@musictechsolve: Do Spotify Stock Downgrades Go Far Enough?

On June 24th, Spotify shares (ticker: SPOT) was downgraded by Evercore analyst Kevin Rippey, who cut the stock to Underperform from In Line.  Since then, analysts are steadily looking past the loss-making Spotify’s $1 billion stock buy back plan.

Rippey says investors are overestimating Spotify’s ability to make money from podcasts and offering services to musicians and are underestimating the competition from other streaming services—particularly in countries outside the U.S. He reduced his price target to $110.

As ARW readers will recall, I have long challenged Spotify’s kvetching about high royalty rates by pointing to the its high overhead, 7 figure performance bonuses to Daniel Ek when he failed to meet the bonus criteria, and other irresponsible behavior by the board that Ek controls.

Spotify’s interest in podcasts is another comical example of Ek as the Easter Bunny of Screw Ups.  He bought a podcasting company that was unionized.  Sheer genius.  Why did he buy them?  Some people think it’s because podcasts were another form of user-generated content where people work for free in exchange for hot meals…no, in exchange for exposure bucks.

Exposure Bucks

Apple is busy paying for podcasts according to Newsmax:

Apple Inc. plans to fund original podcasts that would be exclusive to its audio service, according to people familiar with the matter, increasing its investment in the industry to keep competitors Spotify and Stitcher at bay.

Executives at the company have reached out to media companies and their representatives to discuss buying exclusive rights to podcasts, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the conversations are preliminary. Apple has yet to outline a clear strategy, but has said it plans to pursue the kind of deals it didn’t make before.

Apple all but invented the podcasting business with the creation of a network that collects thousands of podcasts from across the internet in a feed on people’s phones, smartwatches and computers. The Apple Podcast app still accounts for anywhere from 50% to 70% of listening for most podcasts, according to industry executives.

So Spotify’s law fare against Apple in Europe should come as no surprise (for more on that subject see the “Spotify Untold” corporate bio book).  What this comes down to is that once again, Apple understands its audience and what would delight them where Spotify wants to build them a faster horse (or at least a cheaper one).

Meanwhile, Spotify is commoditizing music into a “playlist friendly” environment based on your mood rather than being artist driven.  Why?  One possible reason is the psychographic research of Michael Kosinski, whose work formed the basis for techniques honed by Cambridge Analytica and the Internet Research Agency you hear so much about (although it must be said the Kosinski did not work for either of those outfits–no he works as a professor at…you guessed it…Stanford).  See his paper The Song Is You: Preferences for Musical  Attribute Dimensions Reflect Personality, available at the Leland Stanford Google University Business School.

The more insightful analysts are represented by Mr. Rippey, who seems to have a good grasp on Spotify’s business and sees through all the bright and shiny objects they want you to focus on as reported by Barrons (emphasis mine):

Rippey says Wall Street’s expectations assume that either the company will come out way ahead in negotiations with the music labels that control the vast majority of the content that Spotify streams, or that it will make a bundle of money from services that previously accounted for almost none of its income.

Now that the sugar high of the Spotify stock has passed through the system and artists either are happy or not happy with their share of the proceeds–which will be hitting royalty statements right about September 30–labels are now faced with a  second act, and that second act likely will require a bigger royalty check–not a smaller one.

To achieve Wall Street’s targets for gross profit, Spotify would either need to take a larger cut of proceeds from each song stream [also called a lower royalty to artists and songwriters] or generate as much as $650 million from “ancillary” areas like Spotify for Artists and podcasts by 2022—areas the company doesn’t make much money on today, Rippey says. Spotify for Artists offers data for musicians to track which songs are performing well and in which areas, among other benefits. [Which is OK if Spotify for Artists is free, I guess–since we sent them the fans–but my bet is that no one is going to pay for it, certainly no one with a modicum of leverage.]  Spotify makes money from ads on podcasts it owns and has also begun to launch exclusive podcasts that listeners can only get on Spotify.  [Spotify has never had a hit that originated entirely within Spotify.  When it does, check this space.]

Given that music crosses over multiple cultures but that Spotify brings a decidedly European and Anglo/American creative viewpoint to its distribution platform, it is unlikely to be able to fight all fights in all markets and be all things to all music fans in the some 60 countries it operates in.  This is particularly true in countries that actually value their culture and creators.

Spotify is the global leader in streaming music, but Rippey thinks that Wall Street overestimates the company’s power in local markets. “In emerging markets like India, local players dominate the market,” he writes, noting that Jio and Gaana were the market leaders there in the first quarter. “This fragmentation leads to an understatement of how competitive streaming music is globally.” Similar dynamics play out in countries like Indonesia too.

Those are some good concrete reasons why Rippey’s price target is $110, which I think is still about $50 too high because of Spotify’s C team management.  And also because the other analysts are all guiding too high in the Overton Window:

Analyst Rating Price Target
Evercore/Kevin Rippey Underperform (From In Line) $110
Nomura Instanet/M. Kelly Buy $190
Stifel/John Egbert Buy $175
Credit Suisse/B. Russo Underperform $120
BOA/Jessica Reif Ehrlich Buy $230

One major factor that all the analysts overlook, like they missed the subprime crisis, is buried in the commentary that never gets picked up in the Wall Street publications–the fact that artists can’t begin to make a living from streaming the way they could from the CDs that streaming is replacing.  This sudden contraction hurts artists at all stages of development.  To put it in terms that Wall Street might understand more readily, this is a supply chain issue.  The chain will have no supply if unsustainable economics expands which it seems like it will.

