Big Tech Makes Moves to Break Spotify's Music Streaming Stranglehold

As noted in the 4/18 McAlinden Research Partners (MRP), investment strategy report:

News of Amazon preparing to rollout their own free, ad-supported music streaming service rocked Spotify stock this week, but Amazon is only one of many big tech challengers, including Apple and Alphabet’s Google, that are taking shots at disrupting Spotify’s domination of the growing, multibillion-dollar industry.

Apple music’s premium service recently surpassed Spotify’s in the US and is now seeing stronger growth globally. Meanwhile, the stage is being set in India for a streaming service battle royale that could serve as a proxy for what the future of music streaming services might look like.

In the midst of the video-streaming boom, apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hotstar already have millions of subscribers. However, many believe music streaming platforms could achieve even greater success.

Global recorded music revenues jumped 9.7% in 2018 to reach $19.1 billion — up from $17.4 billion in 2017. Streaming music revenues, in particular, now account for nearly half of global revenue, thanks to sizable 32.9% growth in paid streaming last year. This brought streaming revenues to $8.9 million in 2018, and puts them on track for a further jump in 2019. In the US, an even more impressive 75% of overall revenue for the record industry now comes from streaming.

Big Tech Makes Moves to Break Spotify’s Music Streaming Stranglehold
Pandor NOW launches on Sirius/XM

The biggest pure play in music streaming, Spotify, has capitalized on the digital shift to music over the last few years and, thus far in 2019, has seen their stock price rocket up more than 20% in 2019. Pandora used to be the industry leader in music streaming, but has gradually had its share of the market eaten away by Spotify. Earlier this year, Sirius XM completed their acquisition of Pandora and are now in the process of re-tooling the service to try and turn the tide. Specifically, Sirius plans to offer a Pandora NOW station on their XM radio platform, and also expand Pandora’s free and premium podcast services to host almost two dozen SiriusXM radio shows across a variety of genres. It’s a bold move, but it will take some time before Pandora can ever truly hold a candle to Spotify again.

Spotify’s real competition is coming from other big tech firms who do not specialize in music streaming, but they do bring brand recognition and far superior infrastructure that threatens to seriously disrupt the sector.

Upon news that Amazon is preparing the rollout of their own free, ad-supported music streaming platform for their Echo devices, Spotify shares tumbled nearly 4%. Amazon’s current Prime Music package offers two million a la carte songs to subscribers of its Prime service. Its Music Unlimited has a much bigger library for an $8 monthly fee. Spotify, meanwhile, has a $10 premium product, as well as an ad-supported free tier seen as a subscription funnel. But, at the moment, Amazon is likely the least of Spotify’s worries.

Big Tech Makes Moves to Break Spotify’s Music Streaming Stranglehold
Apple Music- 50 million songs

Last month, Apple Music surpassed Spotify in paid U.S. subscriptions. Paid streaming is crucial since it accounts for the majority of streaming’s contribution to revenues, with a 37% share of the market versus ad-supported streaming’s 10% share. While Spotify is still dominant globally, Apple Music’s is working on closing that gap – expanding at a faster rate, with a worldwide monthly growth rate of about 2.6%, compared to Spotify’s 1.5% to 2%.

Although music streaming used to produce a bit of distinction in their products, recent offerings have become much more uniform, allowing just about anyone with enough capital to serve up a free to premium streaming service. Deloitte notes that “once a differentiator, catalogues today don’t matter as much since music companies are happy to license their titles to whoever”, making competition much less about the music and more about accessibility. Apple has built huge gains on that front since the company’s iPhone comes with Apple Music already downloaded and synch-able with the company’s iTunes platform. This also benefits Apple since their main objective in offering Apple Music is to keep users engaged with the iPhone. And it’s not just Apple that threatens pure plays like Spotify and Pandora.

As of late, India, one of the fastest-growing music streaming markets, has become ground zero for the most intense competition in the industry. The two biggest competitors for market share in the world’s most populous country are Spotify and Google’s YouTube Music platform. India’s titanic consumer base, where the average streamer spends nearly 21.5 hours a week listening to music, compared with the global average of 17.8 hours, makes it a strong bellwether for which companies have the greatest ability to expand across other emerging markets. India’s $150 million music-streaming market is estimated to touch $400 million by 2023.

Within a week of Spotify’s highly-anticipated Indian launch in late February, the company picked up 1 million unique listeners. While this was impressive, YouTube music’s entrance to the country left an even bigger mark, racking up 3 million downloads in their own first week of operations. Similar to Apple, Google manufactures its own phones equipped with Google Play app store. Google Play cites more than five billion installs for YouTube on Google’s Android smartphones. With that kind of installed base, Google simply has to inform existing users that they can now purchase a premium music streaming service.

Pricing also sets up an advantage as users receive the first month of YouTube Music for free, after which they have to pay 99 Indian rupees (Rs) a month. Spotify’s premium users also get the first month free, but then must pay Rs 129 per month if they want to keep enjoying the premium service. Apple Music’s premium price was similar to Spotify at Rs 120, until they recently decided to undercut Spotify by reducing their going rate to the Rs 99 per month mark to match YouTube Music’s offering.

The Indian play is being made increasingly difficult for Spotify due to homegrown startup competition as well. JioSaavn and Gaana, India’s major domestic music streaming services, both slashed their annual subscription prices by 70% this month. Those cuts were focused on undercutting Apple, Youtube, and Spotify’s monthly rates, and keeping customers away from the competition for a whole year. The recent discounts saw JioSaavn’s premium tier drop to Rs 299 per year — 70 percent down from Rs 999. Meanwhile, Gaana Plus was discounted to Rs 298 per year instead of Rs 1098, as before. Gaana is especially interesting as one of its major investors is Chinese conglomerate Tencent. Tencent Music is the largest music streaming platform in China.

So, if the US and India are any indicator, big tech definitely has what it takes to not only compete with pure plays like Spotify and Pandora, but even to outperform them due to hardware and pricing advantages. While Spotify is still sitting comfortably in the pole position globally, investors should be aware that there are plenty of new players entering the arena of music streaming and some are off to very hot starts.

Big Tech Makes Moves to Break Spotify’s Music Streaming Stranglehold

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Big Tech Makes Moves to Break Spotify’s Music Streaming Stranglehold

Big Tech Makes Moves to Break Spotify’s Music Streaming Stranglehold