Technology

Sarconi: Collaborating with Vice is Apple’s first shot across Spotify’s bow

I imagine Apple lives and dies by the motto “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” The company doesn’t like to be second at anything, which is a problem for Apple because that’s where it currently stands in the music streaming industry.

With almost 20 million paid subscribers less than Spotify, Apple Music has just made a power move in what is clearly aimed at taking over its rival as number one. The streaming service has teamed up with Vice to produce a six-part video series called “The Score,” and, in doing so, is betting on video content being part of a winning formula.

“The Score” will highlight musicians all around the world and shed some light on local music scenes in a low-risk, high-reward venture that shows Apple is thinking outside the box in its attempt to establish itself as the premier music streaming service.

It also helps that Vice is a well-respected media organization that is particularly popular among millennials. Not so coincidentally, millennials also stream up to an average 25 hours of music a week. So this is a decision almost surely made with our generation in mind. It’s nice to be wanted.

If Apple is going to leapfrog Spotify for that top spot, it needs to consider taking more risks and diversifying its content. While I am a Spotify subscriber, I’m going to help Apple out. Here is the blueprint for the company to close that 20 million-subscriber gap on Spotify.

Implement a student membership plan

If Apple Music really wants to lure millennials over to its streaming service, this is a no-brainer. I joined Spotify because it only costs $5 a month compared to Apple’s $10. If Apple really wants to get our generation to convert, it needs to make its content cheaper. We may pay for expensive hardware, but that’s probably because we can’t torrent it.

Just look what happened when Kanye West released his album “Life of Pablo” exclusively on Tidal. According to TorrentFreak, it was illegally downloaded more than 500,000 times in the days after its release.

To be fair, West’s decision to only release the album on Tidal may have been the reason it saw a jump from 1 million to 2.5 million subscribers. But still, if you really wanted to listen to “Life of Pablo” for free, you could find a way. Apple needs to recognize the fact that music is relatively easy to get for free these days, and even lowering their subscription service by $5 for students could provide enough of an incentive for some to make the switch.

Utilize 360 Video

Apple Music should continue to build its video content by creating immersive, intimate performances by artists. I think every music fan would love the opportunity to experience a one-on-one concert in 360 degrees with their favorite musician. If Apple Music started a video series starring some of the most popular artists in the world, it would become the go-to for interactive music content and blow away Spotify’s Live Sessions to capitalize on an emerging market.

Buy SoundCloud and integrate it into the company’s music content

While unlikely, this would be industry changing. If Apple purchased SoundCloud and made it part of its music content, the impact could be similar to Google’s acquisition of YouTube. Google bought YouTube for $1.65 million in 2006 and now it’s worth more than $70 billion, according to Fortune.

SoundCloud is reportedly worth close to $1 billion, so this would cost Apple a pretty penny. However, the numbers are hard to ignore. While Billboard reports that Spotify has roughly 70 million active users — that counts as both paid and unpaid — SoundCloud has roughly 175 million total listeners per month. That’s an eye-popping number.

If Apple integrated SoundCloud into its service, music listeners wouldn’t have to go anywhere else for content. Any music that isn’t provided by Apple is likely to be available on SoundCloud, so by combining the two, it would essentially become the one-stop-app for music streaming.

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Ulf Oesterle, an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Music and Entertainment Industries in the Setnor School of Music at Syracuse University, said that Apple’s collaboration with Vice is important for the company to secure its spot in first place.

“You’ve got to differentiate yourself from your competition,” Oesterle said. “The best way to do that is by having some content that is exclusive to your platform. We see that happen with Netflix, we see that happen with Hulu, there are certain shows that each one of those video platforms will have.”

Apple needs to continue to be aggressive in its approach. It’s in the right place at the right time — considering the music streaming business has officially become the biggest source of revenue in the music industry — and now it’s just about finding what works and what doesn’t.

Paul Sarconi is a senior broadcast and digital journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at pjsarcon@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @paulsarconi.

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