Earlier this year, Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv ran an explosive piece that claimed Tidal was gaming its numbers – specifically the streams around Kanye West’s Life Of Pablo and Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Tidal eventually responded, claiming it was a witch hunt being led by the paper against it but added that it was also investigating a potential data breach. Variety has taken that – as well as Twitter’s recent clearing out of bot accounts – as the hook to look into the issue of fraud within music streaming.
Obviously to make serious money on a streaming service, you have to get into the tens of millions of streams – so it has to happen at scale to really impact. Is the industry spooked? Yes and no.
“It’s not something we’re currently concerned about,” says one unnamed major label head quoted in the piece, “but that’s not to say we won’t be in the future.” Another source cautions that DSPs need to be “vigilant and sophisticated in their controls to ensure that streaming fraud doesn’t dilute payments to the artists who have rightfully earned those payments”.
The piece references a New York Times story that claimed significant numbers of “fake” views are going undetected on YouTube every day, suggesting this is becoming the three-card monte of the streaming world.
Christine Barnum, director of finance at CD Baby, told Variety, “We’re seeing an uptick in the type of fraud where people are distributing their content through us and signing up with a legitimate credit card, but then their intent is to manipulate streams and rip off a [digital service provider].”
There was no reference to the alleged scam run out of Bulgaria last year that was claimed to have generated over $1m in streams by creating multiple fake accounts to repeatedly play tracks on carefully structured third-party playlists.
This will have put the DSPs on high alert to look out for abnormal streaming activity and quickly shut down loopholes in the system. So while fraud is, in theory, possible, to do it at meaningful scale is going to be a hell of a trick to pull off.