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[TECH NEWS] Spotify introduces a free and direct uploading service for indie artists

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As of today, Spotify is allowing a select group of independent artists to upload their music to the massive streaming service directly.

Using the platform’s new Spotify for Artists feature, the beta program plans to invite “a few hundred U.S.-based independent artists” to test out the new tool over the coming months.

In a conversation with Billboard, Spotify’s senior product lead, creator marketplace Kene Anoliefo told the publication that they hope to “open up a really interesting creative space for artists to begin sharing their music to their fans.” Anoliefo explains that the “easy, flexible and transparent” tool will have “no limit or constraint on how often they can upload.”

The free service, which allows indie artists to circumvent digital distributors and receive 100 per cent of their royalties directly from Spotify, provides users with 50 per cent of Spotify’s net revenue and takes no ownership over their copyrighted material. The tool will also help Spotify for Artist members track their historical payments, direct bank deposits and projections for future payments.

The move has caught both music labels and third-party digital music aggregators off-guard. Many major labels are scrambling to find ways to fight back, but Spotify remains steadfast in their commitment to rolling out this new feature and insistent that they have no interest in becoming a label.

“Licensing content doesn’t make us a label,” said Spotify CEO Daniel EK during an earnings call back in July. “We don’t own any rights to any music, and we’re not acting like a record label … The key ­objective that we’re ­pursuing is ­taking the data and insights that we’re generating on our ­platform, and creating tools that allow ­artists and labels to better market ­themselves in the marketplace. I think this is a huge opportunity for all labels to become more effective.”

In a conversation with Billboard, Spotify’s senior product lead, creator marketplace Kene Anoliefo told the publication that they hope to “open up a really interesting creative space for artists to begin sharing their music to their fans.” Anoliefo explains that the “easy, flexible and transparent” tool will have “no limit or constraint on how often they can upload.”

The free service, which allows indie artists to circumvent digital distributors and receive 100 per cent of their royalties directly from Spotify, provides users with 50 per cent of Spotify’s net revenue and takes no ownership over their copyrighted material. The tool will also help Spotify for Artist members track their historical payments, direct bank deposits and projections for future payments.

The move has caught both music labels and third-party digital music aggregators off-guard. Many major labels are scrambling to find ways to fight back, but Spotify remains steadfast in their commitment to rolling out this new feature and insistent that they have no interest in becoming a label.

“Licensing content doesn’t make us a label,” said Spotify CEO Daniel EK during an earnings call back in July. “We don’t own any rights to any music, and we’re not acting like a record label … The key ­objective that we’re ­pursuing is ­taking the data and insights that we’re generating on our ­platform, and creating tools that allow ­artists and labels to better market ­themselves in the marketplace. I think this is a huge opportunity for all labels to become more effective.”

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{TECH} Apple Music is Rolling out Top 100 Charts in New Update

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With the streaming wars only getting more heated and intense, Apple Music is gaining a lot of ground in the U.S. compared to Spotify (they now boast 50 million subscribers). After years of pushing the service forward, they are now about to implement charts based on the data from the app.

We’re sure Apple will be explaining this at the September 12 event, but in a new update today, users will be seeing 116 “Top 100” numeric charts that will display the most up-to-date streamed songs on Apple Music.

A global chart and Top 100 chart will show up for every country under the “Browse” tab, similar to what you already see through the playlists and albums.

It’ll be interesting to see how these new charts are incorporated into the industry or how much influence they will have for listeners in the long run. But with the power Apple have, we’re certain they will have a great impact for years to come.

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[VIDEO GAMES] NBA 2K19 20th Anniversary Edition: “NBA 2K Is Back & Still Just As Great As We Remember”

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It’s the time of year basketball fans love. NBA 2K19 is here – are you ready? Trust me you know I am. The best basketball franchise out right now looks to pull out all the stops as it gets ready for its biggest release to date.

From LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the cover athletes to the disputed player ratings from the players themselves let’s get into why you need this title because NBA 2K is about to be lit AF.