There’s about 5% of the tracks that make 90% of the revenue from Spotify-type streamers.  Fans are paying subscriptions every month for music they don’t listen to performed by artists they don’t like.  When that idea starts to permeate the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, who knows what may happen.  This will be true of podcasters, too–the unionized podcasters affiliated with the Writers Guild of America.  I’m looking forward to that collective bargaining experience.

But for now, it’s only a matter of time before artists who are not in that 5% start to jump ship.  Analysts should be asking, who can encourage them to jump and what will happen to the ship they jump from if there were some disruption below decks in the royalty rates?

@RBMillado: Too much streaming content is causing viewer ‘paralysis’: Nielsen

Playlistomania?  I wonder what it is on Spotify–that’s what 50 million tracks will do for you.  If this replicates to “listener paralysis” (which seems plausible), it may help explain why the streaming revenue share model leads to declining royalty rates and greater concentration of wealth in a hyper efficient market share distribution.  (Deezer reportedly conducted a similar study in 2018 using a casual poll with findings based more on age than choice.)  Less is more, kids, less is more.

Nielsen’s new Total Audience Report found that the average TV viewer takes seven minutes just to pick what to watch….[A]mong adult subscription-video-on-demand (SVOD) users, only a third of them bother to browse the menu to find content, with 21 percent saying they simply give up watching if they’re unable to make a choice when bombarded with options.

Read the post on the NY Post

@musicindustree: Everything That’s Wrong With Streaming Music Networks

The majority of people who champion streaming are not your average artist, they are not even the top 10 per cent of artists. The advocators of the commentary we hear day to day are music industry press, mainstream press, the streaming networks themselves, aggregators and Digital Service Providers (DSPs) and of course users, who get an amazing experience of all the music in the world for 9.99.

Read the post on MusicIndustTweet

Spotify Can’t Find Songwriters Performing at Spotify High Roller Party in Cancun

Ah, Cancun, where the elite meet and the US Consulate is located next to the jail.

According to Digital Music News:

Spotify is currently hosting a pricey offsite meeting in Cancun, Mexico, with dozens or more executives and employees participating.

Of course, Cancun isn’t usually associated with getting work done — unless that work involves repeatedly lifting rum cocktails.  But this offsite is reportedly focused on assembling content groups from various global offices.  Beyond that, we’re not sure of the exact business purpose.

One Spotify executive referred to this as a ‘Spotify Music Conference’.  Another source noted that the ‘entire content org’ at Spotify is attending the getaway.  Sounds like a lot of people.

There seems to be a strong Latin emphasis among the performers (more on that below), which makes sense given the location.  But at this stage, this looks like a broader global content and curator meet-up.

According to one source, the action is happening at the Ritz Carlton Cancun, which is surrounded on all sides by white-sand beaches and light blue waters.  According to the resort’s website, room prices start at $439 a night for an ‘Ocean View Guest Room,’ and quickly climb to $1,329 a night for the spacious ‘Club Master Suite’.

Two of the artists performing at the Spotify soiree…sorry, I mean working conference… are Nicky Jam and ChocQuibTown.  What’s strange about that is that Spotify can’t seem to find the songwriters for these two artists:

nicky jam noi

nick rivera caminero nois

chocquibtown

carlos valencia

Now Spotify can explain to these artists why their songwriters aren’t getting paid.  Good thing we have that Music Modernization Act safe harbor that will put everything right as rain.

@nickconfessore @laforgia_ gabriel-j-x-dance: Facebook offered users privacy wall, then let Spotify and other tech giants around it

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The exchange was intended to benefit everyone. Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.

The social network allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

Read the post on the New York Times.

@hypebot: Court Approves $43.4M Spotify [Songwriter] Compensation Fund Settling Class Action Lawsuit

[Editor Charlie sez:  The $43.4 million fund ordered by the Court is a downpayment on the $112.55 million settlement with the class.  Noteably, the members of that class do not include National Music Publishers Association members (96% of their members who settled for $30 million, apparently mostly the big guns but terms are confidential) or the Wixen objectors.]

The court has approved the settlement of combined class action lawsuits originally brought against Spotify for copyright infringement by musicians David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick. The settlement guarantees an artist  compensation of $43.4million plus future royalties. The full settlement totals $112.55 million, including legal fees.

The ruling came despite objections of major music publisher Wixen and several songwriters and publishers who argued that the settlement was too small.

“The court heard a lot of testimony and did the best it could under the circumstances,” attorney and artist advocate Christian Castle tells Hypebot. “It’s still far and away the most money anyone has gotten so far from Spotify’s gross and willful infringement of song copyrights.  Next time maybe they’ll pay more attention to the little guy.”

Read the post on Hypebot

Read the Court’s Order and Final Judgement

 

SXSW Panel on Music Modernization Act’s Reachback Safe Harbor — Music Technology Policy

I was fortunate to moderate an excellent panel at the SXSW Continuing Legal Education seminar this week.  Our topic was “The Future of Mechanical Licensing in the U.S.”  Little did we know when the panel was booked in September that this would be such a hot topic following the introduction of the deeply controversial Music Modernization Act on December 21.

One of the legal process questions the panel discussed was the MMA’s “reachback” safe harbor that retroactively limits infringement claims filed after January 1, 2018 without regard to when the MMA’s blanket license is actually available.

via SXSW Panel on Music Modernization Act’s Reachback Safe Harbor — Music Technology Policy