TIDAL accused of inflating streaming figures for Beyoncé and Kanye West albums

Music streaming service TIDAL has been accused of intentionally falsifying streaming numbers for Beyoncé's Lemonade and Kanye West's The Life of Pablo and paying inflated royalties to the artists' record labels as a result. The claims, put forward by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (via Music Business Worldwide), accuse the service of inflating the numbers by a combined 300 million+ plays. Both albums debuted at number one on the Billboard 100 in the US upon their release in 2016. The accusations have been denied by TIDAL's representatives.

TIDAL, which is co-owned by rapper and Beyoncé's husband Jay-Z, had a streaming exclusive on The Life of Pablo for the first six weeks of its release and still holds the exclusive streaming rights to Lemonade. After the release of West's album in 2016, Tidal claimed that the album had been streamed 250 million times in its first ten days of release. However, at the time of release, TIDAL also claimed that they had 3 million subscribers - meaning that for the streaming figures to be accurate, every TIDAL subscriber would have had to listen to The Life of Pablo eight times a day for ten days in a row.

Dagens Næringsliv's investigation was based on having allegedly received a hard-drive of internal TIDAL streaming data. The newspaper then passed on the data to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Center for Cyber and Information Security (CCIS), for analysis on whether there had been manipulation of the data. The CCIS "determined that there had in fact been a manipulation of the data at particular times due to the large presence of similar duplicate records occurring for a large percentage of the userbase that was active at any given time".

The analysis found that 150 million playbacks of The Life of Pablo and 170 million playbacks of Lemonade were "duplicates". For West's album, CCIS found repeated patterns of playback spikes, all at the exact same time of day; 2 am and 5 am. For Lemonade, the pattern was more complex, but still present, as the CCIS found that the "time interval is always a variant of a figure multiplied by 6 minutes."

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According to the report, over 1.3 million subscribers were subject to the alleged manipulation of playback figures. Dagens Næringsliv then sought out and interviewed a series of TIDAL users, presenting them with logs of their playback data for The Life of Pablo and Lemonade. One user had supposedly played tracks from West's album 96 times in one day (including 54 plays in the middle of the night). Another had allegedly played tracks from Lemonade 180 times in 24 hours. All of the users interviewed dismissed the figures as "nonsense" or "impossible".

If the allegations are true, the financial aspect is a big concern. In addition to its investigation into the data, Dagens Næringsliv has also reportedly gained access to the record company royalty reports of both artists, which have allegedly revealed that TIDAL paid Sony in excess of $4 million across April and May of 2016. Of this, Lemonade accounted for $2.5 million, based on the figures reported by TIDAL. Similarly, in February and March 2016, TIDAL paid Universal a total of €3.2 million. Of this, The Life of Pablo cashed in around €2 million.

Tidal has vehemently denied the allegations. In a statement to Variety, they said: "This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an ‘Israeli Intelligence officer’ and our owner as a ‘crack dealer.’ We expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies and falsehoods. The information was stolen and manipulated and we will fight these claims vigorously."

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