April 24, 2015 / by Niki Madison

Any child of the ‘80s remembers the classic dad fashion staple, the Members Only jacket. Back in the day, belonging to an exclusive club was an indicator of one’s social status, even if membership offered no advantages other than looking prepared for a ride in a Camaro T-top convertible. Recently, another exclusive group attempted to offer exclusive membership to the entertainment-consuming world. Music celebrities including Jay Z, Beyoncé, Madonna and Alicia Keys joined together to rebrand a Scandinavian music streaming service, Aspiro, as Tidal.

Backed by a roster of A-list music personalities, Tidal claims to be the first artist-owned music streaming application. In addition to exclusive content for subscribers, it promises higher quality music streaming capabilities and greater royalty payments for music artists. Despite the initial hype of the service, downloads of the Tidal application have all but dropped from iTunes download charts and the company has let go at least 25 employees, including the CEO, since the March 2015 launch.

Photo credit: Johnildy via Flickr

Looking at the example of Tidal can reveal beneficial practices for reaching audiences with subscriber content. In order to successfully market exclusive content, messages should have an audience-centered focus, content should be easily discernable from competitors and messages should concentrate on product strengths instead of the weaknesses of competitor products.

Focusing on the needs of subscribers is vitally important for any press campaign. Since the launch of Tidal, media coverage surrounding the application has focused primarily on the famous backers of the music service. Fair compensation for artists’ work is a concern within the media industry; however, the high price of Tidal membership has driven potential subscribers to other streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. While the higher membership cost of Tidal allows the streaming service to be ad free, a better example of user-focus in streaming applications is Spotify.

Spotify offers its music application at a lower price, but also offers a free service that relies on advertisements. Using this model, it allows users to test drive its services to see if the application meets their needs.

“Often, it’s easier to start a niche content site or online service with a freemium model and charge for exclusive content/services because you can start to build an audience with your free version/content and you can start to grow a revenue base with your premium subscribers,” Jeff Kear, founder and CMO of Planning Pod, said.

Photo credit: Michal Haglof via Flickr

In order to meet the demands of today’s consumer, Tidal has touted that their service offers exclusive content and CD-quality music streaming capabilities. While it does offer their services at a higher streaming rate with lossless audio quality, subscribers numbers don’t support the difference in quality as a discernable benefit compared to the cost of service.

Steven Swimmer of Swimmer Media believes that the future of subscriber-based media depends on differentiation. “The future of exclusive subscriber content will be around differentiation of quality content, building enduring relationships and generation of sustainable revenue streams,” he said.

In terms of exclusive content, Tidal offered exclusive albums or singles for only a short time before the music was offered on other outlets. Patreon is an example of a service that affords users a say in the quality and control of the content they consume. Started by two musicians, Patreon is a crowd-funding platform that allows consumers to pay a monthly subscription or pay-per-video fee to creators of YouTube videos. With this service, artists are paid for their work and users can pay for the content they enjoy.


When Tidal launched, the company vehemently pointed to the lack of revenue artists earn through royalties from other streaming services. This campaign strategy backfired as consumers failed to be concerned with the complaints of lost earnings from some of the wealthiest music personalities. Both Pandora and Spotify applications saw an increase in application downloads after the Tidal launch. While trying to undermine their competitors, Tidal alerted their intended audience of the other options in music streaming services. Instead of focusing on competitor products and messages, it should have turned attention to the relevancy and discernable advantages it offers to viable consumers.

One service platform that is built around the advantage it provides its consumers is Pandora. Having launched in 2000, the now-senior service features music recommendations based on listeners’ preferences. While Spotify and Tidal offer users the ability to choose music at their leisure, Pandora is leading in application downloads by offering users music suggestions based on their tastes.

Derek Handova, a freelance writer for B2B News Network, said that the goal of subscriber content is to be aware of consumer needs. “The pros of having exclusive subscriber content include knowing specifically who is reading it … so you can tailor the content more to their needs.”

Subscriber content providers will continue to grow as the media landscape changes. From the ever-changing business model of Netflix to the newly launched HBO Now, consumers will pay for content that they can personalize to fit their needs. Media professionals will need to find ways to adapt their content to their selective audiences. Knowing audiences’ preferences, differentiating messages from competitors and focusing on product advantages will keep campaigns sailing in the changing seas of subscription-based media.

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Featured image by Clint Losee via Flickr

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About Niki Madison

Niki Madison writes daily updates and features for the Cision blog. She is a media researcher at Cision, specializing in print media with a focus on newspapers. She is a freelance graphic designer, enjoys dancing feverishly to live music, the fashion and pop culture of the 1980s and 1990s, and is a sucker for cat memes. Follow her on Twitter @nikimadison1.