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Between TikTok and Universal, the tension rises a notch... and the application becomes more and more silent

The break between TikTok and Universal is well and truly complete.

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Between TikTok and Universal, the tension rises a notch... and the application becomes more and more silent

The break between TikTok and Universal is well and truly complete. For a month, all of the songs in the catalog of the American major, which notably counts Taylor Swift and The Weeknd among its artists, have been deleted from the social network. The specialized newspaper The Verge mentions the withdrawal of around 4 million pieces. Monday evening, Universal activated the “nuclear button,” according to industry experts. He also asked TikTok to remove all videos that contain songs written by authors from the label. The social network has committed to having done so by the end of the month.

This decision could impact 80% of successful albums from Warner Music, Sony Music, and independent labels, according to the Wall Street Journal. Because an album can have more than ten authors from different labels. For its part, TikTok estimates that a total of 20 to 30% of popular songs used on its platform, with variations depending on the region, could be removed.

The break between TikTok and Universal dates back to January 31, the date on which the contract between the two companies expired. Discussions notably stalled on the remuneration of artists and songwriters, the security of the platform and the use of artificial intelligence. “TikTok tried to intimidate us into accepting an agreement worth less than the previous agreement, well below the fair value of the market and not reflecting its exponential growth,” the American major then accused. The Chinese social network offered to pay “a rate which is only a fraction of the rate paid by the main platforms in a similar situation”, she continued.

Singled out, TikTok, which recorded nearly $20 billion in advertising revenue in 2022, regretted that Universal had “chosen to turn away from the powerful support of a platform which has more than 1 billion users and which serves as a free promotion and discovery vehicle for its talents.” He rejected Universal's arguments as a whole, which are "false" and do not, according to him, serve the interests of the artists and their fans.

Discussions between the two companies are still at a standstill. TikTok's recent appeals have had no effect, with Universal believing that its proposals do not address its concerns. In the meantime, TikTok is suffering. Millions of videos have been silent since February 1.

The Chinese social network is, with YouTube, the one that uses the most music on its platform. 85% of its videos contain it, compared to less than 50% on Facebook and around 60% on Instagram. The entire sector suffers. Music clips (up to 60 seconds per video) help make certain videos viral. They also boost the use of music streaming platforms like Spotify, Deezeer or Apple on which users can listen to songs in their entirety, thus generating additional revenue for artists and their labels.

Among the Universal singers, Ariana Grande recently released a remix of her new song “Yes, and?” with Mariah Carey (Sony) and posted a video on TikTok to promote it. In this video, both artists are seen singing but instead of the song, an AI-generated voice says: “We are not allowed to play this song here. So watch this video and try to imagine what it looks like.” On Taylor Swift's TikTok account, exit the sound on certain videos: "the sound has been removed due to copyright restrictions", we can read.

Many singers under contract with Universal are thus deprived of important promotional support. Including emerging singers, who are particularly penalized. This also hampers the activity of many content creators such as dancers who used songs from the Universal catalog.

Ultimately, the conflict between TikTok and Universal could reshuffle the cards of discussions between the other majors in the sector and the Chinese social network. In the era of streaming, it is also a battle between two worlds that is being played out. Who will win between the social network present on the smartphones of all (or almost) young people on the planet and the label behind Taylor Swift, Drake and Billie Eilish? One thing is certain, after having long granted preferential rates to TikTok, Universal intends to put it through the checkout, as it already does with Instagram (Meta) and YouTube (Google). A real Big Bang for the music industry.

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