How much is one listen, of one song, by one pair of ears actually worth? It’s a debate that’s raged in one form or another for years. Whether it’s the huge disparity in per-stream rates paid to repertoire owners by streaming services, the challenge of computing Album Equivalent Sales in a chart that now includes streams, or Pandora’s legal wrangling over broadcast vs. internet radio royalties, it has always been notoriously difficult to establish a level playing field. How many streams equal one radio play? Or one download? What role does context play?
Well, now there’s an app for that. Announced on Monday, Apple Music is a streaming service, radio station (called Beats 1) and download store (iTunes) in one, all operated by a single, very powerful player. It is, as Trent Reznor describes it using language probably best left in the boardroom, “One complete thought around music”:
The announcement that Apple is entering linear radio, broadcasting globally 24 hours a day over the net in the form of Zane Lowe-fronted Beats 1, as well as getting into streaming with the launch of Apple Music, is the first time revenues from radio, streaming and downloads have all landed on the same balance sheet.
It’s also the first time linear radio has gone ‘full IP’, at least by a major player, and as such it represents a revolution in the measurability of radio listening. UK broadcast radio still measures itself using RAJAR’s outmoded diary method – the best defence of which usually runs along the lines of ‘imperfect, but imperfect for everybody’ – and Nielsen’s PPM (Portable People Meter) methodology, though slightly less dark ages, has done little to calm debate about radio ratings bias in the US.
Available for free to iPhone and iPad users when it launches on June 30, Beats 1 radio will generate the kind of listening data that true broadcast radio can only dream of. Apple will be able to measure the reach, share and time spent listening to its own radio station, on its own platforms, more accurately than RAJAR or Nielsen could ever hope to. And with no broadcast output to muddy the waters, there should be no question about how many people Beats 1 is reaching, and for how long.
Then there’s remuneration. Unlike broadcast radio, which pays royalties to collection societies that negotiate and distribute those payments on behalf of artists and songwriters, Apple has direct deals (as far as we know) across all of its three properties. For recordings at least, it negotiates with – and directly remunerates – the same repertoire owners for radio plays, streams and downloads.
So Apple will know, with a level of accuracy and granularity previously unheard of in radio, exactly how many people have heard each play of every song played on Beats 1. It will also know the number of streams those same songs receive on Apple Music. Imagine Beats 1 radio reaches an audience of 10m. Does one play of ‘Mercy’ by Muse on Beats 1, heard by 10m people, generate the same revenue as 10m individual streams on Apple Music? What’s the download equivalent? Just ask Muse.
Are we finally about to learn how many streams a radio play is worth? And whether it makes a difference if you choose to stream a song or someone else streams it for you? Is Apple Music a kind of unintentional music-and-radio-listening valuation app? Are we, in short, about to discover the true monetary value of recorded music?