What will happen to the music business through the end of the decade? Disruptive entrants could push the market off course, a scenario being widely considered as Apple readies for the debut of a new music subscription service. Or it could follow the predictable, unimpressive path forecast by PricewaterhouseCoopers in its annual Entertainment & Media Outlook report.
In a nutshell, PwC sees live music continuing to grow and recorded music continuing to decline. The result is a nearly flat trajectory through 2019.
Live music is expected to grow at a 4.4-percent compound annual growth rate. Live music sponsorships are expected to grow at a 2.8-percent CAGR, to $2.34 billion in 2019. The company forecasts a negative 4.5-percent CAGR for recorded music -- not including synchronization revenue -- over the next five years. Physical music sales will continue to plummet at 9.1 percent each year.
Digital music will shape the record business. PwC believes digital revenues will have a negative 2-percent CAGR and total $3.4 billion in 2019. Downloads are forecast to have a negative 10.3-percent CAGR and annual rates of decline ranging between 11.5 and 9.1 percent. Streaming revenues will have a positive 11.2-percent CAGR. Their annual growth rates start at 20.3 percent this year and steadily fall to 4 percent in 2019.
The assumptions buried within the numbers are important here. Implied in PwC's forecast is a belief Apple's entry into subscription music will not have either a positive or disruptive impact on the marketplace. Forecasted 2015 streaming growth is 20.3 percent, half a percent below the midpoint of 2014 growth (27.4 percent) and 2016 growth (14.2 percent).
PwC's Greg Boyer tells Billboard the forecasts assume a new entrant -- not necessarily Apple -- won't necessarily lift the subscription marketplace beyond its existing growth rate. "Basically, they'll steal market share from others," he says. But PwC is bullish on ad-supported services. Free music is hard to compete with, says Boyer, although the services aren't yet reaching their potential. "The services are there. Demand for music exists. But the monetization piece just isn't there yet."
Without a boost from Apple -- or Spotify, for that matter -- streaming lacks a revenue spike and growth loses steam by 2019. By PwC's estimation, U.S. streaming revenue will grow $222 million this year after adding $235 million last year, a year-over-year decline of $13 million. The amount of the dollar increase shrinks year to year, falling steadily from $187 million in 2016 to a near-static $72 million in 2019. That gain in 2019 is a paltry 4 percent, a growth rate more associated with a utility than an industry in the throes of digital innovation.
In fact, there's much missing from PwC's forecasts. There's no assumption that Apple's subscription service will eat into download revenues -- a distinct possibility given the fact that Apple owns about 75 percent of the U.S. download market. There's no belief that Spotify will maintain its current momentum, either in current form or through an IPO, merger or acquisition.
There's no assumption that upcoming changes in statutory royalty rates for non-interactive digital services like Pandora will either help or hurt growth in webcasting. (New rates for 2016 through 2020 will be announced by the Copyright Royalty Board in November or December of this year.) No prediction that Congress will force terrestrial radio to pay performance royalties to record labels. This is a distinct possibility, either as standalone legislation or part of a larger copyright law update.
Finally, PwC's forecasts do not suggest the sort of economic shock -- perhaps a double-dip recession -- often warned of in the press. The Great Recession hurt live music revenues in 2009 and 2010. Boyer says PwC would build into the forecasts this kind of economic event if it were probable. "We don't forecast any major turmoil that would cause issues on the live or recorded music side."