Spotify paid $5 billion in royalties last year to the music industry. Critics claim the $0.0038 per-stream average royalty rate is too low. However, this is largely due to high volumes of ad-funded listening, a core part of Spotify’s freemium model, and a defence against piracy. 

To silence the critics, the “Spotify Loud & Clear” site presents data on the distribution of industry royalties, which are heavily skewed to established artists. Only the top 5% of artists generate annual industry royalties above $1,000, though they take home less under their deals. 

The remaining 95% of artists on Spotify generate under $1,000 a year and use the platform mainly to reach fans that attend live gigs, their primary source of income, now halted by the virus. These artists’ problem is digital discovery, as Spotify’s playlists push hits rather than the midlist. 

Facebook emerged from 2020 reporting record revenue growth of 22% over the year, built on its huge volume of usage, its simple buying tools and its trove of first-party data.

Facebook’s ability to match third-party data for targeting and attribution is also central to its success. However, Apple and Google are restricting data-matching tools like third-party cookies and mobile IDs, and Facebook is moving to minimise the damage.

Facebook is trying to turn its sites into storefronts by launching ‘Facebook Shops’. It is also taking public stands on the use of data for advertising, and on the need for brand-building in marketing plans. These are conversations all advertisers and media owners should be engaged with.

The games industry enjoyed a robust 2020, with the pandemic creating high demand across titles and platforms. Now a core part of the mainstream media and entertainment ecosystem, games share of entertainment spend and audience viewing time will maintain momentum and increase in 2021.

The demand for, and value of, premium content has migrated to game IP, with top franchises driving increased M&A activity and tighter integration with film and TV output, and providing an important advertising channel.

The pandemic has provided breathing space for the industry on regulatory scrutiny of revenue models, and overall consumer safety. Regulators need to increase their speed in 2021, and act decisively on predatory ‘free-to-play’ game mechanisms.

Apple reported record revenue and profit in its fiscal Q1, with iPhone sales making a positive contribution on a trailing 12-month basis for the first time since 2018.

Services are a vital part of the growth strategy, and should be extremely profitable.

However, Apple’s services strategy is at the sharp end of regulatory concerns about gatekeeping platforms.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year was held virtually, with announcements revolving almost exclusively around the pandemic and addressing changing consumer needs. The evolving use of tech at home was a particular focus for brands as consumers are now demanding more of their homes than ever before.

Following a record 2020, ecommerce was a topic that garnered a lot of attention, with retailers emphasising the importance of a consumer centric 'digital first' strategy, accepting the fact that ecommerce is going to be bigger than it ever has been.

Amid increased tech use at home, moves to ban third-party cookies and impending regulatory changes to data collection in the US, the conversation around data and privacy was more prominent than ever before. First-party data is going to be more valuable, even if tracking restrictions limit what can be done with that data.

The US Department of Justice antitrust case against Google alleges an illegal monopoly in search and search advertising in their home and largest market.

The lawsuit targets Google's control of the Android mobile operating system and exclusive revenue share agreement with Apple, which the EU prohibited in 2018, a decision that Google has appealed.

Alongside antitrust enforcement, legislative initiatives in the EU and UK will create an ex ante antitrust framework for relations between “gatekeeper” platforms and their users and customers, which the US Congress has yet to emulate.

On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

ByteDance is rushing to sell a 20% stake in TikTok Global to Oracle and Walmart at an enterprise value of $60 billion. TikTok otherwise faces a ban in the US on 12 November, subject to legal challenges.

The sale hinges on ByteDance obtaining approval from China to export TikTok’s core technologies. China updated its export control rules to include algorithms (and AI), entrenching a tech cold war with the West.

TikTok has confounded regulatory woes in India and the US, and renewed competition from US tech, to post dizzying user growth in every major internet region where it is available, casting off its image as a niche youth product and entering the mainstream.

Fortnite has been kicked from mobile app stores over the ‘App Store tax’, the 30% cut that Google and Apple charge for in-app purchases.

Apple needs Fortnite to keep the iPhone attractive, but it also needs its revenue cut, as services have become a key part of its growth story to investors.

Apple can no longer set its ecosystem rules without regard for partners, as apps like Fortnite, Amazon and WeChat are so central to the utility of a smartphone.

Apple’s developer conference coincided with a period of unprecedented tension with its developer community, parts of which are chafing under Apple’s rules for the iPhone App Store.

These rules let Apple extract a large portion of the value of the App Store. This revenue is more important than ever to Apple’s growth story, so it has been applying its rules more strictly.

Apple is constrained here by the need to deliver the best product possible to its users, and by the possibility of regulatory intervention.