Analysis

BPI boss warns BBC to license its new music-streaming service


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BPI boss Geoff Taylor has called on the BBC to focus on licensing deals for its planned music-streaming service, saying that any attempt to avoid paying royalties will not be “viable”.

The plans were announced in the broadcaster’s latest strategy document, published earlier this week, and will see a catalogue of around 50,000 tracks made available for streaming after they are played on BBC radio stations.

“The BBC is concerned that it may lose its audience share to the new additional services, particularly the on-demand ones. We understand why the BBC would want to be where the audience is, and make sure it is as relevant as possible – particularly to younger music fans,” said Taylor during the BPI’s annual general meeting in London this afternoon.

“If the BBC is going to launch such a service, then it needs to bring the industry with it. The starting point for some of the BBC’s suggestions around how such a service might work involved launching such a service but paying no money for it – and I just don’t think that’s viable.”

In the strategy document, the BBC made it clear that the licensing plans are at an early stage, and it intends a full dialogue with music rightsholders before settling on its approach.

“We want our digital music offer to benefit audiences and artists. We are working with the industry to develop this proposal in a way that achieves that objective, whether it’s by providing the first audience for an unsigned or undiscovered artist, or by working to license the product in a way that benefits artists fairly,” explained its document.

Geoff Taylor’s stern words in public are accompanied by constructive talks behind the scenes between the broadcaster and rightsholders on how the BBC’s service, which is intended to provide a discovery layer that complements the likes of Spotify and Apple Music rather than competes with them, will work from a licensing point of view.

Taylor’s speech at the BPI’s AGM included a strong defence of the BBC in other areas, keen to stress that the music industry sees the BBC as a key partner in promoting British music both in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

However, he warned that “just like any other partner they’re going to need to reward the creators and everybody that goes in to creating that music” if the broadcaster follows through on its streaming plans. “There will have to be a sensible deal behind it if it’s going to happen.”

Earlier, Taylor said he was “extremely optimistic” about the growth of streaming more widely, although he said that labels are keen to “work very seriously on correcting the value proposition” in digital music that has seen consumption rise, but revenues for rightsholders fall.

He trained his sights on a familiar foe: YouTube. “You have services – particularly video services – used as alternatives to premium services like Spotify or Apple Music, yet they’re paying a fraction of the royalties,” said Taylor. “There’s a distortion in the market: a lot of the value is coming in not to the creators, but being hijacked by the tech corporations not paying the rates they should be.”

Taylor called for the UK government to support the music industry as it seeks legislative changes at a European level in the months ahead. “We need the support of government, clarifying the EU safe harbour rules behind which those tech giants hide,” said Taylor.

The issue is also at the heart of collecting society PRS for Music’s recently-announced lawsuit against streaming service SoundCloud, with several industry bodies determined to seek a clarification of how services may or may not use safe harbour legislation when striking (or rather, not striking) licensing agreements for music.

Stuart Dredge

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