A new report accuses Tidal of falsifying Beyoncé and Kanye West’s streaming numbers. Last year, the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv launched an investigation into the streaming service’s subscriber figures, which eventually extended into the claims that Tidal made in the wake of the 2016 exclusive launches of The Life Of Pablo and Lemonade on the service. At the time, Tidal said that The Life Of Pablo surpassed 250 million streams in its first 10 days of release (with an alleged subscriber base of 3 million) and that Lemonade clocked 306 million streams within 15 days of its release (with an additional 1.2 million users, some with free trials).
But now, the new investigation (via Music Business Worldwide) accuses Tidal of manipulating the listener numbers “to the tune of several hundred million false plays … which has generated massive royalty payouts at the expense of other artists.” Dagens Næringsliv reportedly acquired a hard drive containing internal Tidal data that they analyzed alongside Norwegian University Of Science And Technology’s Center For Cyber And Information Security, and they say it reveals a systematic inflation of subscriber listening logs that pads out the stream counts of Beyoncé and Kanye West’s latest albums in particular. (Tidal disputes the veracity of the data obtained from the hard drive.)
The report lays out the different ways that Tidal allegedly manipulated this data. For The Life Of Pablo, they allegedly accessed real user accounts to play more than 150 million duplicate tracks at the exact same time of day. “According to the logs, every single user supposedly listened to a large number of tracks at precisely the same second in time,” the investigation reads. More than 1.3 million accounts seem to have been subjected to this.
For Lemonade, the report claims that Tidal repeated subscribers’ existing streaming patterns in order to inflate the play count, which is harder to track, but Dagens Næringsliv says there are some curious patterns: “The number of minutes elapsing before the track is re-entered in the log varies, but the time interval is always a variant of a figure multiplied by six minutes (6, 12, 18, 24, …). In addition, the tracks are restarted at the same second and millisecond.”
The newspaper also interviewed a number of Tidal subscribers, matching up Tidal’s supposed internal logs with their actual listening habits. The data for one of those people, a law student named Tiare Faatea from Washington D.C., says that she played Lemonade tracks 180 times within 24 hours. “No, that can’t be right,” she said. And according to the data, a different subscriber, Geir Rakvaag, played songs from The Life Of Pablo 96 times in a day, with 54 plays in the middle of the night. “It’s physically impossible,” he told the paper.
Dagens Næringsliv also say they acquired royalty payment reports that show that Tidal paid Universal €3.2 million in February/March 2016, with approximately €2 million of that for The Life In Pablo, and that they paid $4 million in April/May 2016, with $2.5 million for Lemonade.
Tidal has denied the report, saying that the newspaper “lied to NTNU and falsified the underlying data to procure a ‘study’ which suited their foregone conclusions.”
UPDATE: Tidal has issued an additional statement about the report (via Pitchfork), calling it a “smear campaign” and characterizes the story as “ridiculous”:
This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an ‘Israeli Intelligence officer’ and our owner as a ‘crack dealer.’
We expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies and falsehoods. The information was stolen and manipulated and we will fight these claims vigorously.