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SURFING TIDAL: PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS

Checking Out Jay Z and Company's New Streaming Service

As we announced previously, the superstar co-owners of streaming service Tidal—led by Jay Z, who shelled out $56 million for parent company Aspiro—paraded before the press today to make big promises and sign some sort of declaration (the terms of which are as yet unknown). Here are some things we know about the service.

With its promised $20 monthly price tag, Tidal would seem to be branding itself as the luxury streaming service, even compared to other premium options.

Higher-quality sound—i.e. “lossless” CD-quality files rather than small, heavily compressed ones in the MP3 mold—is apparently a key value proposition. While that may be a big lure for audiophiles, one wonders if there are enough digital-music consumers who care so much about hi-def audio that they’ll pay double what the competition asks.

Meanwhile, those big lossless files, when used on a mobile device, are a serious drain on battery life. And how will users who don’t have unlimited data plans contend with the enormous data demands of Tidal?


But on to content. Other sites (including Apple’s forthcoming Beats-iTunes beast) are working out “windowing” deals to feature new content exclusively for designation periods, which Jay has apparently done with the aforementioned superstar owners. Spokesperson Alicia Keys noted in today’s conference that “exclusive experiences that will be found nowhere else” would be a Tidal touchstone.

With its promised $20 monthly price tag, Tidal would seem to be branding itself as the luxury streaming service, even compared to other premium options.

We understand Coldplay may be the first to deliver windowed content to the service—perhaps because they have the leverage to do so due to the status of the deal. Meanwhile, Pharrell Williams’ absence today was telling; he has apparently declined to be among the founders and is said to be working on a windowed deal with Apple.

The Tidal home page is spotlighting new releases and playlists as well as videos. But its playlists thus far lack the curatorial spark of its competitors.

One area where the new site appears to have invested—impressively, from our geeky point of view—is editorial, notably in its “Behind the Music” section. There are interviews, profiles, festival guides, local-music guides, “appreciations,” reviews and song-by-songs that show a commitment to branding artists and not just tracks. The copious background and context (with audio and graphics built in) provided in these pieces effectively capitalizes on the vastly influential tastemaker blog format.

We don’t know if all-you-can-eat streaming will lead to much more music exploration and discovery, or whether users will continue to stick to the top pop playlists that have dominated the streaming landscape (aka Spotify) thus far. It depends in part on the curiosity and attention span of consumers and in part on how skillfully new music is integrated into each service’s DNA. Presumably folks who are shelling out an Andrew Jackson each month would be particularly incentivized to sample the available wares.

We just don’t know if there are enough of them to keep Tidal afloat.