I don’t watch a lot of music videos on YouTube. But I know that a lot of people do. So the dispute between the UK Performing Rights Society and YouTube is an interesting one.

In short, YouTube are blocking premium music videos in the UK, because the PRS is demanding a hefty increase in royalty payments. In other words, PRS have scored what must be the ultimate music revenue own goal.

By taking an aggressive stance and trying to squeeze everything they can out of an online service in the interests of its rights-holding members, they’ve managed to trigger a response that means that songwriters will get nothing from this important source because nobody here can watch their clips.

It’s really about data
And now, of course, they’re in a far weaker position than they were to start with. Which is a real shame. YouTube has the ability to track and promote individual plays and provide a potentially important stream of revenues via the PRS to smaller members. Rather than aggregated or sampled data – a service like YouTube can offer specific stats on every single play.

It’s all very well that both sides are asking for access to the other’s data (and if both parties were sensible they’d share that stuff). The important thing for musicians is what is done with that data in the interests of revenue splits. The important thing for their record labels is the sheer value of that detail of direct market research.

And I think that’s the lesson that PRS need to learn. In order to assure their ongoing relevance and even stake a claim on an increasingly important role for musicians, they’re going to have to learn how to accurately distribute the moneys received to all of their members based on specific and minute play data. Moreover, they’re going to have to demand the same sort of data specificity from every source – and find a meaningful and accessible way to present that data to their members.

Radio has the technical capacity to give full and complete playlist data to PRS, 24/7 all year round. But they don’t. And so payment information is extrapolated based on sampling and estimates. And so the most famous people get the most money – and most smaller members tend to fall through the cracks.

And it’s a tricky ladder to get on too. Three proven airplays’ll do it.

This is the perfect opportunity to rejig the system and seek as close to 100% accuracy for public performances as is possible. Near enough is no longer good enough.