Two weeks into earnings reports for the second quarter of 2023, the music streaming business is showing that subscriptions — not advertising — are the dependable driving force behind the industry’s growth.

Subscriptions — which accounted for 65% of the U.S. recorded music business in 2022, up from 63% in 2021, according to the RIAA — aren’t affected by economic forces that influence how brands spend their advertising dollars. Consumers continue to pay monthly or annual fees for Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Deezer and other offerings. Even faced with higher prices (see “pricing power” below), more people are opting for subscription services.

More information will be gleaned in the coming weeks from earnings results from Warner Music Group (Aug. 8), HYBE (Aug. 8), Sony Music Entertainment (Aug. 9), Tencent Music Entertainment (Aug. 15), Cloud Music (Aug. 24) and Anghami (no date set).

Based on earnings by Universal Music Group, Spotify, Deezer, Believe and Reservoir Media, here are three takeaways from reported results through Aug 4.

The subscription market is holding up well. Spotify beat expectations for both monthly active users (MAUs) and subscribers, “aided by improved retention and marketing efficiencies,” the company explained in its July 25 shareholder presentation. Spotify’s premium subscribers grew 17% year-over-year to 220 million, beating its guidance of 217 million. Spotify’s MAUs increased 27% year-over-year to 551 million compared to guidance of 530 million. Universal Music Group attributed subscription growth in its recorded music segment — 13% in the second quarter and 11.6% in the first half of the year — to “broad-based growth in subscribers across all major global platform partners.” Reservoir Media CEO Golnar Khosrowshahi cited Spotify’s “higher than expected subscriber numbers” in the company’s Aug. 2 earnings call and said its strong quarterly results “reflect increasing demand trends for streaming music globally.” Not all subscription services made gains, though. Deezer lost 100,000 subscribers from June 30, 2022, to June 30, 2023, and Pandora ended the quarter with 6.2 million subscribers, down 100,000 from 6.3 million a year earlier.

Services have pricing power. Spotify raised its individual subscription plan in the U.S. on July 24 to great fanfare. After all, the price had gone unchanged since the service launched in the United States in 2011, although the family plan price increased by $2 per month in 2021. Spotify is relatively late to the game, though. Deezer raised its price from 9.99 euros to 10.99 euros in January 2022 — a major factor in the company’s direct subscriber average revenue per user climbing 4.9% year over year. Apple Music and Amazon Music both raised their prices last year as well. And according to Deezer CEO Jeronimo Folgueira, the increase had “pretty much no impact on churn” — the number of subscribers who leave a service over a period — and “clearly demonstrated that music is highly undervalued, and that platforms like us have more pricing power than initially anticipated.” That said, Folgueira stated that Deezer’s guidance for full-year revenue growth does not include another price increase later in the year.

The advertising market continues to have challenges. At Spotify, music advertising revenue grew in the “mid-single digits” year-over-year, lower than the 12% (15% at constant currency) growth in total ad-supported revenue. That implies advertising revenue from podcasts, which was up 30% year-over-year, contributed to most of the growth. Spotify also noted “softer pricing due to the macroeconomic environment” that offset double-digit gains in impressions. Universal Music Group’s ad-supported streaming revenues were up 5% in the second quarter and 2% in the first half of the year. UMG’s CFO Boyd Muir said “it’s too early to call a positive turnaround in the market.” Believe is “still impacted by the weak ad-supported monetization,” said CFO/chief strategy officer Xavier Dumont. The advertising malaise extends to broadcast radio, too. Weak national advertising “remained the main factor driving a decline in total revenue,” Frank Lopez-Balboa, Cumulus executive vp/treasurer/CFO, said in the company’s July 28 earnings call. National brands appear likely to increase ad spending in the second half of the year, however, according to B Riley Securities analyst Daniel Day.

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