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Drake Scorpion takeover risks reminding Spotify users of Apple’s U2 overreach


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“Drake’s new album Scorpion is currently being streamed over 10 million times per hour,” chirped Spotify’s official Twitter account on Friday.

There hasn’t been an updated-stats tweet since, which is possibly explained by the announcement on the Twitter feed of Spotify’s greatest rival. “#Scorpion x Apple Music. The most streams in a single day, on any streaming service,” tweeted Apple Music, accompanied by an image emblazoned with ’24 hours. 170 million streams’.

Was it the most? Reports this weekend drew on the figures published in Spotify’s official global charts, showing 132.4m streams on 29 June. There may be some haggling to come over whether that’s a full 24-hour figure or not – the same charts suggest that ‘Scorpion’ did another 103.3m Spotify streams on 30 June, since you ask. We’d expect some opening-weekend figures to be trumpeted by both services later today, once their US offices are awake.

What to conclude? Shock news: Drake is quite popular! But Spotify will surely be disappointed to have lost out to Apple Music in the statistical willy-waving, again, despite pulling out all the stops for the release of ‘Scorpion’. Its first ‘global dedicated artist takeover’ saw Drake adorning the artwork for a raft of Spotify’s programmed playlists, from Today’s Top Hits and RapCaviar to Morning Commute, Songs To Sing In The Car and even Ambient Chill.

This was a calculated exhibition of strength from Spotify: its ability to brute-force an album to 10m hourly streams (at least for a while) through its in-house playlists. In the process it sent Drake back to the top of its top-artists list, with 51.6 million monthly listeners – more than 30% of all Spotify users, based on its most-recent 170m-MAUs figure. The memory of Drake’s Apple-exclusive 2016 album ‘Views’ has been well and truly put to bed.

And yet… Spotify has taken a big risk with the ‘Scorpion’ takeover too. The service that made great, pioneering strides in personalisation with its Discover Weekly, Release Radar and Daily Mix playlists, as well as its wider recommendations, chose to slap the week’s biggest album at the top of every listener’s homepage, while making its creator inescapable as they browsed its contextual playlists (our limit was reached with indie-folk playlist Lost In The Woods, the Indie Argentina playlist, and, most bizarrely, with UK-AM playlist The Great British Breakfast).

It can’t help but remind us (and others) of one of the less glorious moments in digital-music history: Apple’s decision in 2014 to add U2’s new ‘Songs of Innocence’ album to every iTunes user’s library, with many of them seeing it automatically download to their iPhones, regardless of whether they’d ever shown an interest in U2 in the past or not.

Is a Spotify homepage and playlists-takeover as intrusive as that infamous promotion? Perhaps not, but a crucial part of Spotify’s pitch to music listeners is that it understands their tastes, and can serve them the smartest recommendations accordingly.

Wall-to-wall Drakeface even for users who haven’t shown an interest in his music in the past was a risk, in that sense. Plus, if the goal was to reverse the recent trend of being trumped by Apple Music’s day-one numbers for big hip-hop albums, it didn’t quite pay off.

We’re not getting too carried away: this was a time-limited launch promotion. This morning, The Great British Breakfast playlist has its bacon’n’eggs’n’beans artwork back. When Spotify launches its next clever personalisation feature, listeners will likely feel it ‘gets’ their tastes all over again.

But still, this weekend may be a little moment of warning for Spotify: Songs Of Innocence-era Apple isn’t a great role-model for a music-streaming service in the era of personalisation, even if the nature of being a public company requires frequent exhibitions of strength and scale.

There is a bigger picture, of course: more than 300m first-24-hour streams of a single new album across the two biggest global streaming services. That’s another not-so-little milestone showing where we’re at in streaming’s evolution.

Stuart Dredge

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