Jay Z’s music streaming service Tidal has lost another CEO — the third CEO to leave the company since Jay Z acquired it in January 2015.
Billboard reported on May 26 that Tidal CEO Jeff Toig had left the company, and that Tidal plans to name a new CEO in the coming weeks.
A company losing a CEO is never a good sign. But a company losing three CEOs in just over two years is a particularly bad sign.
The list of departed Tidal executives shows the upheaval that the company has gone through since its January 2015 acquisition.
- CEO Andy Chen left Tidal in April 2015.
- Then CEO Peter Tonstad left the company in June 2015.
- US sales and marketing manager David Solomon left Tidal after just 10 months in July 2015.
- Tidal’s senior vice president of label and artist relations, Zena Burns, left in August 2015, two months after she joined.
- It was reported in November 2015 that chief investment officer Vania Schlogel had left Tidal.
- Tidal announced in March 2016 that it had fired CFO Chris Hart and COO Nils Juell.
- And now Tidal’s latest CEO, Jeff Toig has left the company.
So, what’s going to happen to Tidal? There are two routes the company can go down:
Scale back expenses and operate as a niche streaming service
It costs money to compete with Apple and Spotify, and Tidal can’t fight a losing battle forever.
And yes, Tidal is losing. The most recent paying subscriber number we have for Tidal is just 3 million (although it was reported that internal numbers show 1.2 million subscribers.) Contrast that with Apple’s 20 million subscribers, and Spotify’s 50 million, and it’s clear that Tidal is barely moving the needle.
Data released by the BPI (British Phonographic Institute) earlier this month showed that Tidal has managed to gain just 0.1% penetration in the UK in 2016, a tiny amount compared to Spotify’s 11.6% (although Apple Music is on 2.5%.)
This could be sustainable if Tidal had a giant cash pile and low overheads, but it doesn’t. Its losses doubled to $28 million (£21.7 million) in 2015, double what it lost before Jay Z bought the company.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that Tidal’s losses aren’t as big as rival SoundCloud. SoundCloud’s 2015 accounts show that it lost €51.22 million (£44 million) in 2015.
Tidal has the option of scaling back its overheads, potentially cutting staff, and operating as a lean and niche music streaming service. That’s what it did for years before being acquired by Jay Z, after all.
Sell to another company
But maybe Jay Z doesn’t want to scale back his ambitions. Maybe he’s bored of Tidal altogether. He did forget he owns the company in a court case, after all.
Apple doesn’t need Tidal. It already bought its own relatively niche music streaming service, Beats, and turned that into Apple Music. Apple Music dealmaker Jimmy Iovine also shut down rumours of a Tidal acquisition in a September 2016 interview with BuzzFeed News. “We’re really running our own race,” Iovine said. “We’re not looking to acquire any streaming services.”
OK, so Apple won’t buy Tidal. How about Spotify, another European music streaming service? Well, that deal doesn’t look too likely, either. Spotify chairman Martin Lorentzon joked about Tidal during an on-stage interview in Stockholm in May 2015. “I’ve got 99 problems — and Jay Z ain’t one,” he reportedly said.
But there are two companies that do make sense here: Samsung and SoftBank.
Jay Z was photographed leaving Samsung’s US head office in Silicon Valley in October 2015.
Jay-Z leaving Samsung corp. in Silicon Valley right now pic.twitter.com/AQAJWzL6lq
— Damian Trujillo (@newsdamian) October 15, 2015
Samsung shuttered its Milk music streaming service in August 2016, potentially leaving a gap in its business for Tidal.
There’s one small problem with this theory, though: Samsung previously denied a rumour that it’s planning to buy Tidal. But maybe it would change its tune if Tidal offered itself for a knockdown price.
How about SoftBank? The Japanese company already owns a third of Tidal through its carrier company Sprint. SoftBank has bought tech companies before: In 2016 it announced that it had paid £24 billion to acquire British chip designer ARM Holdings.