What Do High-Def Streaming Subscribers Listen To? And What Does It Mean?

Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell

Are subscribers of high-definition streaming services the same as regular streaming services? A list of top songs and albums released by high-def service Tidal suggests these companies are tapping into a different demographic.

The appearance of bands such as Pink Floyd and Foo Fighters on the lists speaks to the demographic attracted by Tidal, a relatively new service that offers 25 million tracks and 75,000 videos with lossless-quality audio. The list also includes an electronic duo from Iceland (Kiasmos), a minimalist acoustic group (Distance, Sky & Light) and a veteran, out-of-the-mainstream guitarist (Bill Frisell). Generally speaking, artists like these are favored by a subscriber that's older and, therefore more affluent, than younger listeners of streaming services -- and that's exactly the point of high-definition streaming. High-definition streaming is meant to attract a a different type of customer.

Tidal is available in 3 markets, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, although more markets are served on a very limited basis through integration partners. It comes from Aspiro, the Swedish company behind the subscription service WiMP. Little known in most of the world, WiMP had 512,000 subscribers in September, according to a company financial presentation, across five markets: Sweden, Norway and Denmark -- three countries with high streaming adoption rates -- plus Poland and Germany.  The high-fidelity version of WiMP -- under the WiMP brand name, not the Tidal brand name -- represented 20,000 of those subscribers.

Tidal's top 10 albums from its October launch through December are:

1. "The Endless River" by Pink Floyd
2. "x" by Ed Sheeran
3. "Guitar in the Space Age" by Bill Frisell
4. "Black Messiah" by D'Angelo and The Vanguard
5. "The Inevitable End" by Royksopp
6. "Seeds" by TV on the Radio
7. "Kiasmos" by Kiasmos
8. "Sonic Highways" by Foo Fighters
9. "Casting Nets" by Distance, Sky & Light
10. "Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" by Hans Zimmer

Not included here (Tidal released a top 20) are Run the Jewels, She & Him, Beck, Sam Smith and Daniel Lanois.

Compare Tidal's top albums to Spotify's top albums of 2014:

1. "x" by Ed Sheeran
2. "In the Lonely Hour" by Sam Smith
3. "The New Classic" by Iggy Azalea
4. "G I R L" by Pharrell
5. "My Evening" by Ariana Grande

Rdio's top albums were similar to Spotify's (Iggy Azalea, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran make appearances) but with an urban streak (Rick Ross, Jason Derulo, Schoolboy Q).

Tidal's top songs more closely resemble a mainstream chart -- with a few twists.

1. "Take Me To Church" by Hozier
2. "Seasons (Waiting On You)" by Future Islands
3. "B a noBody" by SOAK
4. "Side 1, Pt. 1: Things Left Unsaid" by Pink Floyd
5. "Held" by Kiasmos
6. "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith
7. "Pipeline" by Bill Frisell
8. "Something from Nothing" by Foo Fighters
9. "Side 1, Pt. 2: It's What We Do" by Pink Floyd
10. "Chandelier" by Sia

The popularity of older rock bands on Tidal implies the service is reaching an older audience. That's good news: high-definition subscription services are an attempt to tap into a market -- the audio enthusiast -- that's been underserved by previous services. Deezer is employing the same tactic through its Deezer Elite service, to reach a different market segment. "We saw the U.S. was highly fragmented, and therefore there would be a need to tailor [the service] to the needs of different users to create value and drive adoption," Tyler Goldman, CEO North America for Deezer, told Billboard in September.