​the state of web-video and the problem with the solution

As Spotify plans to branch out into video, and Apple prepares to launch its Beats music service, we look into the future of free streaming services.

by Tom Ivin
19 May 2015, 1:12am

According to the Wall-Street Journal, Spotify has announced plans to compete with YouTube and Tidal by becoming a player in the world of web-video, a decision allegedly due to be made public at a media conference on 20th May. It is not yet known whether the price would change for subscribers, or a different package will be available to include video content, however, the streaming service is broadening its output to compete with other apps that already have plans to do the same.

If the model follows the same pattern as the music on Spotify, and other streaming services, the top-ten radio friendly artists will end up on top of the pyramid, making loads of money, and smaller fledging artists at the bottom, not making a lot. It's one of the complaints that led to the creation of Tidal in the first, with many artists bemoaning the lack of income streaming makes for them. Portishead's Geoff Barrow recently came out and said he made under £2000 off 34 million streams, hitting out at Apple, YouTube, Spotify and his label for "selling his music so cheaply." To put in context, he made less than a hundredth of a penny for every time someone streamed one of his songs online.

However Warner Music Group recently revealed that streaming has overtaken downloads as a source of revenue for the first time ever in the company's history. But if a band as big as Portishead isn't making money off Spotify and YouTube, the hope for everyone else must be slim.

One other development is Apple, who aim to shake up the industry with their Beats streaming service, which will be unveiled sometime next month. It's expected to transform the industry, as Apple have developed a habit of doing. With Warner Music Group seeing huge growth, Apple joining the fight, and Tidal's effort, the market is becoming saturated with similar services - so could Spotify survive without evolving?

Tidal asks for a subscription fee in return for exclusive video content, high quality audio, and a promise that the artists get paid a fair price for their efforts. I signed up to Tidal in the first few weeks of its release, excited about the VIP privileges of being part of an exclusive members club run by the titans of popular music, but instead finding disappointment in the lack of proper premium video. And everything had leaked onto YouTube with hours of being released on Tidal anyway. It didn't feel like much of a deal.

Rihanna's debut Tidal exclusive was a stock footage-laden Bruce Springsteen homage, the song a love letter to a broken America. Beyoncé's exclusive video was a one-shot iPhone film, made by her husband and Tidal boss, Jay Z; an intimate video tribute for the pair's wedding anniversary. Jack White also provided some content for subscribers, another archive piece; this time some early gig footage from the White Stripes, bookended with the streaming of the final show of his recent acoustic tour.

Lily Allen predicted that the advancing of 'higher quality' music streaming services would usher users to pirate sites in droves. With video, that hasn't had to happen, as the videos have already surfaced elsewhere. Rihanna's American Oxygen has since appeared on YouTube, and a fan has ripped and uploaded the Jack White concert, which has since been removed. So it's hard to see what benefit you get out of paying to subscribe. With Tidal, users were promised premium video content, and deserve a higher quality of programming.

It has been reported that Spotify will upload more user-generated content, aiming to echo the success stories of YouTube big-hitters such as PewDiePie. Maybe the plan is for Spotify to rival YouTube, with subscription fees paying more to the creators? Though expect a backlash when these videos turn up elsewhere on the internet.

However, monetary restrictions in the arts have always challenged creators, and this situation is no different; visual artists and their producers are now forced to come up with innovative ways of creating attractive content. Lee Skinner's recent video for Drew Lustman's Wolves (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPw7cS-S4aA ) utilises a fault in the camera to hypnotic effect, and the shimmering string in Rosie Lowe's How'd You Like It? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LspvgRmr8fg ) from director duo US, is a lighting trick rather than an expensive post-production job. How would the budgets be affected if the creators knew that users would be paying to view their content? How would this affect the artistic decisions?

I didn't intend to write a complaint, but I hope this is a starting point, a foundation laid for more video content where users and artists - both musical and visual - get what they deserve. Hopefully, streaming services will continue to evolve, and Spotify's business model will answer the call for the innovative and interesting, finding the filmmakers of tomorrow.