“We will not work with platforms that do not value artists. Triller has shamefully withheld payments owed to our artists and refuses to negotiate a license going forward,” a UMG rep said in a statement to Variety. “We have no alternative except to remove our music from Triller, effective immediately.”
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Asked for comment, Triller provided the following statement from CEO Mike Lu: “This has to be a bad ‘Punk’d’ episode. I’m waiting for Ashton to jump out of my closet. Our relationship with UMG is solid. Its biggest artists are investors and partners in Triller and Universal owns part of Triller. We find it hard to believe UMG wouldn’t give us any warning or notice but just tell us via press.”
In 2019, Proxima Media, owned by former movie producer Ryan Kavanaugh, acquired a controlling stake in Triller. Kavanaugh previously headed Relativity Media, the studio that filed for bankruptcy protection twice. A former business partner of Kavanaugh’s alleged Proxima and its related entities were “essentially a Ponzi scheme” in a 2019 legal filing; Kavanaugh filed his own lawsuit accusing the ex-associate of breach of contract, before both parties said they had “satisfactorily resolved all of their issues.”
Triller has previously been criticized for not properly licensing music for its app. While Triller “boasts ‘millions of songs at your fingertips,’” many of those songs have not been properly licensed, National Music Publishers Association president/CEO David Israelite said in a statement to Music Business World last year. “The pattern of tech platforms asking for forgiveness instead of permission to use songwriter’s work must stop. Triller must legitimize its business by properly licensing all music on its platform.”
Under Kavanaugh’s ownership, Triller has embarked on a new enterprise: selling pay-per-view fights. The app hosted a PPV fight featuring boxing champs Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., last September, paying $50 million for the exclusive streaming rights, CNBC reported. Triller subsequently announced the formation of Fight Club, a venture with Snoop Dogg, and has set as its next PPV event a fight between YouTube creator Jake Paul and retired mixed martial arts pro Ben Askren on April 17, 2021.
Last fall, Triller was allegedly exploring an IPO through a deal with a special purpose acquisition corporation (SPAC), after raising $100 million in funding commitments at a $1.25 billion valuation, Reuters reported.
Triller last summer claimed to have 250 million app downloads to date. Analytics firm Apptopia disputed that figure, estimating Triller had only 52 million downloads since launching in 2015; the research firm retracted that after Triller threatened to sue. Meanwhile, Triller reportedly had previously inflated monthly active user claims: In October 2019, it touted 13 million MAUs, whereas the actual number was less than 2.5 million, according to a Business Insider report citing former employees.
Triller also has claimed that “Celebrities like Alicia Keys, Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, Marshmello, Roddy Ricch and Eminem regularly use the app to create their own original music videos” but it isn’t clear whether that’s still the case.
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