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Universal Music Partners With Deezer to Develop New Streaming Model

The partnership, which follows a similar collaboration with TIDAL, was announced by UMG CEO Lucian Grainge on an earnings call.

Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge announced that the company had entered into a new partnership with Deezer during an earnings call on Thursday (Mar. 2nd). The goal? To help develop a “new model” that “ensure[s] continued growth of streaming” while also valuing “the contribution of both artists and fans alike.” UMG previously touted a similar partnership with TIDAL in January. 

The need for a “new model” — also highlighted in Grainge’s letter to staff from January — was a recurring theme of Thursday’s call. “Streaming has evolved in a way that undervalues the critical contributions of many an artist as well as the engagement of many fans,” Grainge said. This unfortunately flouts “the basic unarguable truth that is: The artists are the center of everything in the music ecosystem,” he added. 


UMG executives offered scant details about what this new model would look like, even when asked directly about the topic, saying it was too early to tell. One key element for Grainge appears to be that “artists are rewarded for the fans they bring in [to subscribe to streaming services] and the engagement they drive [on those platforms].” In addition, he hoped that fans would be “offered more ways to engage.”

These sentiments were echoed by Michael Nash, UMG’s executive vp and chief digital officer. Streaming platforms can do “a better job of monetizing these high integrity, high intense artist-fan relationships,” he said. “That will come with superfan monetization. We’ve been speaking with platforms…about the enhancement of offers to the consumer that reflect the engagement with artists that are really driving the economic models of the platform.” 

UMG executives also praised the streaming services that have raised their prices recently, mentioning Apple and Amazon by name (twice). “Fans recognize the enormous value offered by music subscriptions, still a relatively low cost, high-value form of entertainment, which in turn has supported decisions made by a number of our DSP partners to raise prices recently,” Grainge said.

But not all streaming services have gone this route. Grainge added, pointedly, that “ensuring the artists’ work is properly valued should be a critical goal for everyone who wants to keep the industry growing.” 

In addition to discussing the future of streaming, UMG executives spent a notable portion of the conference call explaining to analysts, in defensive tones, their place in a highly competitive catalog acquisition landscape and the strategy they use to evaluate potential purchases. Grainge said UMG sees “almost everything” in the music rights investment space that goes up for sale and passes on “most of it” because it does not meet the company’s standards for returns.

He also asserted that many competitors in the catalog acquisition space are “passive participants who do nothing and therefore cannot exploit the full potential” of the rights they own. “There are many who claim they actively manage rights, but they do not,” Grainge said. “Why? Their lack of infrastructure, their lack of experience and expertise and even more critical, in many cases, their inability to acquire all of the rights necessary to actively manage anything.”

Acquisitions “are an important, although relatively small proportion of our total business today,” UMG’s CFO Boyd Muir added during his remarks. “But we will continue to be opportunistic, to add to a roster of iconic artists, in a financially disciplined way.”