The anniversary edition with LeBron as the cover athlete gives you a leg up on the rest of the competition. First, you’ll get the game 4 days earlier, but it will cost you a pretty penny marked at $99.99. For those who go straight to the pick up games, this will benefit you greatly because you’ll have the extra 100K virtual currency to start off, along with 50K MyTeam points just to name a few. So, if you put up the money right away, your player and MyCourt will be fresh right off the break. Definitely worth it to give yourself the best chance to get to the 90+ rating.

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[VIDEO GAMES] Red Dead Redemption 2

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Red Dead Redemption 2 is just under five months away, and we still know very little about the game. That’s no surprise, considering that publisher Rockstar Games prefers to play things close to the vest. The company announced all the exclusive content that it’s packing into the game’s two special editions and offering as pre-order incentives, and the long list provides some clues as to how Red Dead Redemption 2 works. In particular, some of the items suggest that the game will feature deeper role-playing mechanics than we’ve seen in the series to this point.

Before we begin, let’s just get this out of the way: This is all pretty much speculation at this point, although we’ve tried to make educated guesses. None, some or all of the following may turn out to be true when Red Dead Redemption 2 launches on Oct. 26.

Red Dead RPG

In Red Dead Redemption 2, players will step into the boots of Arthur Morgan. The outlaw serves as an enforcer and debt collector for Dutch’s Gang, a group of bank robbers led by the eponymous Dutch van der Linde at the tail end of the 19th century.

The original Red Dead Redemption featured another member of the gang, John Marston. As Marston, players completed missions and open-world activities to progress through the story, earning money that they could spend on weapons, horses, consumable items and more. Consumables included medicine, which would restore Marston’s health; apples, which replenished the stamina of Marston’s horse; and chewing tobacco, which would refill his Dead Eye gauge.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur Morgan hanging ducks on a fence

Red Dead Redemption didn’t really offer traditional RPG mechanics, like a tree of skills to learn or attributes to upgrade, although the player did unlock levels of Dead Eye upon completing certain landmark missions. It sounds like Red Dead Redemption 2 may expand on this system, with the developers at Rockstar Studios taking a page out of franchises like The Witcher to deliver a system akin to the one in 2018’s God of War.

The Special Edition of Red Dead Redemption 2 comes with items such as a “Core Stat boost,” which “benefits Arthur’s Stamina, Health and Dead Eye Cores,” according to Rockstar’s description. Perhaps those three elements are “core stats” for the character that players can upgrade through play, rather than just meters to refill. And if they’re core stats, then maybe there’s a system of skills or secondary stats to go along with them.

To wit, the Special Edition also includes two “gameplay bonuses,” the Eagle Talon Talisman and the Iguana Scale. Morgan carries the latter item in his satchel, where it allows him to “take less damage while riding on horseback.” The former is a charm that players can put on Morgan’s boots so that his “environmental awareness skill will last longer.” (Maybe that skill takes the form of a visual assist, like Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed or Geralt’s Witcher Senses?) Either way, the boot and satchel suggest that Red Dead Redemption 2 will feature a gear system in which players can equip certain items to receive gameplay benefits.

Speaking of gear, Rockstar’s descriptions of Morgan’s costumes break things down by components. For instance, the Special Edition comes with the Nuevo Paraíso Gunslinger Outfit, which consists of “a wide brimmed black cowboy hat, deep indigo coat, worn denim chaps, leather gloves and boots.”

Red Dead Redemption - John Marston in ‘Savvy Merchant’ outfit
Marston sporting the Savvy Merchant outfit, which gives him a half-price discount on all purchases from gunsmiths.
Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar Games

Outfits may work the way they did in the previous game, as a complete set of attire. But perhaps Red Dead Redemption 2 players will be able to swap out individual accessories and articles of clothing, like hats, shirts, pants and boots — of course, there’s precedent for that in the Grand Theft Auto series. And maybe each piece of an outfit will have an equipment slot of its own, like the way that armor in God of War features sockets for enchantments.

