The past three weeks have been big for music fans: Rihanna released her much-anticipated album ANTI, Beyonce shocked the world (and Red Lobster) with "Formation," and Kanye West dropped The Life of Pablo on Sunday. But there's a bigger story here: All three were released exclusively on Tidal, putting the music streaming service at the top of the App Store charts for the first time Monday morning. Does this signal a sea change in the industry?
Jay-Z's Tidal is finally making a splash thanks to its musician-owners like Kanye, but after a year of struggles—including high CEO turnover and lingering technical issues—many are skeptical that the latest successes will be enough to float the floundering service. It faces stiff competition from Spotify and Apple Music, and soon, perhaps, Amazon, which is considering plans for a music streaming service. Meanwhile, veteran streaming service Pandora is reportedly seeking a buyer as it prepares to branch out into the more lucrative concert ticketing business.
In terms of numbers, Spotify leads the streaming pack, with a user base of 20 million paying subscribers and 75 million free users, compared with Pandora's 81.1 million users. After seven months, Apple Music now boasts 11 million, and in October, Tidal, which launched earlier last year, said it had reached 1 million users.
Tidal isn't limiting its scope to streaming music. It is investing in original TV shows including popular web series Money & Violence and comedy show No Small Talk. Furthermore, Kanye tweeted, "Tidal is also funding a lot of my scripted content ideas." Apple is also getting into original content with Vital Signs—a scripted, semi-autobiographical series starring Dr. Dre—that will surely compete for Tidal's audience.
Since Tidal's App Store numbers do not reflect paying subscribers (it offers a free one-week trial), the sudden Kanye bump could be a turning point for the service or just a temporary surge before its much-anticipated downfall. Either way, the competition still leaves 99 problems for Tidal—even if getting exclusive releases isn't one of them.