Tag Archives: Streaming

Keep Your Money, I Got My Own: Lemonade and TIDAL Exclusivity

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As has long been expected after Beyoncé released “Formation” and announced a tour in support of a single song, the full album Lemonade debuted exclusively on TIDAL last night, alongside a visual album debut on HBO (which will also be exclusive to TIDAL after a 24-hour streaming window on HBO’s own services).

Like Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and (to a lesser extent) Rihanna’s ANTI before it, Lemonade’s TIDAL exclusivity fed into the internet’s running joke about the streaming music service, which has struggled to gain a foothold in a marketplace where Spotify was “first” and Apple Music benefits from pre-existing cultural saturation. TIDAL first attempted to differentiate itself based on its streaming quality, but has since focused on its exclusive content, helped by both the immediate social circle of founder Jay-Z and an artist-friendly policy that helps the service attract exclusives like Prince (whose absence from more established streaming services was a significant discourse following his death).

But TIDAL has struggled for a variety of reasons: those who already subscribe to other services (and who have built playlists, gotten used to interfaces, etc.) don’t see the logic of subscribing to more than one, given the relatively small number of exclusives (whereas TV has reached a point where this idea is more palatable); those who don’t subscribe to any services because they listen to music for free on YouTube are growing ever more resentful of paying more music in general; those who actually prefer to buy music resent the fact that exclusive albums like The Life Of Pablo and Lemonade are not (at least initially) available through outlets like iTunes or formats like Vinyl where they prefer to make those purchases. And while The Life Of Pablo did convince some people to subscribe, the album’s eventual release on Apple Music and Spotify (which you can use for free, with ads, unlike TIDAL) actually spurred talk of a class action lawsuit from those angry they’d been tricked into subscribing to the service.

That lawsuit foregrounds how the discursive construction of a TIDAL exclusive has yet to be wholly defined: it’s true that West and TIDAL were never clear whether the deal was long term (not that West is ever clear about anything), but I’m more interested in the way the reasons behind the choice can be articulated. Cynically, exclusive content exists to boost subscriptions, and to help the company’s bottom line when a significant number of the people who sign up for free trials forget to cancel their subscriptions or, in TIDAL’s ideal scenario, enjoy the service and continue to subscribe by choice. But West also used the time The Life of Pablo was streaming on TIDAL to continually tweak the album, the streaming window becoming an extension of the lengthy public tinkering with the album West performed on social media. TIDAL exclusives might be there to drive subscriptions, but they can also serve the artist-friendly brand, giving artists—or, at least artists who are Kanye West and intimately connected with the site’s founder—and their fans hope that it can become a platform for experimental modes of distribution.

The same does not apply to Lemonade: this, like ANTI, is a complete and finished album, and is similar to the surprise release of Beyoncé in 2013 that still launched exclusively, but to the industry standard iTunes Store. The logic there was the presence of the visual album, which required digital distribution, and which at that point precluded the use of streaming services: with both TIDAL and Apple using video—and soon television—as significant parts of their streaming platforms (with Apple the home to exclusive music video debuts like “Hotline Bling,” along with Taylor Swift’s 1989 concert film), Lemonade is an experience fit for the current streaming era, but not one that would have been impossible as a more traditional album release on iTunes. Therefore, it’s easy to read its placement on TIDAL as the most significant effort yet at driving subscriptions through exclusive content (with no clear window on if or when the album will be moving outside of TIDAL*).

* Well, there wasn’t a clear window. Hours later, The New York Times reports that Lemonade will arrive on iTunes at midnight tonight (Monday), per inside sources. Less clear, however, is whether or not the visual album will also be available for purchase as part of the bundle, or whether that content could remain on TIDAL exclusively, which seems like an option. The album, meanwhile, is also now available to purchase on TIDAL, as eventually happened with The Life of Pablo.

