Softbank-owned Sprint acquires 33% of Tidal

  • The headline is self-explanatory. US telco Sprint has acquired a 33% stake in Tidal. Jay-Z and his big name artist pals – Beyoncé, Deadmau5, Jack White, Madonna, Kanye West et al with still run the show whilst, as reported by the New York Times, Sprint CE Marcelo Claure will join Tidal’s board (of directors).

    Audiophiles might see today’s news as a much-needed shot in the arm for the future of their beloved lossless streaming, especially in the USA where Deezer has but a skinny foothold in the market and Qobuz is entirely absent. Tidal is also the only streaming company so far to studio ‘master’ streaming via MQA.

    For a segement of the mainstream press however, especially to those who see little value in Tidal’s Hifi tier, Sprint’s freshly cut stake in Tidal might seem like a bizarre turn of events. Gizmodo’s coverage laments the marriage of (what it sees as) two subpar brands whilst nodding toward a recent report by Norway’s DN newspaper that Tidal’s subscriber base might in fact be quite a bit lower than the company claims.

    The carrot for Sprint subscribers? As yet unspecified “Exclusive Tidal content”.

    But perhaps this story has another, yet to be explored angle. Sprint is owned by Japanese telecommunications giant Softbank. Japan is relatively new to (Western) music streaming services. Spotify only launched there in September 2016 and Apple Music a few months prior to that.

    Perhaps Softbank are eyeing their domestic market as ripe for Tidal’s incursion?

    If any country is going to respond favourably – and in big numbers – to better quality streaming, it’s Japan. 

    Further information: Tidal


    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter


      • Trump incited his rally crowd in Birmingham, Alabama, where Bull Connor’s police once assaulted Dr. King’s protesters, to beat up a Black protester. Not a threat. It actually happened. Trump said, “Maybe he deserved it.” For the crime of pointing out that the police don’t mind being terrorists towards Black men, women and children… just like in Dr. King’s time.

        I only see one terrorist here with millions of guns behind him.

    1. I left Tidal a while ago and went to Spotify after Jay-Z bought them and I began to see his and others like him as my recommended when not a week before I hadn’t been seeing them. Sure the quality is lower but my family was using it and they had more content. I realized that my personal listening time is sitting at my desk with multiple interruptions throughout the day and airplanes. Neither is a particularly great place to listen!

      Your comment “The carrot for Sprint subscribers? As yet unspecified “Exclusive Tidal content”.” shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sure Tidal needs money, but exclusive content for Sprint subscribers is a good way to turn away people in much the way DSD and MQA have turned away compainies like Schiit. Sprint did that with NASCAR as you couldn’t stream, legally, on a mobile device unless you were with them.

    2. I also wonder if TIDAL’s financials were in dire straits and this was the solution to longevity.

      • On one hand, Sprint has ~57M subscribers to Tidal’s 3M? and with zero-rating, using Tidal instead of Spotify or Apple Music could at least boost Tidal’s sub numbers to something more respectable in the eyes of potential acquirers..

        On the other hand, tying yourself to Sprint’s perpetual mediocrity and underperformance. Reselling service through them is going to hit operating margins and make it difficult (if not impossible) to sign deals with the larger, more stable carriers (e.g. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile). Unless the FCC kills zero-rating, Sprint promoting anything more than Tidal’s ‘premium’ service tier to their subscribers will further burden their network with little opportunity to increase incremental revenue (e.g. data package upgrades and overage fees).

        Now the best Tidal can hope for in the mobile space is for the FCC to green-light a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile.

    3. Great insight. Thank you! As a longtime Sprint customer a 1-year devout Tidal / Roon user, I am proud to see Sprint put skin in the game. Your focus on the opportunity presented by the Japan market gives Tidal / Roon fans a solid shot of much needed hope in terms of longterm viability.

    4. Interesting take on Softbank. Sounds very plausible. I have read many reports over the years on Japanese culture and why they like to own – especially audiophiles – rather than rent. There’s a culture and pride of the medium (which I also have when it comes to my favorite albums) which might make audiophile streaming a different proposition compared to westerners.

      • Yes, physical formats still rule the roost in Japan which seems at odds with their thirst for new tech – but, as you suggest, few bragging rights in rented content. Mind you, there IS a very large CD rental shop above the Shibuya crossing.

        • I think it only seems at odds with those who prefer streaming. The Japanese kept Laser Disc going for many years. And it was better than VHS tape. There are still a lot of SACD releases coming from Japan. I buy from CDJapan. Audiophiles are what’s keeping vinyl alive. Physical formats rule!

    5. Seems like an odd pairing, most of the people that have taken to TIDAL are people with high end systems that are willing to spend a little more for lossless (and now MQA streaming), while people who subscribe to Sprint are usually those just looking for the cheapest Mobile service. Seems like a strange fit, but…. if it keeps TIDAL afloat I am all for it, I worry about the stability of TIDAL because while I personally love it for the excellent sound quality, almost every article I read about it makes it sound like the service is on the brink of failure due to poor decision making and poor management. We will see…

    6. Well, if Japan is indeed part of the bigger picture, I can foresee some success. Like you said, Japan’s been rather slow to jump onto the streaming bandwagon. Heck, even New Zealand, a land where men are into rugby and sheep and not much else, got Spotify before Japan did. You can blame the ancient bureaucratic mentality of the suits in charge of the Japanese commercial music market for that, I suppose.

      But yeah, give Softbank subscribers exclusive content (music, videos, live gigs, etc) of their favourite anime schoolgirl idol or androgynous boyband, along with the usual western acts that are popular there (Madonna, Beyonce, Daft Punk are all Tidal co-owners, right?) and you might see some traction.

      Personally not sold on Tidal, or any streaming service outside SoundCloud, for that matter. I’d still rather buy my lossless tunes. SoundCloud at least offers stuff I can’t find/buy anywhere else. If Tidal give me lossless sets of Craig Richards in Fabric, or Donato Dozzy playing live at a festival, or some Romanian minimal selector mixing from some underground bunker in Bucharest, I’ll sign up in a heartbeat, for sure.

      • Hey Gan – is it possible to buy lossless downloads from SoundCloud? I’ve only ever used it for casual streaming.

        • John,
          For the mobile iOS app, only streaming. No download option available. Limited to 196kbps only, unfortunately. Go to the website via a browser and you’ll get the option to download. Quality will be at the uploader’s discretion. Can me anywhere between 128kbps mp3 to 16/44.1 WAV, though most usually settle at 320kbps mp3.

    7. A lot of satanists and regressive neo-liberal tyrants involved in Tidal for some reason. Perhaps they should have kept that hidden from the public.

        • Jay-Z wearing Aleister Crowley quotes, while Madonna dresses as baphomet? I just factor this into purchasing decisions. I call it neo-liberal as I don’t regard these people as classical liberals. I don’t think these sorts of observations should be ignored or down played as goofy. These artists are adorning themselves in something that is regressive and repulsive in my view.

    8. Sprint is in a downward spiral so not a great champion for Tidal but it sounds like they were pretty desperate to stop the bleeding.

    9. So I’m doing a free trial on Tidal. There doesn’t seem to be a way for me to play music via my android phone with my Dragonfly Red attached. Bummer.

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