If you’re looking for growth in the U.S. recorded music industry, there are two clear bright spots in the maturing streaming market. But they each come with caveats and considerations.
From the looks of the RIAA’s midyear report, released Monday (Sept. 18), music subscription services and synchronization royalties — two of the biggest drivers of U.S. recorded music’s gains in the first half of 2023, according to the RIAA — should continue going strong through the end of the year.
For subscriptions, revenue increased 12.4% to $4.97 billion over the first six months of the year and accounted for 84% of the industry’s $710-million year-over-year improvement. The number of subscribers grew at a slower rate, though — 6.4% to 95.8 million — which suggests a saturated market where new subscribers are becoming harder to find. (The RIAA provides the average number of subscribers during the six-month period, not the number on the final day of the period.) The fact that revenue outgrew subscribers shows that streaming companies are now finding growth through price increases instead. In 2022 and early 2023, Apple Music and Amazon Music raised prices on individual and family plans. Over that same time, the average revenue per subscriber per month increased from $8.19 in the first half of 2022 to $8.65 in the second half of 2023, according to the RIAA’s numbers.
Streaming revenue’s resilience amid price increases “actually underscores the point that music continues to be the most under-monetized form of entertainment,” says Golnar Khosrowshahi, CEO of Reservoir Media, “and can certainly withstand a price increase structure that has some rhythm to it.” Right on cue, Deezer added to a steady drumbeat of pricing updates when it announced on Thursday (Sept. 21) a second price increase in France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands on top of hikes in 2022.
Spotify’s price increase — individual plans up $1 to $10.99 per month and family plans up $2 to $16.99 per month — was announced in July and should give a boost to streaming revenues in the second half of the year. Spotify previously stated that its limited price increases had not created a material amount of customer churn, and Deezer’s decision to again raise prices bolsters Khosrowshahi’s belief that consumers are able to withstand slightly higher prices without canceling their subscriptions.
Revenues from synchronizations — when music is licensed for audio-visual works such as advertisements, movies, TV shows and video games — grew 25.1% to $222.7 million and accounted for 6% of the $710 million of total revenue growth. Synchronizations have been on a roll since the pandemic helped create a boom in licensing opportunities. The latest mid-year improvement follows a 29.9% gain in the first half of 2022 and a 24.8% improvement in calendar year 2022.
The Writers Guild of America strike that began on May 2 hasn’t hurt synchronization revenues — yet. “I’m encouraged right now,” says Tyler Bacon, president/CEO of Position Music. “My team is busy.” So is Jedd Kantrancha, chief commercial officer of Downtown Music Publishing. Kantrancha says August was Downtown’s best month for the number of synchronizations of 2023 and its third-best month ever.
“One of the biggest things that I’m seeing is just more and more partners and people in the space who have a music budget, who want to learn and want to be educated about how to use music,” says Kantrancha. “I’m doing more uses now with people who haven’t licensed music before than I have in years. And I think that that’s definitely something that relates to the lift [in synchronization revenue] that you’re seeing. There are more people out there exploring how to license music.”
This sort of boom, however, will eventually be hampered by the strikes — it’s just a matter of when.
Many believe the lag from the start of the strike — which reduces the number of post-production opportunities to match music to film and TV shows — to a synchronization slowdown won’t be felt until early 2024. Film and TV studios have “a lot of stuff in the pipeline” that will provide synchronization opportunities through the end of the year despite the strike, says Kantrancha.
That won’t decimate the sector, though. Even after a slowdown from the strike is eventually felt, companies can shift their resources to other opportunities. “We’re highly focused on advertising, and the strike doesn’t affect that,” says Bacon. “Video games, we’re very deep in, and the strike doesn’t affect that.”