Summary:

Berlin’s Tape.tv has teamed up with Spotify to help fill the void left by the old, music-oriented MTV. But underneath the hood, its approach could be another interesting example of how onerous music rights in Germany have sparked a different kind of music startup.

tape.tv's Conrad Fritsch

With news of its long-delayed German launch, it’s worth remembering that Spotify isn’t just a music player these days — it’s a platform. And one interesting app that appeared there on Tuesday was from Tape.tv, a service that aims to fill the gap left by the old MTV.

Tape.tv is essentially an online TV station with a few genre-specific sub-channels: think alternative, hip-hop and indie. They’re all filled with traditional music video content — there’s nothing user-generated here — but it does let the user like or dislike the videos they’re shown, which in turn allows the service to gradually customise what each viewer sees to their own tastes. In other words, it’s like Pandora for video.

Tape.tv Spotify adThe Berlin-based company has been going for around four years, collecting a catalogue of 45,000 videos and around 3.5 million users along the way, which is good work if you consider it’s only available in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

So why just Germany?

I caught up with Tape.tv a couple of weeks ago and picked up three reasons why they haven’t expanded further yet. The first is language – it’s only in German now, of course – and the second is the need to work out licensing rights in each territory.

The third, though, is that Tape.tv wants to have an editorial team in each region. Sure, the YouTube age may have put editorial power in the hands of the user, but this team is taking an approach that’s something of a return to the curated experience of TV.

Which is where strategies like the intriguingly gamified Spotify app come in. The app doesn’t play videos inside the client (as you might expect) but instead presents a series of daily stories that let the user choose the ending. The chosen ending triggers one of two playlists, and for each track the user can choose to click through to watch the video on Tape.tv’s site.

It’s a novel use of the platform. But don’t be fooled by the cute idea: Tape.tv is a very serious company, with 85 employees, many of whom are in sales, and ambitious plans.

The site already does big ad deals around video premieres for the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and has branched out to real TV with a ‘social music program’ on the ZDFkultur channel.

And it wants to expand. Once those language, licensing and editorial issues have been ironed out, the company tells me, the UK will be the first country to get the service in non-German form — and expect that rollout to come within the next few months.

Licensing loopholes

It’s very interesting to see someone aim for the space that the old, pre-reality-dreck MTV created and abandoned, but there’s another interesting story hidden underneath the hood.

We’d love to know what arrangement Tape.tv has with GEMA, Germany’s notoriously hardboiled music rights collection society and the organization responsible for effectively breaking YouTube in the country. After all, the more interactive a music stream is, the more GEMA charges for it.

However, while Tape.tv does include some on-demand functionality, via search and mixtape creation, its main thrust is the sit-back-and-relax TV channel format. Tape.tv won’t go into the details of its GEMA arrangement, although CEO Conrad Fritzsch did hint to Der Spiegel last month that the site was “no classical on-demand portal”. This may suggest that the company gets away with paying GEMA less than it would if it were a fully YouTube-like interactive service.

We’ve already seen Berlin’s Wahwah.fm aim to recreate the linear radio-station model for smartphones as a strategy that is designed specifically to work around GEMA’s more onerous pricing levels.

Perhaps the collection society has inspired a trend away from interactivity. If it has, the users seem to like it.

Sometimes licensing moves in mysterious ways.

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