Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

From the music business news desk

Not surprisingly, the two news stories at the top of music business agenda at the moment show colossal changes in the sector’s power structure. While U2′s decision to ditch the Apple in favour of pimping the Blackberry and YouTube’s move …

Thu, Mar 12, 2009, 09:48

   

Not surprisingly, the two news stories at the top of music business agenda at the moment show colossal changes in the sector’s power structure.

While U2′s decision to ditch the Apple in favour of pimping the Blackberry and YouTube’s move to blank the Brits to put some pressure on collection society PRS to do a deal may not be quite joined at the hip, both stories show that traditional music industry power lines are sagging.

In U2′s case, there’s a lot of speculation about why the band have gone with a product not known for cutting-edge music innovation. While there’s a bit of press release blather about future plans to “enhance” the “Blackberry experience” for “U2 fans”, I’d wager the U2/Blackberry deal has more to do with a large cheque than any sort of brand placement. When U2 partnered with Apple in the past, it was a win-win situation for both sides. In 2009, though, U2 probably need Apple’s cachet far more than Apple need U2 to sell their devices, especially at the price the band and Live Nation were looking for. Enter Blackberry and, voila, U2 shilling for Blackberrys in big stadiums in 2009 and 2010.

The YouTube story is a different kettle of legal eagles. As Neil McCormick notes in the Telegraph, “negotiators are so far apart it is hard to believe that they have ever been in a room together”. YouTube are claiming that the PRS are holding them to ransom, but PRS retort that YouTube are looking to cut their costs and keep their profits high by not ponying up to the songwriters behind the songs which YouTube users are viewing.

You get the feeling that YouTube’s decision to pull the plug is the kind of oneupmanship which the PRS have not come across before. The usual PRS negotiations probably involve them sitting down with fellow members of the music business permanent establishment to talk turkey, so the skill-set to deal with tech set-ups who are happy to break all the rules and switch the gameplan when a negotiation turns sour is not in their make-up.

They’d better acquire some of the gumption double-quick. Yet again, we’re seeing evidence of failure by music business companies (and collection agencies are certainly hugely lucrative music business companies of long standing) to read the writing on the wall. Since the mid-to-late 1990s, the tech and telecoms sectors have done all the running but, because trad music companies didn’t really bother to engage with them until they had no choice in the matter, both sides regard each other with a great degree of suspicion, trepidation and ill-will. Expect the YouTube/PRS face-off to set the tone for all future negotiations between the sides. And if they thought dealing with YouTube’s peeps was bad, wait until they get an eyeful and earful of News International’s troops in the next round in the collection agencies v MySpace bout.

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