoner bounced back to the top of the charts with her latest album 25 which has sold more than two million copies alone in the UK.  Her comments make interesting reading:

“I know that streaming music is the future but it’s not the only way to consume music.  I can’t pledge allegiance to something I don’t know how I feel about yet.” 

She isn’t the only global artist to not allow their catalogues available legitimately on streaming services.  Taylor Swift has famously shunned the services, claiming that royalty payments are the core issue for all artists.

Streaming has been one of the major challenges to the global problem of digital piracy.  With the introduction of MP3 twenty years, music was really brought into the digital age.  However, with files becoming smaller and smaller, the number of websites that sprung up allowing access to illegal content exploded. It is estimated today that nearly 24% of the global Internet bandwidth relates to pirated digital content.  The dangers of using any website that doesn’t offer legitimate access to any digital content are well documented.  Digital content can be shared rapidly, often for free, creating the perception that such content is valueless, but also hugely increasing the risk of dangerous malware being the unwanted gift for the poor quality music.

The introduction of video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have had an impact on digital piracy.  The low cost access to high quality content has driven consumers back into the hands of legitimate consumption channels and whilst audio content shares many of the same characteristics, it hasn’t yet been fully accepted by consumers.

In the NetNames Counting the Cost of Counterfeiting report published in 2015, the global cost of pirated music to the industry is more than $10.9 billion in the last 12 months.  Content owners continue to face a real dilemma – how to serve the best digital content, in the best way to global consumers, whilst trying to protect revenue streams against the growing threat of piracy.  Let’s just hope that the lyrics to one of their most famous songs do not hold true:

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they are here to stay”.  Let’s hope digital piracy is not a problem for tomorrow and that streaming is part of the solution and not the problem.