Why Apple should buy Tidal (and why it shouldn’t) [Friday Night Fights]

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fnf
Tidal could be Apple Music's biggest rival later.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

When you have the kind of cash Apple has, the easiest way to take down the competition is to just buy it. That’s exactly what the Cupertino company is planning to do with Apple Music rival Tidal, according to a recent report.

FNF-bugBut would a Tidal takeover be a good move? Would Apple be using its money solely to wipe out a rival, or will Tidal’s talent and connections to the music industry be great for Apple Music?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we battle it out over the latest Apple acquisition rumor!

Killian-FNFKillian Bell: I think buying Tidal would be a terrific move for Apple. Sure, Spotify is by far the biggest music streaming service, with more than twice as many paying subscribers as Apple Music, but I think it’s Tidal — with its close ties to the music industry and strong backing from so many major artists — that actually poses the biggest threat in the future.

What’s more, Apple Music and Tidal share a lot of things in common. They’re both focused on supporting artists. They both have support from plenty of famous faces. And they both offer some incredible exclusives that are worth subscribing for. In comparison, rivals like Spotify and Deezer are, dare I say it, a little boring.

Spotify may be big now, then, but that’s only because it’s been around the longest. Once Apple Music has had its kinks ironed out, and no one’s complaining about it being so unfriendly, I don’t think it will be at all difficult to persuade music lovers to switch. But Tidal has enough to lure them the other way — and gobbling the company up is the easiest way Apple can put a stop to that.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl: A lot of what you say makes perfect sense Killian, but I’m going to have to disagree — and not just because it’s the format of Friday Night Fights. Could Apple buy Tidal? Well, of course it could. Apple could buy any tech company it wanted to and still have Scrooge McDuck-style money vaults left over.

Should it? Certainly it makes sense in the classic acqui-hire way tech companies typically operate: gobbling up competitors to take them out of the game. But Tidal doesn’t really offer a threat to Apple, and as far as I can see it doesn’t have any particular technological advantage that Apple would gain by buying it.

The only “advantage” Tidal ever really had was the fact that it was committed to making more money for artists. Now that’s a fair enough goal, but the idea of it as some scrappy artist-run endeavor pretty much vanishes the moment it’s absorbed into the Apple Borg. And what does Apple get out of it? The image of being the big company that swooped in and bought out an artist collective, and possibly more of the same culture clash teething problems it suffered when it bought Beats.

A lot of people are still questioning whether Beats was a wise investment for Apple, and Tidal makes even less sense — since it doesn’t have close to the same name recognition, core talent (hasn’t it switched CEOs about three times in the past year?), or the hardware division that made Beats at least make a bit more sense as a purchase. Again, Apple could buy Tidal without breaking a sweat. But should it? I just don’t think that buying out all the competition has ever been Apple’s mandate.

Killian-FNFKillian: Well, in this case, I don’t think it’s necessarily about what Tidal can do for Apple. I think it’s about stopping Tidal in its tracks before it can become a big problem. No, that’s not normally why Apple acquires companies, but Apple doesn’t normally struggle to get a product off the ground like it is with Apple Music — though it hasn’t been that slow.

The way I look at it is this: If you’re an Apple Music subscriber already, there’s no great reason to switch to the likes of Spotify or Deezer. However, there are reasons to switch to Tidal, like its backing from your favorite artists and exclusive albums from Rihanna, Kanye West, and others. Apple takes on all of that if it takes Tidal off the map.

The other thing Tidal has is high-resolution audio. The company has reached a deal to use Meridian to use its MQA format, which allows high-res audio to be condensed into a file that’s a fraction of the size of a FLAC track. That makes it ideal for streaming services.

So I don’t agree that Tidal has nothing to offer. It might not have the talent other Apple acquisitions have had, but for the sake of Apple Music, the world is a better place without Tidal in it.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: I guess I just don’t see it. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not opposed to Apple acquiring companies with a degree of name recognition (even thought Tidal certainly doesn’t have the positive buzz that Beats did among a certain audience.) I just don’t see what Tidal adds. It may have an agreement to use tech that allow high-res audio to be compressed, but does it own patents that would stop Apple doing a similar thing? And, if not, what’s to stop Apple from licensing the tech itself — or acquiring the company which owns it so as to stop others from licensing it? I just don’t think Tidal has anything that Apple hasn’t already got access to.

If the company flops, and Apple Music continues its ascent, artists are going to want to attach themselves to the Apple bandwagon just as they’ve been doing for years. Sure, you get the odd artist like Bon Iver’s frontman complaining about the service, but the general impression you get when you hear artists interviewed about Apple Music is that it’s a much better deal than the free streaming companies like Spotify. It’s more sustainable in the long run and it offers an unparalleled opportunity to reach users. Some artists may be loyal to Tidal, but does that loyalty contractually transfer to Apple if Tidal is bought and shut down? And if Tidal’s a sinking ship, why not just wait and pick up the valuable pieces later on?

Nothing about this screams “must buy” to me.

Killian-FNFKillian: I don’t think Tidal is a sinking ship. It has had its problems, but it’s not going anywhere any time soon with all the support it has. Jay Z and friends will keep throwing money at it until something sticks — or a company like Apple comes along and snaps it up.

Let’s hand this over to the readers now. Do you think Apple would be crazy to waste its money on Tidal? Or is the acquisition worth it just to take out another Apple Music competitor? Leave your thoughts down in the comments!

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?