Then again, it may very well be the case that Rockstar is merely providing a detailed description of the outfits, and only Morgan’s boots will have a slot for talismans. It’s worth noting that in the original Red Dead Redemption, a number of costumes provided gameplay benefits: For instance, when Marston wore the Deadly Assassin Outfit, his Dead Eye meter regenerated at twice the normal rate.

We also know from initial preview coverage that Red Dead Redemption 2 will involve some level of management for the Van der Linde Gang’s working camp, which is another new mechanic for the Red Dead series. As Morgan, the player will need to delegate upkeep responsibilities across the group — and help out themselves, by gathering resources and hunting game — to ensure that the camp has enough food and supplies to keep running.

The locations of Red Dead Redemption 2

The descriptions for the contents of Red Dead Redemption 2’s various editions also offer some hints at the places that players may visit in the game’s world. That’s especially true if we compare the latest information with one of the earliest Red Dead Redemption 2 leaks: an off-screen photo of what was supposedly the game’s world map. The more we learn about the game, the more it seems that the leaked map is real.

The map, which was leaked on NeoGAF in April 2016 and quickly corroborated by TechRadar, featured a location with a strangely coincidental name: a town called New Bordeaux, in the bayou by the Lannahechee River. The New Orleans-inspired setting for 2016’s Mafia 3 — an open-world title published by 2K Games, which shares a parent company with Rockstar — was also called New Bordeaux.

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The purported Red Dead Redemption 2 world map that was leaked online in 2016.
TechRadar

Rockstar is producing a package of physical goods for the game, the Red Dead Redemption 2 Collector’s Box. One of the items in it is a 100-piece wooden jigsaw puzzle that, when assembled, features an image of “the bustling port of Saint Denis,” according to Rockstar.

New Bordeaux appears to fit the bill — the city and its environs take up what is by far the largest neon green area on the map, where that color indicates a “town.” Putting two and two together, it seems that New Bordeaux was a placeholder title, and that Rockstar has since renamed the town Saint Denis.

A Redditor by the name of IntegraleEvoII took the helpful step of manipulating the image of the puzzle that Rockstar released. In the puzzle’s aerial shot of the urban metropolis, it looks to have the same rounded shape that can be seen in the leaked map. If the jigsaw puzzle is an accurate representation of Saint Denis as it appears in Red Dead Redemption 2, and the leaked world map is true to the game world, the “town” would easily be the biggest, most developed corner of civilization in the game or its predecessor.

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It appears to say “Lemoyne” beneath the name Saint Denis. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville is credited as the founder of New Orleans.
Rockstar Games via IntegraleEvoII/Reddit

There’s another description that appears to confirm something from the leaked map. Both the Special and Ultimate editions come with an exclusive bank robbery mission, in which Arthur and his cohorts plan a heist in “the southern town of Rhodes.” (Don’t feel like you’ll be missing out on anything major if you don’t pay extra for one of these packages: Rockstar says that neither the mission nor the exclusive Del Lobos Gang hideout are part of Red Dead Redemption 2’s story.)

Look due west of New Bordeaux on the leaked map, and you’ll see the town of Rhodes in the center of the Scarlett Meadows district — which indeed lies in the southern portion of the world map, about halfway between the Bayou NWA district and Flatiron Lake.

Rockstar’s item descriptions also point to the possible return of a location from Red Dead Redemption: Mexico. That game featured a northern province of the country named Nuevo Paraíso (“New Paradise”). In addition to the aforementioned Gunslinger Outfit, there’s an accessory that’s named for Mexico: the Nuevo Paraíso Saddle, which is attached to the horse known as the Dappled Black Thoroughbred.

Since multiple items in Red Dead Redemption 2 mention Nuevo Paraíso, it seems reasonable to expect that the game will bring you there at some point — even if a major segment of the story isn’t set there this time around. Nuevo Paraíso doesn’t appear on the border of the playable U.S. region on the leaked map; instead, there is an inset map that appears to show a Mexican island or perhaps peninsula, with Spanish place names including El Hueco and Cinco Torres.

But hey, who knows? The possibilities are as wide open as the American frontier.

