2009: The Biggest Winners, The Biggest Losers

If only a disruptive media transition could be compressed into a year.

Instead, a post-1999 music industry continued to struggle, innovate, and litigate without a map in 2009.  In that fog, the list of winners and losers is endless, though here are some of the bigger movers of the year…

Winner: The Mobile App…

Or, more specifically, the iPhone (and iPod touch) app.  This was the year that Apple crossed one billion app downloads, and music-related plays like Tapulous, Smule, and Pandora continued to rise with the tide.  Others also amassed serious users, including Clear Channel Radio, Shazam, and AOL Radio, to name a few.  Expect more iPhones, better mobile content delivery, more apps, and wildcards like an Apple tablet next year.

Loser: The Massively Leveraged Media Buyout…

EMI owner Terra Firma filed a lawsuit against Citibank over its soiled bet, and over-leveraged buyouts by Clear Channel and Citadel are also faring poorly.  The toxicity is spilling into 2010…

Mixed Bag: The Cloud…

Dude, where’s your collection?  The cloud remains elegant in theory, though 2009 was a difficult year for the sector (and believing consumers).  Imeem sold for scraps to MySpace Music, and users still can’t find their virtual collections in the transition.

Elsewhere, Spotify encountered licensing turbulence in the United States, thanks to a still-hopeful monetization path.  Lala sold to Apple, though speculation surrounds the actual purchase amount.

Meanwhile, data continues to suggest that on-demand streaming is cutting into file-swapping volumes, though advertising is hardly enriching content owners.  And, at the tail end of the year, the BPI pointed to gains in non-P2P – but still illegal – sources of downloading, and an overall rise in piracy.

Loser: Joe Consumer…

The average consumer suffered dearly this year, thanks to continued economic pressures.  The broader impact on music-related purchases is still emerging, though consumer confidence remains tenuous at best.  CDs continued to slip in 2009, and paid downloads appear to be reverting to a plateau.  Stay tuned for year-end album and paid download reports.

Winner: The Penny-Pinching Music Fan…

Music fans continued to swim in abundance, and the growth of on-demand, gratis options only broadened the possibilities.  Large-dose consumption continued on BitTorrent, sampling increased across legal, on-demand sites, and RIAA-driven lawsuits against individuals were largely discontinued.

Loser: Physical Music (Though Vinyl Remains Interesting)…

This was the year that CDs returned to mid-90s levels, at least in the US.  In December, year-to-date album sales are tracking 13 percent below already-depressed 2008 tallies.  But the story on vinyl remains interesting, despite its relative irrelevance compared to broader sales figures.

Winner: The Music Video…

Sure, Susan Boyle established new records for YouTube.  But music videos as a category remained a huge component of YouTube’s explosive growth in 2009.  That motivated the rocky launch of Vevo, and a hopeful attempt to properly monetize the action in 2010.

Loser: Music Conferences…

Popkomm canceled, Midem delivered a soft crowd.  But slowly, attendees started to repopulate more events as the year progressed.  Perhaps 2010 will offer a measured rebound, and Popkomm is already planning their 2010 comeback.  2010 starts with two big ones: CES and Midem… stay tuned.

Winner: The Frugal Executive; The Lean Startup…

Perhaps conferences are suffering for the right reasons.  Cross-Atlantic trips and heavyweight expense accounts are suddenly out, replaced by an urgent sense of fiscal discipline.  Startup financing also cooled considerably this year, shifting the advantage to more tightly-run, lean operations.  Meanwhile, debates continue over the ability of major labels to ‘get small,’ especially given a legacy of multi-platinum albums and multi-million dollar salaries.

Winner: The Twittering Artist…

This is the year superstar Twitter followings crossed the million-mark, and artists intensified their connections with fans.  But Twitter is an intimate platform, and some artists – including Miley Cyrus and Chris Brown – ditched their accounts.

Loser: The Live Performance Sector…

Perhaps the product of a broader economic dip, though live performance revenues came under serious fire this year.  Live Nation feverishly attempted to stoke concertgoers with deals, and DIY artists suddenly faced a softer market for gigs.

Loser: The Gaming Industry…

Gaming sales also dipped this year, despite the continued expansion of music-related titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.  But even against that soft backdrop, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 smashed sales records – across all forms of media.

Loser: The RIAA…

The trade group ditched its unsuccessful litigation campaign against file-swappers, but failed to structure serious enforcement deals with ISPs.  Meanwhile, sister groups in Europe made serious progress on three-strikes, ISP deals, and anti-piracy legislation.

Loser: The Traditional Trade Magazine…

This was the year that Nielsen sold Billboard and a portfolio of other traditional trade magazines.  The sector continues to shrink, though the story goes beyond explanations like print-based advertising revenues and more antiquated publication schedules.  Those are critical factors, though in 2009, the world continued to shift towards ‘now, now, now’ immediacy, and away from more structured consumption of information and media.

Winner: Digital Music News…

…and you won’t believe what we have in store for 2010.  See you then!