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Tidal denies fiddling the figures, accuses newspaper of “smear campaign”

By | Published on Thursday 10 May 2018


Tidal has dubbed a newspaper article that accuses the streaming firm of fiddling the figures related to two albums where it had scored exclusives as “ridiculous” and a “smear campaign”. Although said paper has seemingly already pushed back on legal efforts to kill its investigation.

The newspaper in question is Norwegian business title Dagens Næringsliv, which has followed the evolution of the Tidal business particularly closely because, of course, the Jay-Z led streaming service grew out of a Norway-based start-up called WiMP.

The report relates to the officially recorded usage data for Kanye West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’ and Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’, both of which were initially available to stream exclusively on Tidal (and the latter still is). DN alleges that Tidal data relating to those records was manipulated resulting in hundreds of millions of false plays being reported.

The allegation is based on a lengthy investigation by the paper, which also involved the Norwegian University Of Science And Technology. That investigation was seemingly motivated by chatter that occurred around the launch of the two albums to the effect that the stats being put out by Tidal seemed unrealistically high given the service’s own declared userbase at that time (and even more so given claims in some quarters that Tidal was exaggerating its number of active subscribers).

As part of its investigation, the paper says it somehow acquired a hard-disk full of internal Tidal data, which correlated with figures received by the record industry. It then approached individual Tidal subscribers who – the stats said – had heavily streamed the Beyonce and/or Kanye albums to see if they really had rinsed the hell out of those records. At least some of those subscribers seemed confused by the data, insisting they hadn’t listened to those albums anything like what the stats suggested.

Then entered the academics at the Norwegian University Of Science And Technology, who seemingly analysed the Tidal data that the newspaper had acquired. DN says that the boffins employed “advanced statistical analysis” to determine that the data had been manipulated to the benefit of the Beyonce and Kanye releases.

Of course, if the number of plays secured by ‘The Life Of Pablo’ and ‘Lemonade’ were indeed heightened, that wouldn’t just result in some dishonest stats bragging. It would also affect the royalties paid to the labels which released these records, and also the royalties paid by Tidal to everyone else.

The core streaming business is revenue share based on consumption share. The service takes all the money it has generated in any one month and then divides it between all the rights owners, based on what percentage of overall listening came from each individual rights owners’ catalogue. Once that has been done, the streaming firm shares those allocated monies with each rights owner subject to their revenue share agreement.

Advances and minimum guarantees sometimes complicate the process further, but if Tidal monies were being shared out according to the core model, artificially boosted play counts for two records would mean those albums would account for a higher portion of overall consumption. That would mean they would be allocated a higher share of that month’s monies, and everyone else would be allocated less.

For its part, Tidal is vehemently denying the allegations made in the new DN article, while seeking to damage the newspaper’s credibility by citing remarks it has previously made about the company’s execs, principally COO Lior Tibon and owner Jay-Z. It also accuses the newspaper of manipulating the data it sneakily acquired.

The digital firm said in a statement yesterday: “This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an ‘Israeli intelligence officer’ and our owner as a ‘crack dealer’. We expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies and falsehoods. The information was stolen and manipulated and we will fight these claims vigorously”.

So tough talking. Let the vigorous fighting commence.