But in addition to thinking about the cynical business-oriented decision-making behind Lemonade’s exclusivity, there’s also a narrative of what is being sacrificed by making this choice. This likely includes, at least for the moment, any type of Billboard chart placement: TIDAL did not report its streaming numbers for The Life Of Pablo to Nielsen, meaning that despite obviously being the biggest album release of the year thus far, Beyoncé may not have the number one album in the country unless TIDAL (conveniently, which makes it possible) chooses to report those numbers this week. There are cynical business reasons for this (like hiding how few people are really streaming music on TIDAL, even with exclusives), but it also helps support the idea that TIDAL is doing things differently, and “challenging the status quo”: West eventually celebrated hitting No. 1 with The Life Of Pablo, so they’re not devaluing Billboard entirely, but he did so noting it was the first album to go Number One off of streaming.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 12.45.13 PMThat’s admittedly a bit misleading, given it was available for sale on TIDAL and West’s website and much—and potentially all, as I can’t get a handle on whether or not TIDAL included streaming numbers when the album went wider—of this likely came from Spotify and Apple Music, but it had the highest share of streaming of any No. 1, and Billboard reports noted the impressive feat of reaching “the pinnacle” even after being “available” on TIDAL for six weeks beforehand. It was West and TIDAL saying “We can offer the album on TIDAL, tinker with it for six weeks, and we’ll still go No. 1 when we release the album wider.” Regardless, it creates the potential for releasing an album on TIDAL as appearing “outside” of the traditional industry standard, albeit on a service that very much desperately wants to become an industry standard, and which is run by an artist who is just as much a business at the end of the day.

TIDAL will never be an outright counter-cultural service, but it’s a potential node of articulation as it works to convince the public that its exclusive content is eventually going to coalesce into a competitive advantage in the streaming marketplace. TIDAL is built for a world in which everyone subscribes to one music service or another, but we are not yet in this world, and whether or not the current marketplace can reasonably sustain three major services is still an open question. And while Lemonade cannot alone resolve that question, it certainly brings the conversation around “TIDAL Exclusives” further into the mainstream, and will generate a new wave of free trials they hope we forget about.

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With FXX’s Simpsons World, A Clip Database Comes Closer to Non-Linear Reality

Photo by Michael Underwood / PictureGroup

Photo by Michael Underwood / PictureGroup

For FXX as a cable channel, the arrival of The Simpsons reruns—including a complete marathon of all 552 Simpsons episodes through season 25 starting on August 21—marks a key transition in its brand identity. But given that Simpsons reruns have been proliferate in syndication on local stations for years, and DVD box sets have allowed fans to revisit the most beloved episodes of the series whenever they’d like, the idea of being able to watch eight episodes of The Simpsons leading up to each new episode on Fox on Sunday nights is not necessarily a revelation for fans of the series.

For this reason, the bigger news out of last November’s cable syndication deal between FXX and The Simpsons was the non-linear rights. At the time, this was largely framed in terms of the most basic way we understand the meaning of “non-linear,” which is to say that the series will be available to stream at any time. If we take “linear” to mean a traditional programming schedule dictated by a network or channel, then we have historically understood “non-linear” to mean an environment where audiences can choose to watch a show on their own terms through either video on-demand (VOD) services through cable or satellite providers or streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu. Accordingly, headlines at the time of the announcement focused on the fact “The Simpsons Will Finally Be Available To Stream” or that “Every ‘Simpsons’ Episode Will Be Available To Stream In August,” as The Simpsons finally became part of a new era of television distribution.

And yet as I wrote at the time, although not exactly in these terms, The Simpsons has always been non-linear as a cultural artifact.

How The Simpsons Should Exist On The Web – Slate

“We don’t think about The Simpsons in terms of episodes, not in our contemporary moment. While I will be happy to revisit various Simpsons episodes in their entirety on FXX or FXNow, and I will on occasion pull out my DVDs and watch a few episodes back-to-back, how we think of and use The Simpsons on a daily basis comes in the form of jokes, bits, and memorable sequences. The Simpsons travels in these bite-sized chunks, and the value of The Simpsons in the age of online streaming should ideally reflect this.”

This is why I specifically called for a Simpsons clip database that would embrace not simply non-linear forms of television distribution, but also non-linear patterns of cultural engagement with the text in question. FXX has been relatively tight-lipped regarding details of what their Simpsons app—which was originally planned to launch alongside the series’ debut on FXX, but will now begin rolling out in October—would look like, but in January FX president of program strategy Chuck Saftler expressed his excitement at what they had planned, but made no specific assurances when I pressed him on the potential for clips to be built into the system.

