Alibaba Just Changed the Music Streaming Game & No One Noticed
Except not really. There's nothing secretive about the launch of Alibaba's new music streaming app, Planet. The rollout's been massive, Billboard's covered it. It'd be more accurate to say that Americans think that the world revolves around them - Madagascar could sink into the ocean and New Yorkers would shrug and go back to talking about pizza rat - and so what's glaringly obvious to the rest of the world can feel like a secret.
But for the 92.4% of the world who don't reside within the 50 states, Planet is now a far bigger deal than TIDAL. How big of a deal? For starters, Alibaba, perhaps best described as the Amazon of Asia, is worth as much as $200 billion dollars, putting it only slightly behind companies like Visa and Chevron. It's also the 12th most trafficked site on the planet and now owns Youku Tudou, the Chinese version of YouTube. You might not recognize the face of Alibaba founder Jack Ma, but he's worth almost 50 TIMES MORE than Jay Z, and now he wants in on the music streaming game.
Much more than the big five streaming services we usually talk about - Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, YouTube and Tidal - in addition to streaming video and music, Planet also enables artists to sell merchandise, stream live concerts and connect directly with other artists. For example, a producer could sell a beat to a rapper through Planet.
"The platform is... open to composers, music producers, merchants, and other companies related to the music business that are looking for business opportunities. For instance, singers will be able to find songwriters and merchants will be able to seek out celebrity endorsements." - via Billboard
It should go without saying that China, India and Asia at large are a potentially massive market. If Planet can capture even a fraction of the increasingly digitally-equipped population of those countries the results could be massive. While artists fight with Spotify over fractions of a penny, it's not unreasonable to think they could sell merch to hundreds of thousands via Planet, a potential game changer in the same way cracking the international market radically changed major movie studio releases.
At the same time Planet has the potential to be a gold rush for artists, it could also be a great depression. The music industry is constantly railing against what it perceives to be unfair compensation and practices by U.S. streaming companies, and Chinese regulations are much foggier by comparison. The company says it has licensing agreements with publishers BMG and Universal Music Group, the terms of which have yet to be revealed, and it doesn't appear particularly concerned about striking deals with other major publishers like Warner Music Group or Sony Music. Prince may have been able to keep his music off U.S.-based streaming services, but Planet is a whole different story.
As we saw with BitTorrent, there are millions, in fact billions, of music consumers outside of the mainstream music distribution channels we usually talk about, all capable of being converted in paying customers. The first to truly tap into those new consumer bases stands to reap enormous rewards, are already reaping enormous rewards, even if you wouldn't recognize their face if they were sitting courtside at the Lakers game along with Kanye and Jay Z.