Watchdog’s music industry probe finds no competition problems

The Competition and Markets Authority said that it would not intervene after a long investigation into the sector.

Someone using Spotify on a phone
Someone using Spotify on a phone

The UK’s competition watchdog has said that a concentration of power in the hands of a few music streaming services and record labels is not hurting either listeners or musicians, despite the pleas of some in the industry.

The Competition and Markets Authority said that things are “good” for consumers of music, and “generally improving” for the musicians, although it acknowledged there are challenges for some.

The regulator said that it did not have the powers to address the concerns that some musicians and other participants in the sector had raised during consultations.

“We have found that it is unlikely that the outcomes that concern many stakeholders are primarily driven by competition,” it said in its final report on the issue, published on Tuesday.

“Consequently, it is unlikely that a competition intervention would improve outcomes overall, and release more money in the system to pay creators more.”

It came despite an earlier plea from the Musicians’ Union which claimed in a submission published this September that addressing competition issues could increase revenue or ensure that revenues are better shared with artists.

This “would also benefit consumers by improving the music they listen to”, the union said at the time.

But in their final report, officials at the CMA concluded that “outcomes for artists are driven by factors which are largely unrelated to competition issues in the market.”

Instead these outcomes are more “inherent to how music streaming works”.

The regulator said that the Government has taken steps to address concerns over how much artists are paid and that MPs have suggested reforms.

The Intellectual Property Office is also running an investigation into how it might strengthen the rights of creators.

The CMA found that the three major labels in the UK held a combined 70% of all individual streams in the UK.

It also said that fewer than 1% of artists generate the one million streams per month that is needed to earn just £12,000 a year from their music.

In total, UK listeners streamed songs about 138 billion times last year, the CMA said.

The regulator did, however, encourage companies to share more information on streaming numbers and breakdowns with their artists.

While just 0.4% of artists accounted for 60% of all streams in the UK, there has been a doubling in the number of artists releasing music from 200,000 in 2014 to 400,000 in 2020.

The CMA also said that while revenue for the music industry dropped between a peak of £1.9 billion in 2001 to just £800 million in 2015, this has since recovered somewhat to £1.1 billion in 2021.

This has come even as prices for consumers dropped by 20% between 2009 and 2021, the report found.

“Streaming has transformed how music fans access vast catalogues of music, providing a valuable platform for artists to reach new listeners quickly, and at a price for consumers that has declined in real terms over the years,” said CMA interim chief executive Sarah Cardell.

“However, we heard from many artists and songwriters across the UK about how they struggle to make a decent living from these services.

“These are understandable concerns, but our findings show that these are not the result of ineffective competition – and intervention by the CMA would not release more money into the system that would help artists or songwriters.”

Will Page, former chief economist of Spotify and PRS for Music, added: “Since Spotify launched in the UK, the number of British artists has tripled from 47,000 to 139,000 (and songwriters from 65,000 to 160,000).

“We should be celebrating, not commiserating; it’s a huge win for Creative Britain. But we shouldn’t ignore the simple arithmetic, as the music industry is making more money but simply has way more mouths to feed.”

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