 

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[TECH NEWS] Instagram plans to launch Snapchat Discover-style video hub

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Instagram is preparing to unveil a home for longer-form video — a YouTube competitor and its take on Snapchat Discover. According to multiple sources, Instagram will offer a dedicated space featuring scripted shows, music videos and more in vertically oriented, full-screen, high-def 4K resolution. Instagram has been meeting with popular social media stars and content publishers to find out how their video channels elsewhere would work within its app. It’s also lining up launch partners for an announcement of the long-form video effort tentatively scheduled for June 20th.

The public shouldn’t expect Netflix Originals or HBO-level quality. This is not “InstaGame of Thrones.”  Instead, the feature is more focused on the kind of videos you see from YouTube creators. These often range from five to 15 minutes in length, shot with nice cameras and lighting but not some massive Hollywood movie production crew. Average users will be able to upload longer videos too, beyond the current 60-second limit.

Instagram intends to eventually let creators and publishers earn money off the longer videos, though it hasn’t finalized how accompanying ads like pre-rolls and mid-breaks or revenue splits would work. It is not paying creators up-front for shows like Facebook Watch, either. But the videos will each feature a swipe-up option to open a link, which creators can use to drive traffic to their websites, e-commerce stores or event ticketing. Thanks to Instagram’s 800 million-plus users, the video section could be a powerful marketing tool beyond generating cash for creators directly.

The long-form video section will spotlight a collection of popular videos, and provide a “continue watching” option since users might view long clips over the course of several sessions. Users will also see the long-form clips featured on authors’ profiles near the Stories Highlights bubbles. Creators won’t be able to shoot and post long-form videos, as the section will only allow pre-made video uploads.

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[Tech news] Google spending $2.5 billion to expand operations across the US

Google Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai attends a session of the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen

Just over two years ago, Google announced it would convert a 1,300-acre former Hemlock Semiconductor facility in Clarksville, Tennessee into a new $600 million data center. Today, the search giant broke ground on the site — and Google CEO Sundar Pichai used the opportunity to announce the company will invest $2.5 billion to oIn addition to the upcoming Clarksville facility, part of the $2.5 billion will go to opening or expanding data centers in Alabama, Oregon, Virginia and Oklahoma. The company will create or add to offices in nine other states: California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. The expansion plan will add thousands of jobs and bring Google’s operations to a total of 21 states and six data centers.
Google planned the Clarksville site to be a model of efficiency, and purchased enough renewable energy to offset 100 percent of its electricity use, in keeping with the company’s aspirations. Today, Pichai added that the company is donating $300,000 in grant money to Goodwill of Middle Tennessee to add digital skills training to its workforce-development program.pen new facilities or expand existing ones in 14 states.

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[TECH] APPLE UPDATES WILL IT FIX THE BATTERY?

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Apple has just revealed all of the major new changes that will arrive with the upcoming iOS 11.3 update. This will be a crucial patch, as it will give users the option to disable the battery management features that can decrease performance in iPhones with older batteries.

A slew of other important functionalities will also be included in the update, here’s a list of all the changes mentioned in Apple’s press release:

1. New features will display battery health and recommend if the power cell needs service. These can be accessed by going to Settings -> Battery and are available for iPhone 6 and later models.
2. Users will have a toggle for enabling/disabling the power management feature that can affect maximum performance on iPhones. The feature can be located in the Battery subsection of the Settings menu. Power management is currently present on members of the iPhone 6, 6S, SE, and 7-gen devices.
3. ARKit 1.5 will be introduced to developers. ARKit will be able to place virtual objects on walls, doors, and other vertical surfaces. Additionally, it will be able to map irregularly shaped surfaces in a more accurate manner. The view of the real world through the camera will get 50% greater resolution and support for auto-focus will be added.
4. A new Health Records feature will be added to Health app. It will bring together info from hospitals, clinics, and the app itself to organize and provide quick an organized access to the medical data. The service will be encrypted and passcode-protected.
5. 16 new Animoji characters will be added, including a lion, bear, dragon, and skull.
6. Music videos are coming to Apple Music.
7. Apple News will get improved Top Stories and Video group feature in “For You” section
8. Business Chat feature will be added as a beta to Messages. It will allow users to communicate with businesses more easily.
9. Support for Advanced Mobile Location (AML) to automatically send a user’s current location when making a call to emergency services in countries where AML is supported.
10. HomeKit software authentication allows developers to add HomeKit support to existing accessories.
Cupertino has already made iOS 11.3 available to iOS Developer Program members and will release a public beta in the coming weeks. The company says that the update will be available “this spring”. Here’s a list of all the changes mentioned in Apple’s press release:
Source: phonearea
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[TV] Spike Lee Joint, ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ Renewed For Season 2!

