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BPI announces big increases for UK music market in 2015, lays into YouTube for ruining everything

By | Published on Friday 20 May 2016


UK record industry trade group BPI has launched its Music Market Review, tracking the British recorded music sector in 2015, which shows that UK artists achieved a 17.1% share of the global albums market last year. And, as is now the tradition, the BPI celebrated by giving YouTube a bit of a kicking.

A quick summary of the top line stats. While there was a decline of 3.9% in the CD market, and 13.5% with downloads, other revenue streams were up. Cause for celebration. Audio streaming was up 82% in terms of consumption, with a 69% increase in revenue. Vinyl continued to revive, passing two million sales, the highest for 21 years. Oh and then there was video streaming. Freebie video streaming was the best of all. That was up 88% in 2015. Consumption wise. Although revenue from ad-funded platforms only grew 0.4%.

And it’s all the fault of the bloody YouTube, isn’t it? Bloody, bloody YouTube. When will it all end? When the music industry convinces the politicians to rewrite safe harbour laws? Oh yeah, like that will ever happen.

“It is hugely encouraging that demand for British music is so strong at home and abroad thanks to our brilliant artists and the continual innovation and investment of our record labels”, says BPI chief Geoff Taylor. “Yet the fact that sales revenues dipped in a record year for British music shows clearly that something is fundamentally broken in the music market, so that artists and the labels that invest in them no longer benefit fairly from growing demand”.

He continues: “Instead, dominant tech platforms like YouTube are able to abuse liability protections as royalty havens, dictating terms so they can grab the value from music for themselves, at the expense of artists. The long-term consequences of this will be serious, reducing investment in new music, making it difficult for most artists to earn a living, and undermining the growth of more innovative services like Spotify and Apple Music that pay more fairly for the music they use”.

Continuing to put the boot in, he concluded: “In 2015, UK fans streamed almost twice as many music videos as the year before; tens of billions more views. Yet artists and labels did not benefit from the increased demand for what they created. This is wrong. Music is precious – it’s not a commodity to be strip-mined for big data. And as we’ve seen time and again in the digital market, where music goes first, the rest of the content sector will follow. This problem requires urgent action by the EU, and our government needs to take the lead in making sure it is tackled”.

YouTube, of course, would presumably argue that it is paying lots of money into the music industry, with over $3 billion already distributed. And the firm’s Candice Morrissey did just that at CMU Insights @ The Great Escape yesterday. She also argued that the platform had invested further time and money in offering studio space and advice for creators on how to make more engaging content.

And for some artists, YouTube is the key outlet for their work. Singer-songwriter Hannah Trigwell, also appearing at the CMU Insights YouTube strand yesterday, said that the “label model world is now broken. We’re in a track by track world where engagement is crucial, where context and narrative is important. The labels will tell you, you can’t go abroad until you break your own country. We just go global. That’s the reach of a platform-based audience”.

That approach is not going to work for every artist of course, and applies mainly to new talent, plus even for the most successful YouTube stars, their main source of income is not actually YouTube itself. However, it is true that the music industry would struggle to build a global marketing and fan engagement platform as successful as YouTube if it was to try.

Which isn’t to say that the record industry’s argument that YouTube is exploiting a bit of law that was never meant for it is wrong. But that doesn’t mean changing that bit of law will solve all the problems, and at the same time, it’s important not to ignore the opportunities.