This lengthy preamble is my way of working through the fact that, as demoed for critics at FX’s day at the Television Critics Association press tour, the newly unveiled Simpsons World app has fully and wholly embraced the non-linear ways The Simpsons echoes in the lives of its fans. With multiple channels of pre-programmed episode streams, the ability to stream any episode, character pages featuring curated clips, and the capacity to read-along with the script while watching any episode, Simpsons World is everything a fan could want.

And with the proposed ability to create and share clips to a range of social networks, it is also the engine for the Simpsons Clip Database I dreamed of.

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It Came In Like a [Carefully Calculated] “Wrecking Ball”

Earlier this year, Billboard announced that it would be including YouTube streaming in its calculations for its Hot 100 chart. The same week, “Harlem Shake” became the number one song in America based on thirty seconds of it being used in thousands of viral videos.

Billboard chose to implement its new rules that week because it saw an opportunity to draw headlines, furthering their relevance while damaging their legitimacy (see the elder McNutt on that particular subject). They could have implemented them a week earlier, or a week later, but I’d bet money on them waiting for a moment to debut the metric when they could claim a song debuted at #1 because of their new streaming numbers that put Billboard on the pulse of how people are listening to music (Billboard’s Silvio Pietroluongo suggests it just happened to be that week, but I call shenanigans).

The impact of streaming has been less dramatic in the weeks since Harlem Shake’s five-week run atop the Billboard charts: One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” broke a Vevo record for most views in its first 24 hours and debuted at No. 2, but the single failed to gain traction and plummeted out of the Top 10 the following week (to No. 15). “Breaking the Vevo record” has become a new way for fans to support an artist, as Miley Cyrus set a record with “We Can’t Stop” (unseating Justin Bieber, who had unseated One Direction, who had unseated Justin Bieber), which was broken by One Direction, then tested—with some controversy—by Lady Gaga, before being claimed again by Cyrus with “Wrecking Ball.”

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Reaching for ‘The Leftovers’: HBO’s Return to Studio Productions

HBOWBEarlier today, HBO announced it was picking up Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers; this wasn’t a surprising pickup given the talent involved, but what was a bit more surprising was that the series is not being produced in-house at HBO.

Although HBO has been developing drama projects through other studios for a while now—always through big-name producers like Lindelof, or Shawn Ryan, or Ryan Murphy, or J.J. Abrams who are under overall deals with studios like Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Television, or 20th Century Fox—it was still a surprise to see a press release show up in my inbox from Warner Bros. Television about an HBO show. The Leftovers is the first such show to be ordered to series, and thus the first in what is likely to be a string of new HBO shows that they don’t fully own (although as was noted on Twitter, Time Warner owns HBO, so this remains in the corporate family).

It’s not uncharted territory for HBO (who co-produced Sex & the City with Warner Bros., and who entered a similar deal with ABC for Stephen Merchant’s Hello Ladies due to their overall deal with co-writers Stupnitsky/Eisenberg), but it’s a reversal of their more recent policy of owning shows they air and also the opposite of what’s happening in basic cable. At the same time AMC is shying away from working with studios like Lionsgate or Sony Pictures Television in the wake of disputes with those producers on Mad Men and Breaking Bad, HBO is reopening its doors to other studios, an interesting shift that privileges an emerging trend in development while—potentially—de-emphasizing a focus on distribution central to the HBO model.

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“This Season, on NBC’s Smash“: The Perils of the Extensive Post-Pilot Preview

The Perils of the Extensive Post-Pilot Preview

January 16th, 2012

It is no longer uncommon for networks to post pilots online in advance of their premieres, with FOX most recently using this strategy to help launch New Girl to some very strong initial ratings (which have since that point slid considerably, but remain fairly solid). It gives the shows increased visibility within an online space, turning savvy consumers (those who will find it on iTunes, or Hulu, or OnDemand) into an additional marketing segment who will put the word out just enough that those 100 million people tuning into the Super Bowl, and tens of millions who will watch The Voice for two hours before Smash premieres on February 6th, will hear whispers of the show before it’s plastered throughout those NBC broadcasts (and, as Mike Stein pointed out on Twitter, a single person who has seen and enjoyed the Pilot at a larger gathering could spread the word quite easily).

