Last night Tidal premiered the debut episode of Cipha Sounds’ No Small Talk comedy series, which kicked off with standup performances from up-and-coming comedians TuRae, Nore Davis and Aaron Berg. Announced two days ago, Tidal will be releasing a new episode of the show every Tuesday for the next four weeks, marking the streaming service’s first foray into original web programming. And the comedy show isn’t alone; at last month’s Tidal X 10/20 concert, T.I. announced on stage that Tidal had teamed up with Brooklyn-based web series Money & Violence to distribute the popular drama’s second season after its creator Moe Verneau funded its first season out of pocket and uploaded each episode to YouTube. Money & Violence marks another milestone for Tidal as the first time it has teamed up with an outside entity to distribute its video series, which will launch with new episodes in January.
Both deals came together through Tidal’s ties with Roc Nation, Jay Z’s record label and management company, whose offices currently house Tidal’s staff in addition to its own. Cipha Sounds is managed by Roc Nation, and was asked by Tidal about his interest in developing a comedy series with the company (Cipha, who left longtime home Hot 97 in January, hosts a hip-hop improv comedy show every Friday night at New York’s UCB Theater called Take It Personal). Verneau, whose attempt to crowdfund Money & Violence‘s second season failed in July, was approached by Tidal through his two managers, C Styles and Teddy Altifois — who he says have long-standing relationships with Roc Nation — to distribute the series’ next season. While No Small Talk is co-produced with Tidal, Cipha Sounds says they’ve been hands-off in terms of creative input; Verneau’s distribution deal allows him to retain full creative control and ownership, with the ability to distribute each episode in any format he chooses after a seven day window of exclusivity.
And these two series are just the beginning, according to Tidal’s SVP of Artist and Label Relations Tim Riley, who says that both in-house productions (like No Small Talk) and outside distribution deals (like with Money & Violence) are an extension of the company’s original goals. “Exclusive content I think is important to everyone, and we have a focus on exclusive content as well,” Riley says, referring to Tidal’s strategy of premiering exclusive music videos and streams to bolster its user base. “But carrying over licensed content, partnering with other people who are creators, if they have something that we think is unique and that would be interesting to our subscribers, those are opportunities we’re exploring at the moment.”
At least three more series are in the works that have yet to be announced, which would help bolster Tidal’s offering to its subscriber base, which passed one million in September. But the expansion into original programming doesn’t signal any intent to compete with video streaming giants like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, according to Riley. “I don’t know if you would look at it as us building some competitive model,” he says. “I would say it’s building content because we want to provide our subscribers with a complete entertainment package.”
Tidal also isn’t the first streaming service to delve into original content. In October, YouTube announced the launch of YouTube Red, an ad-free subscription service that boasts original programming from some of its most popular creators. Spotify announced in May its intention to expand outside of pure music streaming by partnering with a slew of companies to produce short form video content, which has yet to get off the ground. And former Hulu execs Jason Kilar and Rich Tom announced last December the impending launch of new video streaming service Vessel, which debuted in March and combines both original and licensed videos.
Still, the two shows mark the latest move by Tidal to spread its wings into different areas of the entertainment industry. After initially making a big splash by positioning itself as an artist-friendly (and -owned) alternative to music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, Tidal has dabbled in exclusive music video and album premieres, short film and documentary streams from artists like Erykah Badu and Daft Punk (the latter’s documentary had been previously released), live-streamed concert experiences like the Tidal X show, Made In America festival and Hot 97’s annual Summer Jam and even physical sales, offering Prince‘s latest album HITNRUN: Phase One for purchase in digital and CD form. The company has also signed a sponsorship deal with the Barclays Center to brand the Tidal Theater, which will be incorporated into its Tidal X emerging artist platform.
Although Tidal doesn’t yet have much of a track record in original programming, it does offer plenty of benefits for creators looking for a platform; while Cipha Sounds shops a comedy series based on Take It Personal to television networks alongside executive producer Alicia Keys, he’s using No Small Talk to further his goal of giving exposure to rising comedians. And after the organic success of Money & Violence‘s first season, its creators are looking to continue expanding its fanbase for the follow up edition.
“Just because it’s on Tidal doesn’t mean we’re gonna leave it to them to push this. We’re still gonna do what we need to do on our end,” Verneau says. “Tidal’s at a million subscriptions right now, and honestly we believe that they would expose us to more viewers.”