Mobile music making waves in Africa

Music is not as bandwidth-heavy as video so there have been a significant number of online mobile music platforms launched in the last 12 months. Russell Southwood looks at the contenders in the field and how they might make out.

The largest of the current online platforms (both on mobile and PC) is iROKING (which is part of iROKO Partners) that also runs a Nollywood film platform in parallel. It received investment from US private equity fund Tiger Global and has been expanding its reach and recently opened a South African office.

To date, iROKING free music online platform has 35,000 tracks in its catalogue dating from 1963 to the present day and 75,000 registered users in total. It also manages over 70 artist’s Youtube pages with more than 100 million views in the past 12 months. Its deal structure is 60/40 in favour of rights owners, the complete reverse of what the mobile companies are currently offering.

Its CEO Michael Ugwu is looking to grow that number to 1 million by the end of this year and to reach 10 million in five years time. Of that number, 70% would be outside Africa. It already has around 1 million uniques for its free Nollywood service iROKOtv.

It monetises and protects artists’ content for among others: P-Square, 2face, Bracket, Flavour, Omawumi, Timaya, Duncan Mighty, Lynxxx. The company has significantly reduced piracy of Nigerian music content to near zero.. iROKING also audio ID’s digitally fingerprint sound recordings on Youtube to ensure rights are protected and also publishes Nigerian music content to the iTUNES/ Amazon stores for diaspora consumption (paid downloads etc).

iROKING is present globally servicing the local (Africa) and Diaspora markets (Europe, US, Canada etc). The company has also launched mobile applications for its music solution on the iOS, Android, Windows and Symbian (Nokia) mobile handsets. The application allows access to thousand of the latest Nigerian tracks and stream songs over Wifi or 3G. The iROKING Mobile Application features include: Favourite selected songs; Create playlists and share them via Twitter or Facebook; Integrated ‘offline’ functionality where you can listen to your favourite tunes offline.

Ugwe sees the rise of smart and feature phones as a positive development and welcomes the introduction of LTE but is cautious about the immediate impact of either of these factors.

“As most people will access the internet for the first time on the mobile phones the advent of LTE is welcomed. My question will be around affordability. For now our (iROKING/iROKOtv) Africa strategy is still heavily focused on delivering content to as wide a market as possible taking into the consideration device limitations and network limitations (m.rioking.com/m.irokotv.com). Most devices are still feature based and therefore rich content consumption will still be limited until smartphones (led by android) penetrate deeper into the space. I have high hopes for LTE but its success will be based on economics”.

Nigeria’s Spinlet is a mobile music management and storage service launched at Midem in January 2012. It claims to have just under 500,000 subscribers and to be growing at 2-3% a day. Mark Redguard, Spinlet’s CMO told us that:”We’ve partnered with Tecno to pre-install the Spinlet application on their handsets. There has been an very good response from consumers who buy the affordable Tecno N3 smartphone, and find they have access to Spinlet. The partnership with Samsung continues with pre-installation of the Spinlet on the Galaxy Pocket”.

It has also partnered with Etisalat in Nigeria to provide an Estisalat Spinlet Music plan – where consumers can purchase daily, weekly or monthly data plans to access the Spinlet library of music. The partnership will provide Etisalat subscribers access to our music vault, with millions of local and international songs.

Spinlet is also anxious to get continental presence and to that end has opened an office in Cape Town, South Africa and hired 15+ developers.

Africori’s main business model is to offer B2B services to African music platforms but it has created its own “laboratory” service by running its own platform Tavoom Music. Its approach is not about offering in-depth catalogues but seeking to curate “the best in African contemporary music…using the wisdom and knowledge of some of the most talented musicians, DJs and tastemakers in the industry.” Therefore it has a weekly changing range of tracks.

It is aimed at both Africans on the continent and in the diaspora but says that it will appeal to anyone interested in African music. One of its innovations is a simple one: it has a free Song of the Day which can be downloaded at no charge, whereas the other tracks are on a pay-for basis. The other innovation is that its Music Store is available on the feature-phone platform biNu which has 4.8 million users globally, 1.5 million of which are in Africa.

Another contender is Kenya’s Mdundo which its CEO Gustav Ericcson describes as “iTunes for Africa”. It has hundreds of tracks and one of the musicians closely involved in its founding (at mobile accelerator 88mph) is Frasha from P Unit. Sales are currently being driven by the popularity of Kenya’s Octopizzo.

It can be accessed by any phone that can get a mobile or Wi-Fi data connection and it is launching an app soon for one of the better known mobile platforms and has Android on its road map. Its innovation is to offer pre-paid scratch cards to allow users to by the music. These can also be used by musicians who can put them together with concerts tickets or sell them and keep the revenue.

Last but not least is Waabeh.com which is run by Kenyan studio owner Tim Rimbui. Waabeh means awesome or cool in street slang. Launched at the beginning of 2013, it has started with a partnership between Intel and Safaricom for the former’s Yolo phone. It garnered 2,000 streams in just two months. It aims to become more widely available on the web and through an Android based app.

It currently has 70 artists with over 1,000 tracks. Its innovation is that it offers not just music but audio content for things like books, education and lifestyle content.

There’s bound to be more platforms along shortly so watch this space for further news.

By Balancing-Act

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Mobile music making waves in Africa