After a humbling 2018, Mark Zuckerburg is reported to be pushing for a realignment of the embattled digital platform’s original intentions, as a social arena to bring people together rather than push them apart. One way of doing this is through music, as Ben Gilbert explains.
Over the last decade, Mark Zuckerburg’s face has been seen beaming from the cover of magazines with near supermodel regularity. But never has it looked as mortally airbrushed as on Wired’s March 2018 edition. His battered and bruised profile bore the scars of a beating at the hands of digital society. In little more than 12 months, the same magazine had dramatically rowed back from a previous cover story pondering the following question: “Could Facebook save your life?”
That’s because Facebook is in trouble, if you believe the techno-moral panic narrative pushed internationally in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations that landed Zuckerburg with a humbling appearance before the US Senate. Much more than that, it seems, Facebook is trouble. Arguably, this feels like a peculiar accusation for a platform that currently counts a fanbase in the region of 2.2b people. But the prevailing tide has been flowing in the opposite direction for some time, knocking the tech giant off its feet with multiple damaging allegations.
Major label deals mean Facebook can now licence music content
“Has Zuckerberg, like Frankenstein, lost control of the monster he created?” asked The Guardian in July, claiming “he’s uneasy about the power and has few good ideas about how to discharge his responsibilities.” Wrapped up in these responsibilities is a realignment of the platform’s original intentions, as a social arena to bring people together rather than push them apart, particularly the younger users who so readily flocked to Facebook in its earliest incarnations. One way of doing this, of course, is through music.
This time last year, before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook was in the midst of signing multiple contracts that would allow it to licence a broader range of music content. These included deals with the industry’s largest label and publisher, Universal Music Group and Sony/ATV, respectively. It seemed a sensible move, considering that the most-shared piece of content on Facebook in 2017, according to the Financial Times, “was not a fake news article, Kremlin-connected advert or conspiracy theory about the Pope” but a link to the music video for Despacito, which reached an audience of 22m.
Will Lasso present a competitive alternative to TikTok?
Enter Lasso. Reportedly in development for approximately 12 months, the app was officially released to the US market in November, with little fanfare. “Lasso makes it easy for anyone to create and share short videos with fun effects. Follow creators, discover popular video trends and join in by putting your own spin on them. Once you’ve found a type of video that’s trending, whether it’s #comedy or #fail, you can use the in-app camera to put your own spin on it with special effects, music and editing tools,” reported Music Ally, quoting the app’s iTunes description in the absence of an official statement.
“Apps that enable fans to create their own videos using music are a great opportunity for the music industry, especially if they’re paying out royalties to labels and publishers (and thus to artists and songwriters). In that context, the fact that Lasso has been launched by a company that already has licensing deals for user-generated content sorted out is exciting,” Music Ally editor Stuart Dredge told Synchtank in response to the news.
Dredge confirmed that Lasso seems designed to act as a competitive alternative to TikTok, the social video platform developed in Asia by ByteDance that recently merged with Musical.ly and has achieved spectacular global success with a young audience. “There’s no doubt that this kind of app has lots of potential: look at the current popularity of TikTok (and Musical.ly before it) for proof of that,” continued Dredge. “That said, are people – particularly young people, who aren’t exactly Facebook’s keenest audience – going to dump TikTok and move over to Lasso en masse? That remains very much to be proven.”
Instagram could “move the needle” for Facebook’s future ambitions
The figures on the crucial teen demographic are compelling and act as evidence of an alarming slide in the wrong direction. According to recent statistics, Facebook saw this audience drop by 20% between 2014 and 2018. But Dredge sees positives to reflect upon as the platform considers plans for the near future. “Facebook’s main service may be in decline with young people, but it’s already hedged against that with its ownership of Instagram. I almost think that the latter is the most exciting element of Facebook’s music-licensing deals: adding more music features to Instagram really could move the needle in interesting ways”, he said.
“I almost think that its ownership of Instagram is the most exciting element of Facebook’s music-licensing deals: adding more music features to Instagram really could move the needle in interesting ways.”
– Stuart Dredge, Music Ally
With industry credibility and legality now secure and a range of ideas in motion to reclaim lost audiences and target new ones, Dredge also anticipates the prospect of more ambitious plans, reaching way beyond user-generated content. “Facebook doing more with music videos would be genuinely disruptive and interesting: not least because it would firmly position it as a rival to YouTube – the kind of competition the music industry would be keen to have. It’s not hard to imagine music videos being a category within the Facebook Watch portal, for example”, he commented.
“Facebook doing more with music videos would be genuinely disruptive and interesting: not least because it would firmly position it as a rival to YouTube – the kind of competition the music industry would be keen to have.”
– Stuart Dredge, Music Ally
Digital technology, social media and the role of Silicon Valley are among the enduring, underlining themes of the early part of the 21st century, prompting an equal measure of global dread and innovation on a daily basis across the entertainment sector and broader society. Zuckerburg’s once gilded now malfunctioning monster has a central role. Can he rewire it? “Facebook’s activity around music is exciting in itself, but it’s the impact on the wider market that may be even more important,” concluded Dredge.