Merlin: Streaming Revenues Go Global, Payouts Increase 73% to $232m

Speaking at A2IM’s Annual Meeting, Charles Caldas, CEO Merlin, the global digital rights agency for the independent label sector, has announced the results of Merlin’s 2016 member survey. Merlin is the global digital rights agency for the world’s independent label sector. The organisation’s members command in excess of 12% of the global digital recorded music market and embody more than 20,000 independent record labels and distributors from 46 countries and all continents. These include Beggars Group, Secretly Group, Domino, Epitaph, !K7, Kobalt Label Services, [PIAS], Merge and Warp, representing some of the world’s most important and successful artists.

Merlin acts to ensure these companies have effective access to new and emerging revenue streams and that their rights are appropriately valued and protected.

Since commencing operations in May 2008, Merlin has licensed key digital services including SoundCloud, YouTube Red, Spotify, Pandora, Google Play, Deezer, Vevo, KKBOX and Guvera.

The organization has just released their membership survey, which saw global payouts reach $232 million, up 73% from the year before. Other findings include:

  • Digital consumption unlocks global markets – 39% report over half of digital revenues originate from outside their home territory, compared with just 16% reporting the same for physical
  • Overall business growth remains consistently high among Merlin members. 79% state they are optimistic about the future of their business
  • Almost half (46%) of Merlin’s members report audio streaming/subscription as their primary source of digital revenue
  • Usage of Merlin members’ repertoire on audio streaming/subscription services is 27% higher on paid tiers compared to free ad-funded tiers

Representing the most valuable set of rights outside of those controlled by the three major labels, Merlin’s 700-strong membership commands in excess of 12% of the global digital market across more than 20,000 labels – including the likes of Beggars Group, Domino, Epitaph, Kobalt Label Services, Merge, Ninja Tune, [PIAS], Secretly Group and Warp Records.

Drawing on anonymized responses from across 35 countries, this is the fourth time Merlin has surveyed its membership in this way. The findings are combined with a new analysis of Merlin’s own internal data, which reveals a surge in both revenues received from leading audio streaming services and the consumption of independent music on those platforms – and particularly so on paid streaming tiers:

Year-on-year (April-March 2014/15 to April-March 2015/16) digital revenues paid out to Merlin’s independent label members increased by 73% year-on-year to $232m. Following a 20% reduction in administration fees, announced in February 2016 – the fifth such reduction in four years – Merlin continues to deliver maximum value to members’ digital businesses.

Comparing usage in the month of March 2016 with March 2015, the volume of audio streams reported to Merlin increased by 80%. In March 2016 alone, audio tracks by Merlin’s members were streamed more than 4bn times, up from 2.5bn in March 2015.

Drawing on an analysis of over 11.5bn audio streams (Jan-March 2016) usage of Merlin members’ repertoire on audio streaming & subscription services was 27% higher on paid streaming tiers compared to free ad-funded tiers.

Almost two-thirds of respondents (62%) state that digital now accounts for more than 50% of their overall business revenue. For 1 in 3, it accounts for over 75%.

Streaming is now the primary source of digital revenue for almost half (46%) of Merlin members – up from one-third last year.

The global scale of digital music consumption clearly benefits independent record labels and distributors. 39% of respondents report that over half of digital revenues came from outside their home territory – compared with only 16% reporting the same for physical

Downloads are the primary digital revenue source for 28% of respondents – down from 41% in 2015. For 64% of respondents, video-streaming platforms like YouTube account for less than 10% of overall digital revenues.

Despite continued transition in the digital music market, the majority (65%) of Merlin members report overall business growth – the same percentage as last year.

79% of respondents state they are “optimistic” about the future of their business, while 86% of respondents say that membership of Merlin is important to their business.

Charles Caldas, CEO of Merlin, said: “2016’s survey offers yet more evidence that Merlin’s independent record label members continue to grow and break new ground in the digital space. Over successive years we have seen audio streaming revenues surge for the vast majority, and it is particularly heartening to see members capitalize on consumer demand in new or previously untapped international markets. The digital business is a global business, and Merlin members are at the heart of it.”