Apple, U2, and a Painful End to a New Product Presentation

Apple yesterday announced a new iPhone, and a wearable, the Apple Watch. The presentation was fraught with difficulty, at least for those not attending live. The live video stream was a massive failure – apparently because of some errors in Javascript on the Apple web page hosting the stream.

And the end of the event was a bit embarrassing. U2 gave a strained performance of a new song, and, following that, the banter between Bono and Tim Cook was uncomfortable at best. This ended with a poorly-scripted exchanged between the two about giving away the band’s new album for free. Which, in effect, Apple has done: giving it to every one of the iTunes Store’s 500 million customers. And it’s not just free if you want to download it; Apple added it to customers’ music libraries, or purchased music lists, so even if you don’t want it, you have it now.

There was a severe disconnect between the smooth, subtle presentation of the Apple Watch and the clunky performance of a new U2 song that sounds like so many others. And compared to the scripted-to-the-second presentation that Apple gave of its new products, the improvised banter at the end came as a surprise.

Cult of Mac was very harsh, saying that this performance was a swan song for iTunes, pointing out that no one buys music any more, yadda yadda. I disagree with that, but I do feel that U2 is on the other side of the generation gap that Apple is targeting with its new products. They could have chosen a band with a bit more cred with the younger generations.

The Wall Street Journal gives some background on the deal behind this free album. Pointing out how the band’s sales figures have been dropping – they sold 4 million the 2000 All That You Can Leave Behind, 3.3 million copies of their How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and only 1.1 million units of the 2009 release, No Line on the Horizon. It’s almost as if U2 would be embarrassed by the sales figures they’d realize with a new album, so making a deal around a free release has no downside for them.

The Wall Street Journal says:

“As part of the deal forged by the band, manager Guy Oseary (hired by U2 last year to replace longtime manager Paul McGuinness) and Universal, Apple also made plans to use the first single from the album, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” as a central element of a global, 30-day television advertising campaign for its new iPhones and Apple Watch. The campaign is believed to be worth around $100 million, according to a person familiar with the talks.”

That’s a lot of money. A lot more than they’d make from, say, fewer than a million copies of their new album. It’s telling that Bono told Cook that they had made a few albums since their last release in 2009, but “we just haven’t released them.” Maybe they were waiting for an opportunity like this, to make more money than they could possibly make by turning the entire album into an advertisement.

14 thoughts on “Apple, U2, and a Painful End to a New Product Presentation

  1. My initial impression on the album is positive, but that on-stage banter was awful! I knew U2 and their label were still getting paid, but that was twice my estimate.

  2. My initial impression on the album is positive, but that on-stage banter was awful! I knew U2 and their label were still getting paid, but that was twice my estimate.

  3. Don’t count on U2 getting paid nearly that much. At this point U2 needs the cachet of Apple (to help drive ticket sales, which is where all the money is made these days) more than apple needed U2 back in the U2_Special_Edition_iPod days. CultOfMac is right in that the facts show a cratering of music sales (thanks to the companies’ greed in supporting streaming to break up Apple’s monopoly in sales!), and new ways of marketing are needed to drive attention and ticket sales.

    The key here was really Jimmy Iovine, and his personal connections both with U2 and his former company Universal. Dealmaker. This is a large part of why Apple bought Beats, to get Jimmy.

    Those U2 songs are really not their best, and they know it; they haven’t had a bona fide hit in many years. This is a real symbiotic relationship though, where Apple burnishes U2’s reputation with a record-breaking album release, and U2 gives Apple rock cachet, much like Beats has rap and sports cachet.

  4. Don’t count on U2 getting paid nearly that much. At this point U2 needs the cachet of Apple (to help drive ticket sales, which is where all the money is made these days) more than apple needed U2 back in the U2_Special_Edition_iPod days. CultOfMac is right in that the facts show a cratering of music sales (thanks to the companies’ greed in supporting streaming to break up Apple’s monopoly in sales!), and new ways of marketing are needed to drive attention and ticket sales.

