Some of the nervousness around reports that audio music streams have fallen during the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown comes from looking ahead, and wondering whether there might be a follow-on impact on music subscriptions. Consider this: if you’re a household needing to cut costs, if you cancel your Netflix subscription, you don’t have Netflix. If you cancel your Spotify subscription, you still have Spotify’s free tier.

Clearly, this challenge doesn’t apply to the premium-only music streaming services, but Spotify Free (not to mention YouTube) may be a fallback option for people considering cancelling those too. We don’t mean to sound overly doom-mongering here: it’s just to explain why our industry is seizing upon any data on how Covid-19 is changing people’s entertainment habits, and their willingness to pay.

There was some positive news earlier this week from a Nielsen Music / MRC Data report about the number of Americans who are adding, rather than cancelling subscriptions – music included. Now there’s some less positive news from the tenth annual ‘Brand Intimacy Study’ from an agency called MBLM. It surveyed 6,200 people in the US, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates about nearly 400 brands that they interact with.

It seems like good news for music streaming on the surface: in the ‘apps and social platforms‘ category, there’s a strong showing for Spotify (first place), Apple Music (third) and Pandora (sixth) – for comparison, Pinterest is second, Facebook fourth, Instagram fifth and Snapchat sixth. But woah there, where are the video and gaming services that music is competing with for household subscription budgets?

Well, they’re in a separate ‘media and entertainment‘ category, which seems bizarre: why are music streaming services classed as ‘apps’ and video / games services as ‘entertainment’? Anyway, Amazon Prime, Disney, Netflix, PlayStation, Xbox, YouTube, Nintendo, Hulu, HBO and WWE are the top ten in the latter.

We can compare the different categories, because each brand gets a ‘score’ – 36.2 for Spotify, 32.9 for Apple Music and 25.0 for Pandora for example. Compare that to 59.2 for Netflix, 53.3 for PlayStation, 50.8 for Xbox and 50.1 for YouTube, and you start to see the potential headache for music. Why do our streaming services have weaker bonds with their users than those from video and gaming? And does that mean we may lose out if people start cutting back on their household subscriptions.

That said, perhaps we shouldn’t get too flustered about a study seemingly conducted from the standpoint that music is an ‘app’ rather than entertainment, and look instead for other signals. But either way, this study is a timely reminder that making the case to people for the value of music subscriptions – not just for the fortunes of the streaming service, but also the musicians who earn significantly more per-stream from paid listening than free – is going to be even more vital in the weeks and months ahead.

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Music Ally's Head of Insight

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