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I.B. BAD: PERFECT STORMS

YELLIN’ OF TROY: Rumors that Troy Carter would be departing his post at Spotify began swirling in the wake of a release about “Policy on Hate Content and Hateful Conduct” that has stirred up a firestorm in the press and on the socials. He’ll be exiting later this year, though there’s been no official announcement so far. Observers wonder what’s next for Carter, who proved a savvy tech investor at his former firm Atom Factory; several say it’s unlikely he’ll return to management. A more haunting question: Who will succeed him? Rights holders and artists have come to rely on the well-liked exec, who has almost singlehandedly made the Swedish company artist- and biz-friendly, as its primary liaison. What’s more, he greatly enhanced the Spot’s visibility with canny marketing moves like billboards in Times Square, on the Sunset Strip and other major-media centers. Such moves captivate artists, ratcheting up Spotify’s appeal. Will the House of Ek recruit another industry player as his replacement, due to the big disconnect between tech and content creators?

Meanwhile, this new content policy—apparently trumpeted by policy/strategy insider Jonathan Prince—is a head-scratcher. Why has Spotify decided to make these changes, which are playing right into Apple’s hands? Where is the pressure coming from? Where will the line in the sand be drawn in terms of policing content? Are we about to go down another rabbit hole? Will Spotify—and perhaps some of its fellow DSPs—be required to draft an elaborate “code of conduct for content” detailing the prerequisites for top-tier visibility? 

The loudest voices for reducing controversial artists’ visibility on streaming services are—for the time being—feminist organizations with whom the industry is largely sympathetic, though the use of playlists to litigate misbehavior and/or troubling content is fraught with risk. But the potential involvement of the alt-right and evangelicals and their supporters in D.C., who might see a grandstanding opportunity in demanding “investigations” of today’s hip-hop, is a recipe for a perfect storm. Of course, if a new political inquisition fails to materialize, there’s a strong possibility Spotify will allow the whole matter to fizzle by not making any further policy regarding content.

The “hate” rules place the streamco in a troubled tradition of policing content that stretches back for decades, very often with racist overtones. Al & Tipper Gore started the notorious PMRC in 1985, prompted by masturbation reference in a Prince song; Ozzy Osbourne was accused of encouraging a kid’s suicide with a song (and he and other hard-rock artists were condemned for advancing Satanism, of course); 2 Live Crew were arrested for obscenity (prompting the launch of Rock the Vote, with MTV as a platform for defending speech); George Bush the elder seized upon “Cop Killer” by Ice-T’s metal band, Body Count, to score political points in 1992; C. Delores Tucker and William Bennett demonized rap, targeting Death Row/Interscope in particular, leading to its exit from a rattled WMG; Bill Clinton threw Sister Souljah under the bus in an attempt to appeal to conservatives.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of the metal bands of the ’80s, these controversies have centered on black artists and/or hip-hop music. That “public standards” and “decency” are invariably trumpeted by white folks attempting to regulate contentcreated by the black poets of a generation is not lost on the larger music community.

One thing’s for sure: the pending departures of Carter from the Spot and Jimmy Iovine from Apple Music will create a power vacuum in the streaming space. Could competitors Amazon, Google, Tidal or even YouTube see an opportunity to stream into the void?

AMERICA” FIRST: RCA’s Childish Gambino signing is certainly off to a good start, as the single “This Is America” proves a worldwide giant—streaming massively, selling, spinning and racking up colossal video views. The provocative, political bent of the song and video underscores the huge appetite for consequential, resistant art in the age of Trump. What else does the multitalented Donald Glover—now hitting screens everywhere in the Star Wars prequel Solo, racking up awards and acclaim as the creator/star of Atlanta and most recently the needle-moving host and performer on SNL—have in store?

HOLD THE CIGARS: With the EMI Publishing deal looming, oddsmakers strongly favor a Sony Corp purchase of the 70% it doesn’t own. The pubco, birthed and nurtured by Sony/ATV boss Marty Bandier and sold to a consortium of buyers for $2.2 billion in 2012, could fetch anywhere between $4b and $5b when the new deal closes. The consortium includes 30% stakeholder Sony as well as the Michael Jackson Estate (10%) and Abu Dhabi-based investment house The Mubadala Group (nearly 60%), which forced the buy/sell action that raised the curtain on this act of the drama and which is due to set a valuation on 6/29. Sony hopes to keep the total price at $4.5b or lower; the Abu Dhabians stand to walk away with between $2.5b and $3b in a buyout. Sony is favored to make the deal in part because losing EMI to another suitor wouldn’t be a good look—what would it say about Sony Corp’s attitude toward the entertainment sector?—but largely because of the continually escalating value of copyrights in the streaming era. A team of Sony execs, including Bandier, Rob Stringer and their teams, is en route to Japan for meetings at presstime; is this deal at the top of the meeting’s agenda? Meanwhile, it’s widely believed that Len Blavatnik is waiting in the wings if Sony stumbles.

THE BIG FLOAT: Vivendi management has a green light from its board to explore an IPO of its own for Universal Music Group, as resounding a statement about the rebound of the music business as you could ask, with a valuation estimated by Goldman Sachs last summer at $23.5 billion. UMG’s Q1 2018 numbers show big year-over-year growth, thanks to streaming and subs. Still, the process could take years, depending on how French boss Vincent Bolloré and company choose to proceed, but certainly the explosion of Spotify stock (not to mention the savings effected by a direct NYSE listing) have made the proposition that much more enticing. How much of its “jewel” (as Bolloré termed it) might Vivendi wish to float? Will it be in the neighborhood of the 20% expected by investors? What will Vivendi’s leaders do with the money? Are they keen to do more acquisition? Also up in the air: Where the offering might take place. If it’s done in the U.S., it will be subject to greater regulation and require more time. If in London or the continent, it might affect the value of Vivendi’s own stock, which has benefited from all its bullish estimates and IPO chatter.

THE LOUD VOICE: It’s hard to know which way is up in the world of Kanye West, whose praise for the President, infamous “slavery was a choice” remark and other pronouncements have given him big headlines (and lots of supportive tweets from the #MAGA crowd) but caused his streams and sales to plummet. But word has it that LOUD founder and hip-hop veteran Steve Rifkind is embedded with the Kanye camp and has become, over the last few months, the industry figure the controversial artist/producer/entrepreneur listens to most. How will his demanding role in Kanye’s circle affect the amount of time and energy Rifkind can put into the newly relaunched LOUD, now in its new home at RED?

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