War buffs will know the fight never changes, though the weapons are always new. There’s a battle brewing on the outskirts of the music industry right now that few of us saw coming, and the cameras aren’t watching: the high-definition streaming war.
When Apple Music last week announced the twin rollout from next month of “Spatial Audio,” starting with 1,000 records, and that its full library would be available in Lossless Audio, the battle lines were essentially drawn.
How do we know? Well, if you consider the fight never changes, the next play tells us the rumble was truly on. Within an hour, Amazon Music announced it too would charge no extra cost for high-resolution, lossless and 3D spacial streaming.
This, just after France’s Qobuz announced its expansion into Australia, offering “something uniquely different to the other platforms out there,” its Deputy CEO Georges Fornay told TIO.
In technology, what’s unique one week can quickly become standard.
So where’s Spotify on all this? Waiting in the trenches. Earlier this year, the streaming giant announced its CD-quality Spotify HiFi would be available in “select markets” in the coming months, though we continue to wait and see where, and how much it’ll cost.
It’s unclear who is obsessed with top-notch audio quality. Sure, music obsessives, geeks, and “audiophiles”, whoever they are. Tidal, of course, launched proper in 2015, with a point of difference: it was said to be the global music streaming service with high fidelity sound.
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Despite its best intentions and its famous music allies, Tidal never caught on.
It recently sold 80% of the business to Square, the financial services business co-founded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, for a reported sum of US$300-$350 million.
What Dorsey does next in a crowded market for top-end audio streaming platforms could be fun to watch.
Tidal is coming from a low base. Maybe 5 million subscribers worldwide, compared with Spotify’s 158 million paying users. If that figure is close to the mark, adding one million subscribers each year for five years should be seen as a rank failure.
There was a time, not so long ago, when digital music platforms had two main selling points: ease of use, and depth of catalogue. Some, including Tidal, also flagged “exclusives”.
Now, streaming tunes on any service is child’s play. And content, not a problem.
When iTunes first arrived in the Australia in 2005, it boasted over one million songs, the “most music of any digital music store” in Australia.
Today, Apple Music’s licensed music library is 75 million tunes, and growing. Its competitors are at or near the same lofty volume.
Hi-res audio streaming is the new battle for your ear, your attention and your buck. Will it change the game, will it grow the market? Does anyone really care? Who knows. But the big streamers are doing it anyway.