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Are streaming giants faking their numbers?

Friday - 11/05/2018 09:34
Jay-Z’s Tidal music service denies reports it may be massaging figures to increase revenues for certain artists. It’s not the first time streaming companies have come under fire
Kanye West and Jay-Z at the Tidal launch event in 2015. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images North America
Kanye West and Jay-Z at the Tidal launch event in 2015. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images North America
These days Tidal is less a streaming service more of a Aesopian parable. Launched with huge fanfare by 16 of the biggest artists in the world – including Madonna, Rihanna and Beyoncé – it promised to revolutionize music streaming by providing artist exclusives. Currently it is languishing around sixth place in the global streaming wars, with a tiny fraction of the users Spotify boasts. The fact that you can still only stream the most recent Beyoncé album on the service is mind-boggling – as if Disney announced the new Star Wars film was only going to be available to rent on Betamax from that last remaining Blockbuster in Alaska

Tidal now has more to worry about than its tiny user base. It has just been accused by the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv of manipulating streaming data to inflate the number of times albums by Kanye West and Beyoncé have been played.This is not the first time these suspicions have been raised. Two years ago, some questioned how Kanye’s album The Life Of Pablo, a Tidal exclusive at the time, could have been streamed 250m times in 10 days, when the platform itself only had 3 million users. There was similar confusion when Tidal claimed that Beyoncé’s Lemonade had been streamed 306m times in just 15 days.

Happier times: the Tidal launch video made in 2015.

Now, Dagens Næringsliv claims it has proof that the figures were manipulated. It says it has obtained a hard drive with Tidal’s raw streaming data, which has been analysed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The report, produced by the university, claims that Tidal used genuine accounts to play more than 150m duplicates of The Life Of Pablo tracks at exactly the same times, 2am and 5am, without users’ permission. It also claims that tracks from Lemonade were played repeatedly at exact intervals of six minutes - down to the millisecond.

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