The first 100 days: Tidal COO Lior Tibon on life after the Square acquisition

Tidal's chief operating officer is OK with the company being much smaller than Spotify, but he won't tell us how much smaller it actually is.

​Tidal COO Lior Tibon

Tidal COO Lior Tibon has been with the company for more than six years.

Photo: Tidal

When Square first announced its plans to acquire the music streaming service Tidal in March, executives from both companies promised that we might see the first fruits of their collaboration within the first 100 days. The acquisition closed in late April, or about 100 days ago this week, so we caught up with Tidal COO Lior Tibon for an update.

In his conversation with Protocol, Tibon explains what's new with Tidal, how the acquisition has affected company culture and why he isn't worried about competing against much bigger services like Spotify and Apple Music.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

It's been a little over 100 days since Square's acquisition of Tidal closed. How have things been going since, and what kind of updates can you share on what this means for Tidal's streaming service?

We've done a lot of thinking around how to take the company forward, now that we are owned by Square. First, we've been doing a very aggressive hiring push across all departments.

Secondly, we've been focusing a lot on enhancing the co-listening experience. Very recently, we launched a full lyrics feature globally. Lyrics are now fully integrated in a synchronous manner in the app in dozens of different languages. We also launched a discovery tool that is serving customers with new music and a bunch of other experiences along those lines.

And then thirdly, we have been working very hard on planning into the future. Particularly, how do we make sure that Tidal is serving not only the listener but also the artist community in the best way possible? We are really reinforcing our original mission under Square of being the most artist-centric service out there. That means [we'll add] a lot of new features later this year and next year to strengthen our focus on being artist-centric.

What has changed internally? How has the deal affected company culture?

We benefit a lot from being part of a larger ecosystem. The music streaming space is hyper-competitive, and there are some giant companies out there competing for customers and listeners. We are significantly smaller than all of them. The fact that we are now part of a larger ecosystem of different business units with different expertise [gives us] an opportunity to learn more, and tap into expertise in different parts of the organization. It's been just over three months, but I definitely think we can feel very positive differences in that sense.

Secondly, to the recruitment point and talent point, folks are looking at Tidal with a fresh perspective, helping us to obtain a broader set of talent. [However,] Tidal has always been a very interesting place, where you have a more tech and product culture matched with music and creative. It's very important to not to lose sight of that, so we're definitely not looking to change anything fundamental at Tidal. That's definitely something that Square has been very attentive of.

It's been a couple years since Tidal last announced subscriber numbers. Any chance we may be able to get an update on that, and do you plan to release this type of data more frequently in the future?

No, we're not announcing any specific subscriber metrics to the market. Obviously, Square has certain disclosure obligations, by the virtue of them being a public company. So potentially there will be a few more data points over the next few months and years that would be shared on Tidal. But we don't have any specific plans to announce anything in the near term.

You did say earlier that Tidal was a lot smaller than some of the other services out there. How do you want to compete with Spotify and Apple Music?

There is a lot of opportunity and room for multiple services to exist. We don't look at music streaming as a winner takes all, or ultimately a duopoly or oligopoly market. I think it's a much more diverse marketplace. And I think our own performance has proven that. We're definitely still a small service, but we've been growing in line, or in fact faster than the industry.

But we're not even framing our objectives in the sense of who has more subscribers, or how are we ranked versus some of the other platforms out there. There are some great companies that are doing great things in music streaming that are much bigger than us. We are very comfortable with not playing that game, but [are instead] trying to build the business around a very specific value proposition of being the most artist-centric music streaming service, and cater to the specific audiences that care about that.

We're really known for sound. The reason why we've invested so much in sound over the years is because that's really at the core of the creative process. Now, following the Square acquisition, we're thinking about a lot of other aspects that will enhance the listening experience and the artist-to-fan experience down the road.

When the acquisition was first announced, Jay-Z said that Tidal was about more than just streaming. That made me wonder if Tidal could eventually become more of a complement to streaming services like Spotify?

Without going into the specifics of one step or another, I think directionally that's probably right. We're not looking to just compete on music streaming, and counting the number of subscribers we have. We're looking at creating a more distinct music experience, making new connections between artists and fans.

When will we see that happen?

I don't want to overcommit for timelines, but I can assure you that we are hard at work on a lot of new features that will come into the market in the next few months. Definitely stay tuned for additional news to come.

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