Credit: Pieter-Jannick Dijkstra/Flickr

Tidal's exec roundabout is leaving Jay Z dizzy

The rapper has an excellent business track record, but the streaming industry is proving tough to crack.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 24 May 2016

Most firms go through some turbulence when it comes to finding the right team of executives. Few have had quite as many changes in such a short space of time as Jay Z’s Tidal, which has now fired CFO Chris Hart and COO Nils Juell.

You’d suspect that Tidal HQ has a revolving door in reception to manage the steady stream of execs going in and out. Last year CEO Peter Tonstad and product chief Ervin Draganovic also left the firm, while Tidal appointed its third CEO since launching in 2014 with Jeff Toig taking the reins in December.

It’s not quite clear what’s causing so many changes. But Swedish news site Breakit reported that Hart was let go over a dispute on the way the company reports streaming numbers. Tidal’s version of events was predictably vaguer – the move was described as part of a wider restructuring, which will also involve relocating some of its key resources.

It’s been a rocky road for the streaming firm to date. The general feeling has been that the subscription-based service has struggled to gain traction in what has become an increasingly crowded digital sector. Spotify and Apple Music are tricky forces to face off against, even with a host of star power, from Rihanna to Madonna, behind Tidal. The firm’s ambitious aim to create an artist-owned business where exploitation by music labels (and tech firms) is a thing of the past is proving easier said than done. Jay Z announced Tidal passed the one million subscriber milestone in October, but it’s worth noting it already had 700,000 subscribers when he acquired it in March from a Swedish firm.

In a bid to keep the flailing business afloat, Jay Z called on his pal Kanye West, who recently announced that his new album will be available exclusively on the platform. It resulted in a surge of people downloading the app, making it the number one free download in the US. But for all the excitement, it’s still likely to be a transient boost – the album will be available on iTunes in a week after all. The platform itself has also been beset with technical troubles, including far too much buffering. Despite its claim of having higher quality audio than its rivals, most users have found it impossible to tell.

You can’t afford to have many technical troubles  – and such disruption at exec level – if you’re aiming to put up a fight against Apple Music and Spotify. The former has 11 million subscribers now and as it’s a mere cog in the wheel of the behemoth that is Apple, won’t have to fret too much about standing on its own two feet and being profitable alone. Spotify has around 20 million paid members and another 75 million who listen to its advertising-funded free music.

There have been murmurings that Samsung is in talks to acquire Tidal. For all Jay Z’s business prowess, the fiercely competitive music streaming industry may prove too tough a nut to crack. Tidal needs to find its niche fast – and deliver on it – or risk being drowned out by the bigger players.

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