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DOWN THE TUBE: LYOR'S PRESS TOUR

We’re living in an age of liars. And as YouTube at last begins to roll out the new iteration of its subscription service, it does so with one of the premier liars in our industry’s history, Head of Music Lyor Cohen, leading the charge.

Cohen has embarked on a press junket, telling anyone willing to stick a microphone in his face about the good times ahead. Those who’ve followed Cohen’s checkered career detect more than a whiff of snake oil in his latest blather.

The upshot is that “Liar Cohen,” as Irving Azoff notoriously dubbed him, has been consistent about two things in his career: (a) screwing over everyone in his path and (b) spewing an endless geyser of bullshit. The notion that things would be any different now that he has a deep-pocketed digital employer is laughable.

“We’re entering the golden era of the music business right now,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Every forest has to burn down to get healthy again.” He neglected to add that he’d personally burned more acreage than anyone.

“We don’t talk about numbers,” he told CNBC, “but we think there’s just incredible opportunity for us.”

We are not shocked he doesn’t want to talk about numbers.

Cohen is attempting to position YouTube as a biz-friendly contender and to cast Spotify and Apple Music as the villains. This ostensible duopoly is the real threat, and not YouTube, a place stuffed with free content—much of it unauthorized—that pays the least and that has done the least to migrate users to the subscription tier.

That’s supposedly going to change, according to YouTube’s well-appointed hype machine. But no matter how many bells and whistles are added to a paid tier, the only way to turn free users into subscribers—as anyone who’s been paying attention well knows—is to limit what’s available for free. If YouTube’s 1.5b active users (per a 6/17 TechCrunch piece) can still find what they’re surfing for without paying, the sub service is little more than an industry headfake.

Cohen has claimed he’ll make the free tier less enticing, that he’ll “frustrate and seduce” free users toward the paid tier. But given his allergy to telling the truth, why would anyone believe him?

Cohen has claimed he’ll make the free tier less enticing, that he’ll “frustrate and seduce” free users toward the paid tier (as he told Bloomberg). But given his allergy to telling the truth, why would anyone believe him?

Um, they shouldn’t. And his remarks to CNBC underscore this: “Customers should have the choice to decide whether they want to pay with their eyeballs, or whether they want to subscribe. And we’ve heard the industry. They wanna get two engines; they want both engines to work.”

If “paying with your eyeballs” strikes you as something out of a horror movie, you’re starting to get the idea. As for the “two engines,” most industry leaders have been clear: One pulls the business forward. The other one runs you over and leaves you for dead.

Indeed, if you’re doing an industry headfake, who better than Cohen? It’s certainly a more sensible explanation for putting a known con artist in the driver’s seat. Otherwise, his having been chosen for the gig is utterly mystifying. Cohen seems to have avoided interviews that would confront him about his jacking of the algo—giving playlist privilege to certain content, especially content from the company he’s allegedly not running anymore. Even though he still is. (One insider recently joked that Cohen’s real title should be “Head of Digital at 300 Entertainment.”)

Speaking of his real job, Complex asked MigosOffset about the biggest hurdle they’d faced in their career. “300 was the biggest hurdle,” he replied. “They tried to hold us against our will.”

Quality Control’s Pee, who continues to guide the group at their new home, Capitol, added: “For 18 months, we couldn't sell no product… it was like we was shackled down.”

Few people who’ve been in business with Cohen will be surprised by this. It’s been his M.O. from the jump.

Several observers have already expressed doubt that this version of a Google/YouTube paid service will have any more traction than its numerous predecessors. “Google has a bad reputation of offering numerous overlapping services, confusing consumers in the process,” ventured the Motley Fool. Noted Fortune succinctly, “We predict the new service] will struggle.

Google/Alphabet has previously shown little interest in impeding the flow of advertising bucks and even less interest in the wellbeing of the music business. The biggest players in the biz have complained about the “value gap” between the leading services and YouTube, and the latter’s abiding interest in ad dollars is the reason.

But if the new venture succeeds, it’ll be in spite of the clown in the big chair.

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