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Universal Music envies Spotify’s data on listening tastes but here’s how it could alleviate those frustrations

Universal Music is working on how to better target fans with their content from their favourite artists like Metallica.

Universal Music could look to services that let people own and control their personal data in a bid to deepen its understanding of listening habits that is currently shackled by an unwillingness from Spotify et al to share data.

“These guys see that data as a competitive advantage for their businesses so they’re not interested in sharing it at all,” bemoaned the record label’s chief technology officer Ty Roberts on a CES panel.

His business, like many other media owners, is frustrated at how they have been reduced to what is effectively a “middle man” in the lucrative relationship between streaming services and artists.

For all the richness of their content, the likes of Universal Music are still some way from cracking a monetisation opportunity, especially today when the value of 'a fan' is so variable.

However, the answer might rest with listeners rather than Universal Music.

Observations from panels, demos and interviews at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, suggest people are increasingly willing to share personal data that they control through services like Digi.Me and Matchupbox in exchange for a personalised service. As Julian Ranger, the executive chairman and founder of Digi.Me explains: “You as an individual will end up owning and monitoring al your personal data…all your social data, all your health data, your financial data and your purchase history will be unique and private to you.”

The way Digi.Me works acts as a good proxy for similar services, wherbye the app allows users to access all their information, while doubling as a way for them to selectively share data with whoever and wherever they want. Each of these exchanges is built on a contract, or a digital certificate, between the individual and the business in question, outlining what data the company will get; what they will do with it; what will they give back in exchange for it; what data they will retain if any; what data they will share with third parties if any; and whether they will implement the European ‘Right to Forget, which is due in the upcoming GDPR compliance directive for businesses operating in Europe.

This so called 'Me2B' economy poses many possibilities for Universal Music's Roberts, given that it’s a model built on people sharing their information with businesses rather than businesses sharing it with one another.

“I don’t need to have an email address – [to identify someone] I just need to have a code [unique identifier] so that when it comes to us it allows me to at least know how to talk to someone,” explained Roberts. “I’m not trying to do transactions, I’m trying to play someone music so I just need to know a little to figure out how it’s really them.”

Where it becomes tricky for Universal Music is around context. How does something like Digi.Me work for the record label if “a someone plays Metallica in their friend’s car and we start giving them more content from the brand but it then turns out the friend doesn’t like Metallica,” mused Roberts.

"There needs to be a way to edit all that contextual relevance because that might make it harder for people to get the stuff out of their profile that they realise is wrong or needs to be fixed to make it better.”

There’s also the lack of data interoperability between services; “data interchange standards are going to be an important thing if we are going to have a meaningful profile that you an control and use somewhere else because if you download your Spotify profile and you upload the personal data to Apple then those two systems won’t speak the same language.”

Despite these concerns, there are initiatives such as Kantara looking at how to normalise personal data across different systems to allow for that interoperability.

While Roberts was tighlipped about Universal Music’s future plans, he did reveal how CES would be a good chance for him to talk to companies such as Digi.Me, Matchupbox and Meeco.

That he even attended the conference is testament to how big a task Roberts and his team face in when it comes to reinventing music marketing for the streaming age. Sony’s solution to it has been to look at forging partnerships with retailers, hotel chains and more in the hope that these businesses are more amenable to sharing data than Spotify and Amazon.

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