Film director Spike Lee and actress DeWanda Wise confirmed [via-Instagram] on Monday that the Netflix series adaptation of the 1986 indie film, She’s Gotta Have it, has been renewed for another season. Happy New Year, [Nola] Darling!

Season 1 aired on Netflix in the fall of 2017 with a millennial spin on the 80’s classic. Which received great reviews both praising and comparing the series to the original film. Nola Darling explores her truth as a black woman while sparing no expense during her journey through life, sex, and art in the 21st century. Season 1 even has a cameo from the original Nola Darling, actress Tracy Camilla Johns, in a scene where Wise is metaphorically passed the baton from her predecessor. Lee admits that the Netflix series was a vision of the film director’s wife Tonya Lewis Lee who, Lee says, deserves credit for her idea to take the film and make it into a series. He praises her in a magazine interview. Isn’t he a great!

 

Stay tuned for what’s next for the Netflix series.

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[VIDEO GAMES] Assassin’s Creed Origins

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Assassin’s Creed Origins is an action-adventure video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It is the tenth major installment in the Assassin’s Creed series and the successor to 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. It was released worldwide for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on October 27, 2017.

The game is set in Ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic period and recounts the secret fictional history of real-world events. The story explores the origins of the centuries-long conflict between the Brotherhood of Assassins, who fight for peace by promoting liberty and The Order of the Ancients—forerunners to the Templar Order—who desire peace through the forceful imposition of order. Origins received positive reviews from critics, who praised the story, voice acting, immersive world of Egypt and visuals, while criticizing some of the pacing and technical issues. Despite this, some critics called it the best installment of the series since 2013’s Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed Origins is an action-adventure stealth game played from a third-person perspective. Players complete quests—linear scenarios with set objectives—to progress through the story, earn experience points, and acquire new skills. Outside of quests, players can freely roam the open world environment on foot, horseback, camel-back or boat to explore locations, complete optional side-quests and unlock weapons and equipment.

The “eagle vision” mode, which was used by the franchise to give players the ability to scout an area by highlighting enemies and objects, has been replaced by a Bonelli’s eagle named Senu as a companion.Players are able to take control of Senu and scout an area in advance, highlighting enemies which will then be visible when they return to controlling Bayek, the game’s main character. Players can also tame various predators which will serve as a companion for the players and assist them against enemies. Naval combat, underwater exploration and tomb raiding return to the series. However, unlike previous games in the series, Origins Does not include many tall structures for climbing to unlock areas of the map.

The game also features revised combat mechanics. Previous titles in the Assassin’s Creed series used a “paired animation system” whereby the player character would engage with an enemy and combat would be dictated by a series of predeterminted animations based on player inputs and scripted AI movements. Assassin’s Creed Origins will move to a “hit-box system”. When the player wields a weapon, they will strike at whatever is in range, allowing them to hit enemies directly, injure individual body parts, and creating the possibility of missing an enemy entirely. Complementing this is the way weapons fall into different categories and are rated on their damage dealt, speed and range. Enemies will be drawn from several basic archetypes that use a variety of tactics in combat which, combined with the hit-box system, will require players to learn the attributes of individual weapons and tailor their playing style to succeed in combat. As enemy combat is also dictated by the hit-box system, the player will be equipped with a shield and will need to balance their offensive and defensive capabilities. Locations within the game world will be designed to enable players to choose their playing style by offering stealth and open combat as equally-viable choices for completing objectives.

