The Next New: Surprise Albums Will Be Released On TV

By: Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAire)

*Every Tuesday and Thursday at 4 P.M., the future will arrive with new The Next New posts.*

Ever since Beyonce turned a random Friday morning in December into an impromptu worldwide album listening party, artists have been dropping a panoply of albums unexpectedly like bird shit. On September 26th, Thom Yorke fired the latest surprise album shot in the ongoing battle between the music industry and piracy with the release of his album Tomorrow's Modern Boxes on the former pirate turned "good" BitTorrent for $6. Since the best sneak attacks are the ones that get to the most targets at the quickest, the next logical step for the surprise album is to transition to one medium: 


The music and television industry have been on a collision course to merge as both have a few common necessary evils: piracy and on-demand streaming/DVR. The television industry has been desperately trying to regain the advertising revenue lost to on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and DVR. CBS even went as far as to force its tech site CNET to remove DISH's Dish Hopper device from Best of CES due to the Hopper DVR having a commercial skipping feature that allowed viewers to bypass commercials for shows they recorded. The major broadcasters also have attempted to sign deals with advertisers who extend the amount of days of commercial viewing of TV programs that advertisers pay for from the industry standard three days (C-3) to a new seven day standard (C-7). This C-7 aligns perfectly with the traditional seven day sales week for the music industry. Similarly, the music industry has begun adopting new metrics to measure success as Billboard has implemented on-demand streaming stats as well as Tweets into their own charts. The music industry is even trying to change the global release date from Tuesday to Friday, the same day Beyonce and Thom Yorke released their surprise albums. 

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Broadcasters often place new television shows after their highly successful ones to bolster the new show's ratings with views from people still watching the channel at the conclusion of the more popular show. Record labels employ a similar tactic and have their artists perform at the Grammy Awards due to The Grammy Effect, a phenomena that has had artists' back album catalogs' sales increase by as much as 1,037 percent following the Grammy live airing. You really don't think a 5-song/20 minute EP from Taylor Swift streamed on CBS prior to the season premiere of a new season of 2 Broke Girls wouldn't increase the show's viewership? You don't think, with both industries moving towards utilizing alternative metrics to measure success, that Taylor Swift's album wouldn't "sell" millions of copies in three days? 

I do and this is what it would look like...

How would it work? 

This past summer, HBO experimented with treating music as episodes when the cable channel aired 10 four-minute video clips of Beyonce's Mrs. Carter World Tour before every episode in the final season of True Blood. Ratings are not released for short five minute TV blocks, however, every episode of True Blood's final season averaged a 3.98 (million) rating. Picture this: a 10-song/40 minute album with each song represented by a music video, a lyric video or alternating between both. Following the broadcasting, the album will be available on the television station's website and/or affiliated subscription streaming service (similar to Apple making U2's free album exclusively streamed on their Beats Music app). No promotion for the album beyond a mysterious "Surprise TV event on [insert broadcaster's name] at [insert designated time] right before/after [insert hit/struggling show]" would be needed. The broadcasting would need to disable DVR recording, otherwise broadcasters would have to tell advertisers whose secret album will be debuting on their network in order to sell advertisement time during that time block. All of the surprise albums have benefited from as few people as possible knowing about the surprise. To bolster Twitter ratings for both the broadcast and the album's sales, broadcasters will implement tweets periodically throughout the album's airing. 

Are there any precedents? 

Would you trust the business acumen and foresight of a man that has been called "Boss" long enough to have a legal chance to copyright the word? Well, eight months before Apple was releasing a tool to remove the surprise U2 album they implanted in millions of iPhones, CBS was debuting songs from Bruce Springsteen's 18th studio album High Hopes on its hit show The Good Wife. Three songs from the album debuted on the January 12th episode of The Good Wife and the album streamed on from January 5th until January 12th. The January 12th episode of The Good Wife that featured Bruce Springsteen's songs scored a 9.85 (million) rating, its 5th highest rated episode of the 22 episode season. The amount of money CBS paid to Springsteen for exclusive rights to his album for a week was not disclosed, but, with Apple paying U2 a reported $30 million for their deal you can assume it was in the range of "Cha" and "ching". The Good Wife's co-creator Robert King compared the Springsteen collaboration to "if Jesus Christ came down and composed music for his episode" and informed the New York Daily News that music being more deeply involved in TV episodes was the future:

What we hope to do in the future is bring [songs by various artists] into the plot itself. We’re looking at one plot where the case revolves around the song itself and the lyrics inform the plot.

Music debuting on TV has been an experiment in the works for over 30 years. At one point in the 1980s, CBS had its own record label (CBS Records) in order to lower its music licensing fees by placing music from their artists in their shows. The label was no run of the mill tax write-off. In the 80's, CBS Records housed Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and Bruce Springsteen. The label was sold to Sony in 1988 but restarted in 2006 with Sony Records subsidiary, RED Distribution, hence the collaboration between CBS and Bruce Springsteen on The Good Wife since High Hopes was released through Sony Music Entertainment subsidiary Columbia Records. 

Who will do it? 

Thom Yorke's surprise album accumulated 430,000 downloads worldwide in three days. Beyonce's surprise album accumulated 828,773 downloads worldwide in three days. U2's surprise album was "experienced" by over 33 million iTunes account holders (whatever the fuck that means) in less than a week.

Kid Cudi's surprise album Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon was downloaded 87,000 times in a week. 

Not surprisingly, surprise albums work best with artists that have a dedicated and diverse fan base, which usually legendary acts have that not only span multiple demographics (hipsters and thugs love Beyonce) but also decades (Your grandma and your little sister love Beyonce). Here are the two most likely candidates to implement this strategy relatively soon:

1. Madonna (releasing a new album in 2015 through Interscope, which is distributed by Vivendi's Universal Music Distribution. Vivendi previously had part ownership of NBC. Watch out for the new Madonna album premiering after NBC's female-dominated Thursday night of Grey's Anatomy being followed by Scandal being followed by How To Get Away With Murder.)

2. Jay Z & Beyonce (Yes, the On The Run HBO special flopped. But, if you think HBO would not contribute millions of dollars to the Blue Ivy College Fund for the rights to the couple's upcoming collaboration album, you're shortsighted. Exclusive television rights to On The Run, paired with blocking any DVR recording would result in the "syndication" of the collaboration album to land on HBO Go, conceivably helping it surpass Netflix's viewership)