Is anyone making any money from streaming?

There seems to be a considerable debate at the moment about whether or not artists and rights holders are earning significant revenues from streaming. The debate was started by an analysis by Billboard magazine on the worth of online streaming to artists. It described the earnings by the top artists from on-demand and non-interactive streams as being “shockingly low”. One notable finding was that only 10 out of the 100 artists analyzed earned above US$2,000 from non-interactive streams last year. Beyonce was top with just US$5,000. Billboard concluded by saying that it was understandable that artists and music companies were nervous when it comes to supporting streaming as the future of the music industry.

Earlier this week the Billboard findings were picked apart by the Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN). It contacted US digital-recording-rights-collection body SoundExchange to try and verify the Billboard analysis. SoundExchange gave a very different view to Billboard, with its spokesperson describing some of the findings as being “wildly off the mark”. SoundExchange was also quoted as saying that “more than a thousand artists received more than US$2,000 from SoundExchange for non-interactive webcasting only”. In addition to this revenue source, SoundExchange also collects royalties from other non-interactive streaming services via satellite and cable. One other interesting statistic provided to RAIN by SoundExchange was that the top earner from Internet radio made a six figure sum.

One figure Music & Copyright can add to the pot is that the online radio service Pandora made a payment to SoundExchange last year of around US$30 million. We have calculated that Pandora accounts for about 1% of all US Internet radio, so although the total sum paid is still small, it would be wrong to dismiss it altogether.

RAIN was quite right to conclude that Internet radio “benefits artists in many ways beyond simply the royalties it pays”. It also suggested that it should not be judged simply by its worth “on the royalty revenue it generates for artists”. There seems to be a clamor at the moment for digital music services to make large sums of money for artists and music companies quickly. Such demands are, on one hand, understandable, with music companies having lost so much through online file sharing. But to decry a new service as not worth supporting just as it is becoming established, and at a time when large numbers of consumers are still downloading music through P2P with artists and music companies receiving no returns, is surely a mistake.

Comparing the Billboard/RAIN findings with other countries around the world is difficult. Most European collection societies publish online revenues as one figure. In the UK, for example, total online revenues increased by 81% between 2007 and 2008. However, it should be noted that this was from a low base (£9.7 million to £17.6 million). No details are available for the different online revenue streams. But, although it is safe to conclude that no one is going to become super rich on streaming alone, the important thing at this stage is that services are being licensed and are contributing to the legal mix.

Music & Copyright is a fortnightly research service published by Informa Telecoms & Media.