How Tidal Goes Against All Current Product Development Theories

I’m not an expert in the music industry. I have no idea what the future olds for Pandora, Spotify, iTunes and now Tidal, Jay-Z’s new streaming service that describes itself as, “Introducing the first music streaming service that combines the best High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly Curated Editorial.”

However, I have spent some time in the last 4 years teaching some classes on marketing new products. I lean heavily on the insight of Steve Blank, because, well he seems like a really smart guy. And Mr. Blank espouses a product development process that leans heavily on the following:
1) Finding a problem that customers have.
2) Developing hypotheses on how the customer wants that problem solved.
3) Testing that solution with as many customers as possible.

You’ll notice that all 3 principles of the process include the term, “customer.”

Tidal seems to use a completely different theory. Summarizing bullets from the Washington Post, Tidal’s offering is based on the following:
1) Consumers will develop a sense of ethics, i.e. a willingness to see musicians actually make some respectable royalties from music streaming, which they currently do not.
2) People will want exclusive content and hear directly from artists.
3) Those who subscribe to the premium service will receive higher sound quality.

Let’s compare the Tidal plan to the Steve Blank plan.
1) Is my problem that I think musicians are underpaid? Do I really care what musicians make on each song I listen to? Probably about as much as I worry that the 1st Associate Director on House of Cards can afford her rent. Or that the Copywriter on AT&T’s Barles Charkley commercial is being paid fairly by his agency.
2) And honestly, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.2 billion bands in the world. if Taylor Swift or Jay-Z stick their music someplace I can’t get it, will I even notice? What problem is being solved by taking music away from my channels of choice?
3) I’d love to see the research that says, “When Andy is at work listening to music on his headphones, what he really wants is higher fidelity music for $250 a year.” Even if this is true for some people, how many? How good can music sound? And won’t I need a pair of $800 headphones to even notice?

This isn’t a bash on Tidal. It’s simply an observation. They are taking avery non-technology product management approach, and that puzzles me because I live in my own little Seattle technology bubble. Obviously with the star power they’ve assembled, the deck is stacked in their favor, so they can skip some of “Lean Startup” type principles. They’ll have great marketing, get lots of exposure and be able to test the product in real time.

More choices for music is better than less, so I hope they do well. It will be interesting to see how their product development plan works out.

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