Origins introduces an arena-based combat system where the player fights waves of increasingly-difficult combinations of enemies culminating in a boss fight. While the introduction to the arena is incorporated into the main story, the arena mode stands alone from the wider narrative. The game world features several arenas, with a variety of enemy combinations and unique bosses not found in the game world. Players will be able to unlock additional weapons and equipment by completing arena fights.

A future update to the game will add “Discovery Tour”, a sandbox mode allowing players to freely explore the open world with no objectives or combat, and embark on guided tours that highlight aspects of Egyptian history

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[TECH NEWS] Spotify could be valued at $20 billion when it goes public

Headphones are seen in front of a logo of online music streaming service Spotify in this illustration picture
Spotify could eventually hit $100 billion: GP Bullhound

Spotify could eventually hit $100 billion: GP Bullhound  

Spotify could be valued at $20 billion when it goes public and eventually be worth $100 billion, according to one investment bank.

GP Bullhound, which is an investor in Spotify, laid out a thesis on Monday that could see Spotify’s valuation rise to $55 billion by 2020, before reaching the $100 billion mark, which would make it one of the most valuable stocks in the world.

A number of reasons could be behind the valuation from faster-than-expected subscriber growth to increased penetration in the emerging markets and better deals with music labels, GP Bullhound said in a report.

100 million subscribers

Spotify announced in July that it had hit 60 million paying users. GP Bullhound sees this hitting 100 million by mid-2018, quicker than it had originally thought. And by 2020, the user base could hit 500 million, with 200 million users being premium subscribers.

This will be achieved by penetrating new markets, but along with that will come fewer paying subscribers as a percentage of total users, and perhaps lower average revenue per customer, due to a dilution effect of cheaper subscription plans.

“Spotify have introduced family plans and student discounts and if we factor in that emerging markets have a much lower average revenue per premium subscriber we believe that Spotify will see a steady decline in revenue per premium subscriber moving towards 2020 compared to today’s value,” GP Bullhound said in its report.

“This is the reason why we have decreased our estimated average revenue per premium subscriber to $80 — compared to $88 in 2015 and $89 in 2016.”

But the investment bank said that advertising could lead to a higher revenue per non-premium subscriber than previously anticipated.

Profitability on the horizon?

Even though Spotify is set to grow quickly, it is likely to continue recording an operating loss which could “distract investors from the true value that is being created,” GP Bullhound said.

But the music streaming service’s return on investment should improve. Currently for every dollar it invests in a premium subscriber, it gets $3 back. The return could increase to $5 by 2020 as revenue per user stabilizes, churn decreases, and gross margin improves.

Gross margins will improve as Spotify strikes better deals with music labels thanks to its rising user base.

$100 billion valuation ahead?

GP Bullhound’s forecast of a valuation for Spotify of $20 billion after its initial public offering (IPO), is based on it having 70 million premium subscribers and 100 million non-premium users. Given that this will likely be reached in the next few months, the investment bank said its valuation thesis is “conservative”.

Eventually, the Swedish company could hit a $100 billion valuation.

“Given that Spotify’s growth continues and that emerging market growth keeps average revenue per premium subscriber relatively in shape we envision that Spotify has a long term potential of being valued at $100 billion,” GP Bullhound said.

It’s important to note that Spotify is not going to carry out a traditional IPO. Sources told CNBC earlier this year that Spotify is going to go public in a so-called direct listing.

During an IPO, the company offers investors shares before it goes public, which allows underwriters to set an initial share price. A direct listing only allows investors to buy shares through the open market, and no price is predetermined.

Apple threat?

GP Bullhound said it does not expect to see Apple outgrow Spotify anytime soon. The investment bank said that Spotify’s already large user base and simpler user interface when using the app, is better than rivals’.

But Spotify does face risks. If the industry moves towards more voice-dominated inputs like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, this could be a disadvantage. Spotify does not have its own voice assistant and it should see Apple’s HomePod smart speaker as a “threat”, GP Bullhound said.

To get around this, Spotify could partner with speaker hardware makers. But this could get expensive.

“Both points mentioned above could in turn require significant investment in both capital and time,” GP Bullhound concluded.

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