Square, Inc. Announces Plans To Acquire Majority Ownership Stake In TIDAL

Don’t count TIDAL out just yet.

With the recent Apple and Amazon news, both companies offering lossless and hi-res streaming (up to 24-bit/192kHz) for $9.99/month, I can hear the murmurings of death knells being tolled for Tidal. After all, Tidal’s main point of differentiation had been its hi-res library, but in one day that distinction evaporated into a cloud filled with giants.

I have to admit, this Tidal / Square news nearly passed me by. From the press release:

Mar 04, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Square, Inc. (NYSE: SQ) announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire a majority ownership stake in TIDAL, the global music and entertainment platform that brings fans and artists together through unique music, content, and experiences. Square expects to pay a mix of cash and stock of $297 million for a significant majority ownership stake, and existing artist shareholders will be the remaining stakeholders. TIDAL will operate independently within Square, alongside the Seller and Cash App ecosystems.

What interest does a financial services and digital payments company have in a music streaming service?

“It comes down to one simple idea: finding new ways for artists to support their work,” said Jack Dorsey, cofounder and CEO of Square. “New ideas are found at intersections, and we believe there’s a compelling one between music and the economy. I knew TIDAL was something special as soon as I experienced it, and it will continue to be the best home for music, musicians, and culture.”

One thing we know about music streaming services is they do a terrible job when it comes time to pay the content providers, i.e. musicians and songwriters. The payment processing plumbing, if you will, that’s supposed to get money from Plays to People was never properly built. As of March 2021, there was an estimated $424 million in “unmatched royalties” — this is money that should be paid to the people who make the music we stream, but no one can connect the plays with the people. For shame.

Imagine if a streaming service was able to say — Hey! We will pay for every play and process the payment in days (or less). If you combine Tidal with Square, Inc., you have the makings of just such a beast. [footnote 1]

Of course this is just speculation, but the dots are all there, waiting to be connected. I for one, would throw my money and subscription behind any streaming service that got more money, and more money more quickly, to the people who create the music we love. [footnote 2]

One thing is for certain — with Square’s 2020 market capitalization valued at over US$100 billion, coupled with Jack Dorsey’s track record, yea, he’s also the co-founder and the CEO of Twitter, Tidal’s future looks a lot brighter.

Company Websites: Square, Inc. | Tidal

  1. from Wikipedia: Square charges a fee of 2.6% plus $0.10 on every electronically scanned credit card transaction[68] or 3.50% plus $0.15 per manually-entered transaction. There are no monthly fees or set-up costs. The firm claims that its costs are, on average, lower than the costs charged by conventional credit card processors. Swiped payments are deposited directly into a user’s bank account within 1-2 business days. In some instances, Square may withhold payments to its users pending issues related to chargebacks. The firm also generates revenue from selling other services to businesses, including subscription-based products such as Customer Engagement, Square Payroll, and Square Register. For example, with Square Payroll, Square charges sellers a monthly fee of $20 plus $5 for each employee paid.
  2. Since I inhabit the world of hifi, I will note that there are people, a fraction of the audiophile community which is a fraction of the streaming community — a mouse screaming on top of a molehill at a mountain — who will not use Tidal because Tidal uses MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) for serving hi-res titles. One main objection to MQA was the notion that the company was attempting to corner the world market on hi-res, ideally becoming the only source for all hi-res music. The recent Apple and Amazon news, along with Qobuz, has put this theory to bed, seeing as all of these services offer hi-res titles without relying on MQA. This should end that chapter of debate (but it won’t)