    The key here was really Jimmy Iovine, and his personal connections both with U2 and his former company Universal. Dealmaker. This is a large part of why Apple bought Beats, to get Jimmy.

    Those U2 songs are really not their best, and they know it; they haven’t had a bona fide hit in many years. This is a real symbiotic relationship though, where Apple burnishes U2’s reputation with a record-breaking album release, and U2 gives Apple rock cachet, much like Beats has rap and sports cachet.

  5. I’d download the album if I could figure out how! Yes, it shows as “purchased” in the store, but, it is not in my library and iTunes claims my downloads are up to date.

    Also, I disagree with the comment that “no one downloads music anymore”. I do! I don’t want to fool with streaming. I download and I rip CDs. I’m beginning to look at higher quality downloads. I’ve yet to see the quality, availability, and control I want with streaming.

  6. I’d download the album if I could figure out how! Yes, it shows as “purchased” in the store, but, it is not in my library and iTunes claims my downloads are up to date.

    Also, I disagree with the comment that “no one downloads music anymore”. I do! I don’t want to fool with streaming. I download and I rip CDs. I’m beginning to look at higher quality downloads. I’ve yet to see the quality, availability, and control I want with streaming.

  7. A lot of the commentary on this promotion basically boils down to “I don’t like U2 much, therefore this was pointless.” It’s probably true that associating with U2 doesn’t do much for Apple’s cred with tweens, but I don’t think their musical choices have ever really revolved around that. They just ask artists they like to perform. What’s in it for Apple to host the iTunes Music Festival, for that matter? Does that really sell any iPhones or iPads?

    Apple combined with a band to give everybody an album for free. But we still find a way to gripe about it. This is beyond a first-world problem. It’s a Martian problem.

    • I’ve been a U2 fan for ages. I have all their albums (digitally). So, am I now entitled to criticize them and the new album?

      • Kirk I phrased my comment badly, as though you were doing the griping. I’m a U2 fan, but I don’t object to criticizing them (although I don’t think it’s possible to really judge an album you haven’t listened to at least a few times). I was speaking more broadly about the reaction I’ve seen online with people sort of horrified that something would show up for free in their music lists, as though it somehow infects their playlists.

        I mean, I get it if people don’t want the album. And even from a business POV, one could speculate on the old truism that giving something away for free causes people to devalue it. For what it’s worth, I didn’t see their song performance as “clunky” (and I’ve seen clunky U2 performances, including a tour opener in which Bono had to ask Edge and Clayton if they were playing in the same key on “40”).

  8. A lot of the commentary on this promotion basically boils down to “I don’t like U2 much, therefore this was pointless.” It’s probably true that associating with U2 doesn’t do much for Apple’s cred with tweens, but I don’t think their musical choices have ever really revolved around that. They just ask artists they like to perform. What’s in it for Apple to host the iTunes Music Festival, for that matter? Does that really sell any iPhones or iPads?

    Apple combined with a band to give everybody an album for free. But we still find a way to gripe about it. This is beyond a first-world problem. It’s a Martian problem.

    • I’ve been a U2 fan for ages. I have all their albums (digitally). So, am I now entitled to criticize them and the new album?

      • Kirk I phrased my comment badly, as though you were doing the griping. I’m a U2 fan, but I don’t object to criticizing them (although I don’t think it’s possible to really judge an album you haven’t listened to at least a few times). I was speaking more broadly about the reaction I’ve seen online with people sort of horrified that something would show up for free in their music lists, as though it somehow infects their playlists.

        I mean, I get it if people don’t want the album. And even from a business POV, one could speculate on the old truism that giving something away for free causes people to devalue it. For what it’s worth, I didn’t see their song performance as “clunky” (and I’ve seen clunky U2 performances, including a tour opener in which Bono had to ask Edge and Clayton if they were playing in the same key on “40”).

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