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Sprint Buys Tidal

As the saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them, and I guess the same works for if you’re both failing, team up and try and beat the best. That’s right, the industry lagging (and call dropping) Sprint has teamed up with Jay Z’s artist-friendly, but not-so-profitable, Tidal music streaming service.

This morning, January 23, the two companies announced a deal which gave Sprint 33% of Tidal for an undisclosed amount of money.

Sprint says that its customers will soon have “unlimited access to exclusive artist content not available anywhere else,” though it’s unclear if that means that Sprint wireless subscribers will get full access to Tidal for free, or whether that access would be discounted, or if there would be a carved out corner of Tidal’s music library carved out for Sprint customers. It is also unclear whether or not this access will include Tidal’s higher quality audio, or just standard quality music.

The Consumerist claims that the company’s HD audio is one of the reasons that Tidal struggled to get off the ground when it launched in Oct. 2014. The service charged a premium price ($20/month) for access to the premium audio; at least double the monthly rate of most popular competing services. It now offers a $10/month option for standard quality audio. Both tiers offer a slight discount for users willing to prepay for six months of service.

As of last June, Tidal had around 4 million paying subscribers, about 1/10 the size of Spotify’s subscriber base.

Tidal has also tried to acquire an audience base through a number of exclusive offerings from high-profile artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, and others, many of whom have at least a small ownership stake in the service.

However, that exclusivity has also resulted in some heavy pirating from fans who didn’t want to pay $10 to $20 a month just for access to a new album. Last year, Kanye’s Life of Pablo was illegally shared hundreds of thousands of times within its first few days of release. At the time, the rapper had vacillated on whether the album would be only a short-time Tidal exclusive or if that exclusivity would be permanent. In the end, he opened up Pablo to competing services about five weeks later.

Sprint is likely hoping that having some sort of exclusive access to Tidal will help build up its subscriber base. The company’s bigger competitors already offer exclusive or data-free access to certain streaming services.

AT&T will not charge wireless access to DirecTV and DirecTV Now streaming content against its customers’ monthly data allotments (even if it might violate the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules). Verizon does the same for its go90 streaming service that you never hear anyone talk about. The company also has a deal with the NFL to stream in-market Sunday afternoon football games without hitting your data bill, though the particulars of that deal can be a bit confusing. And T-Mobile has its Binge-On program that doesn’t ding users’ data allotments for accessing a large number of video and music services, but only if you’re willing to limit the picture quality.

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