David Beside Goliath: New Christian Music Streaming Service The Overflow Points to a New Strategy
Hillsong Music

The latest development in streaming services comes from an unlikely corner of the music business: Christian music. Launched last week, Toronto-based subscription service The Overflow is targeting Christian consumers by offering a catalog and experience unavailable at the larger competitors. 

In this case, less could be more. The Overflow is betting a narrow focus will draw the attention of a market that's been underserved by traditional subscription services. "It's really hard to find Christian content," says Stephen Relph, The Overflow's co-founder and chief executive. 

While the standard all-you-can eat subscription service has in excess of 25 million tracks, The Overflow has just 383,000. Rather than ingest the entire catalogs of major labels and larger independent distributors, The Overflow has taken their Christian and gospel catalogs as well as crossover artists. 

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Another difference is The Overflow's price of $4.99 per month. That's half the price of the typical $9.99-per-month subscription service, and allows streaming on multiple devices as well as offline caching on mobile devices. This middle ground of the pricing spectrum is typically occupied by the advertising-free tiers of non-interactive streaming services like Pandora, whose Pandora One costs $4.99 per month. But for services like Spotify, only students can pay $4.99 and receive the full suite of features.

That labels would bless a low-priced, genre-specific service speaks to the limitation of large-catalog services. Although people are free to choose from upwards of 30 million tracks, in reality some genres get more attention than others. "There's a general recognition that we want to highlight a part of the catalog that doesn't get much recognition. We can bring greater value," says Relph.

The Christian market could be considered a latent one, and one that isn't being served by existing services. Greg Bays, executive vice president at Capital Christian Distribution, sees the opportunity. "Over half of the Christian/Gospel consumer base is active in the streaming space. And, historically, about 20 percent of the U.S. Christian/Gospel consumer base listens exclusively Christian/Gospel, and does not actively engage with other genres." 

The Overflow could be onto something. The need for genre-specific streaming services goes beyond Christian music, says Vickie Nauman, the owner/principal of Cross Border Works who worked with The Overflow as an executive at the service's content and technology partner, 7digital. "I feel like there are a lot of underserved music fans out there. There are certain lifestyles that require more depth of understanding about who people are. There's country, Christian, metal, well-curated indie, classical, these are all segments of the music marketplace that I don't think will ever get their needs met by services that are firehoses of music."

In spite of its unique charter, The Overflow looks and feels like other subscription services. It offers curated content and guides the listener to genres and artists. The app is intuitive and well designed. It's currently available for iOS users, and Relph says there will be a web version at a later date. Right now consumers can sign up -- no credit card required -- for a one-week free trial.

But the company believes its target customers need something that's not available at other services. "That's where we go deeper with the devotion work with artists," says Relph. "We've done 37 Bible-reading plans with artists like Casting Crowns, Hillsong United, Michael W. Smith and others. There's a need to go beyond the music to a message. That ties into the heart of what we're trying to do."

Says Bays, "Much like Christian radio, The Overflow is focused on super-serving that consumer base, and their depth of editorial content and curation should provide a robust experience for that audience."