The $9.99-a-month music service, which was purchased by Jay Z in 2015 for $56 million, seeks to compete with the likes of Spotify and iTunes for dominance over a growing market for streaming media. It offers high-definition music videos and, for an extra fee, high-definition sound quality.
The partnership gives Sprint greater access to media at a time when many other companies in its position are doing the same.
“This seems to be the direction the wireless industry is heading in,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst. “Combining different industries to increase value to both.”
AT&T, Verizon and other network operators have sought to buy up vast troves of content in an effort to persuade consumers to switch to their platforms. They also hope to sell advertising against that media, and to use the behavioral data generated by that consumption for marketing purposes, as well.
But whereas its larger rivals have tried to swallow entire media companies outright — AOL in the case of Verizon and Time Warner in the case of AT&T — Sprint is merely going for a slice of Tidal.
The wireless provider has been struggling to turn itself around. Falling subscriber numbers have pushed it to last-place among the major U.S. cellphone carriers. It has been beset by layoffs, and analysts say its network is in need of substantial improvement.
Tidal also faces questions about its health. Although Jay Z implied in a 2015 tweet that the service boasts more than a million members, recent reports have suggested that Tidal's membership figures may be skewed — and that it actually has many fewer paying subscribers than the service is letting on. (Tidal did not release any subscriber figures in Monday's announcement.) Last year, Ebony magazine observed that Tidal had failed to gain traction among a key audience: black listeners. And then there was the time when Jay Z took again to Twitter to defend the company's slow growth.
“The iTunes Store wasn't built in a day,” he said. “It took Spotify 9 years to be successful…”
That didn't stop Grantland from describing the service as “easy to deem out of touch, the butt of many a joke, and potentially groundbreaking.”
By hitching its wagon to Sprint, Tidal hopes it'll be exposed to the cellphone carrier's 45 million customers in a way that accelerates its growth. With the right mix of exclusives and promotions, the move could grow Tidal's audience. But given the history of both firms, it's anyone's guess what'll happen next.