Like many others, I sat down with the Smash pilot via iTunes this afternoon – I had not seen the pilot when it was sent out to critics last Fall, so I was more or less seeing this in the fashion that NBC intended. The difference, though, is that I’ve read a lot about this show, and have seen enough trailers to understand its basic premise (and the basic beats of the pilot) more than the average viewer. As a result, while I would say that the Smash pilot is well-made, and there were parts of it I quite enjoyed (mostly surrounding the musical numbers at the heart of the story), I didn’t get that thrill of discovery that you ideally want to have with a television pilot.

NBC isn’t particularly concerned about this, either: while they’re playing coy with the musical numbers themselves, they included an extensive preview of the remainder of the season at the end of the pilot download, providing viewers with a surprisingly comprehensive overview of what is going to happen in the show’s first season (although it is unclear just how many episodes we see scenes from). It’s a move that’s not entirely common in this day and age, but it’s a move that I find eternally frustrating as someone who tries to avoid spoilers at all costs, particularly with reality shows like Project Runway or Top Chef where the basic structure is already so apparent.

The question becomes, though, why a show that does seem to have a strong serialized component (represented by the behind-the-scenes soap component of the series) would be so willing to reveal their cards before the show even begins. While I don’t know the actual answer to this question, I want to suggest (while offering some basic impressions of the drama, and some spoilery details for those who haven’t watched it or the preview that followed) that NBC is admitting up front that watching Smash isn’t going to be about surprise so much as spectacle, mirroring my own experience with the pilot and charting an intriguing if flawed course for the series moving forward.

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Winter Comes Early: Access, Game of Thrones and HBO Go

Winter Comes Early: Access and HBO Go

May 22nd, 2011

When HBO announced that they would be premiering the seventh episode of Game of Thrones‘ first season on HBO Go immediately following the conclusion of episode six, I was more fascinated than excited.

I think HBO Go is a really interesting initiative that has the potential to play an important role in the future of the channel’s programming. Not only does it offer a new platform in which users can legally access the network’s database almost in its entirety, but it also creates new potential for special features being integrated into the weekly viewing process, and makes the network’s content more readily mobile. When I talked with my cable company to subscribe to HBO earlier today (after having relied solely on screeners to this point), the friendly customer service representative had a whole spiel about HBO Go ready to go, and was clearly using it as a pitch to draw in potential subscribers.

Premiering an episode early is a great way to make users more aware of the service, especially when dealing with the Game of Thrones fanbase who might not normally be HBO subscribers (and who might have only signed up this week, having relied on nefarious methods to this point in the series’ run); if they go to the site to watch episode seven early, they might also check out the pilot for True Blood, and might get hooked enough that they maintain their HBO subscriptions following the Game of Thrones finale.

However, there lies a central concern with HBO Go that makes this kind of initiative somewhat problematic: as a result of the nascent state of the site, a number of cable providers have not been able to strike deals with HBO to feature the service, and since it is tied directly into your cable account this means that a large number of people who are paying for HBO subscriptions do not have access to this sneak preview. While there is clear value from a promotional point of view in an initiative like this one, I do wonder if the way in which it divides the series’ fanbase and potentially bifurcates the conversation surrounding the series doesn’t demonstrate the perils of messing around with serialization in this fashion.

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – “Act One”

When Joss Whedon announces during the WGA Writers’ Strike that he was writing a musical, you get excited. When you learn that Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion are set to star, you get hyped. And when you find out that it will be streaming live online for free, a true test of the online medium for distribution of this nature, a television blogger like myself gets even more enthused about it all.

Link: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Act One

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is not Whedon’s first entry into the television musical of sorts, considering that Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More…with Feeling” is considered one of the show’s best episodes. And while I don’t quite think Act One of this experiment lives up to that standard (And I’ll explain why below), it does everything you expect it to do: it carefully integrates musical numbers into a charming story featuring actors who, considering the fun nature of this story, are clearly enjoying themselves immensely.

And for a “Free” (Well, not quite) internet event of this nature? I’d say that this is damn entertaining stuff.

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