Africa: First Shots Fired in the Coming Mobile Content War – Competition Breaks Out Amongst Music Streaming and Download Platforms

By Russell South wood, Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)


London — There are now several online and mobile music TV platforms that have started in Africa. Some like Iroko Partners started with Nollywood film and went into music, whilst others like Spinlet have started with music and could easily go into TV programming. Orange has thrown its hat into the ring with entry of its minority-owned Deezer platform into Africa. Sylvain Beletre, Senior Research Analyst, Balancing Act talks to the key players.

African mobile operators are still stuck in the SMS way of thinking about content: it’s the stuff that the aggregators turn up with at their doorsteps. In the main, they don’t drive developments and they make it hard for others to use their platforms. Procedures are slow and the financial splits are awful.

The future of mobile content in Africa has two big bits: either it will be international brands that secure market share and then localize (Like Facebook and You Tube) or it will be local operators who seek to compete both within and outside the content. Music will be one of the key drivers of the coming mobile content war.

Whatever its successes and failures, Orange is a mobile company that has a lot of commitment to content, through its Pay TV operations and more recently, through its launching of music streaming service, Deezer, which is now coming to Africa.

Over the past few years there have been several online music services in Africa including radio stations streaming. Nigeria’s Spinlet , a mobile music management and storage service launched at Midem in January 2012 and iROKING is a free music Nigerian music streaming service that came out of Iroko Partners (Nollywood Love). Also Google’s initiative to have local servers on the continent for You Tube has put a large number of African countries within reach of free local music videos.

On 12 June 2012, Deezer, a European and international music streaming service aimed at encouraging the growth of legal online music offers announced that it was now joining Africa’s digital music armada in two high potential African countries: Mauritius and Ivory Coast. There are the first countries to launch Deezer’s service in the Middle East and Africa region. It plans to rollout in about ten African countries in total with Orange, which is a minority shareholder. Currently it offers 18 million tracks from 2,000 different music labels so it has content in depth and it has 1.5 million premium users.

As part of its new content strategy, Orange is currently only one of two operators to offer a large scale unlimited music streaming service: Deezer Premium bundled with its broadband internet tariff plans in Mauritius and Ivory Coast. It seems that only Spotify has actually set up a similar agreement with Telenor. Since 2010, Orange and Deezer entered a new phase in the evolution of legal online music offer and are helping to develop them on all available digital media.

Set up in August 2007, Deezer launched the first internet and mobile offers integrating Deezer Premium+ in France in 2010 and then in the UK at the end of 2011. Deezer now has over 23 million users with 6 million unique visitors per month in France only. Each week, Deezer sees its number of subscribers driven from Facebook increase by 20%, excluding France, said Deezer’s CEO.


It has a number of different approaches to the business model. There is:

* Deezer free of charge financed by advertising with 5 hours limited access time;

* Deezer Premium at 4.99 Euros per month with unlimited access and extra benefits; and

* Deezer Premium + at 9.99 Euros/month available to mobile phones and an offline mode (no internet and 3G+ network required) once music is downloaded.

Contributing to the multi-screen and music everywhere revolution, the Deezer Premium+ service is available on all forms of devices whether it is PC, mobile, Wi-Fi walkman, IP channels, IP TV, or tablets.

The advertising-free, premium services also deliver an editing app (Deezer Mix) and helps optimize listening quality.

All three options provide access to web radios and 18 million music tracks from 2,000 different labels, including majors like Sony BMG, Universal Music, Warner Music International and EMI.

Deezer wants to hit 200 countries (but not including the USA and Japan) noting that by January 31, 2012, Canada and Latin America would be added to its roster, with Australasia to follow the month after. Today Deezer is available in 88 territories.

Competition on these online music platforms is intense both at a global and international level. The best know platform is Apple’s iTunes but access to the platform in Africa is limited by the limited number of people with access to an international credit card. Furthermore with the exception of the iPhone, Africa seems to have hardly registered in Apple’s overall emerging markets sales strategy. China seems to have been more attractive.

It competes with global services like ShareTheMusic a free and global MP3 service with 100,000 unique tracks; GrooveShark which offers 15 million tracks to 20 million users globally; Guvera, a new breed of online music download and streaming service and Pandora, Spotify and many more.

By comparison, Swedish Spotify offers 15 million tracks, has 10 million users including 3 million paid subscribers but is available in less than 20 countries, though it does have the USA sewn up – a country Deezer has no immediate intentions of touching. However, Spotify and Pandora are not present in all countries and have little visibility in Africa.

Within the African region, Nigerian music platform Spinlet announced plans to roll out its music app to global users a week ago. It has global distribution rights for 1 million tracks, primarily for African record labels and is clearly eying the diaspora markets already captured for Nollywood movies by Iroko. It is available in 72 countries with a free streaming and pay per download offers for its African music catalogue. 22 of these countries are in Africa where it will start offering international content in December of this year.

Spinlet is supported on the most popular smart phones including Android, BlackBerry and Symbian 3 and is available for free download via the Android Market, Blackberry Store, and Symbian Platform. Within Spinlet, users can remotely store, manage and listen to music from anywhere using their mobile device. Spinlet promotes social sharing with an interface that allows users to create accounts, make playlists and share their favorite titles using social-networking sites, such as Facebook with their friends.

This has given Spinlet the clout to sign digital distribution agreements in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo and other African Countries. Spinlet offers an array of multi-national, award winning music and has signed hundreds of artists and labels to the service. Additionally, any music rights holders can upload their music for sale on the Spinlet platform.

“Spinlet launched with our main goals being to create a revenue stream for artists with a legitimate outlet for sales and to fight the piracy markets by making to model readily available to music lovers including a free streaming service and downloads that are priced at an affordable level” said Eric Idiahi, Spinlet Chairman.

“The presence of online and mobile music services can easily have a negative effect on traditional mediums. At Spinlet we have created a model that supports them by creating strategic partnership agreements with radio and television stations that benefit each medium and most importantly benefit the content rights holder by showcasing their music and increasing awareness and sales of their tracks” added Mark Redguard, Spinlet CMO.

More can be found here

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 You Tube pages with more than 100 million views in the past 12 months. Its deal structure is 60/40 in favor of rights owners, the complete reverse of what the mobile companies are currently offering.

It monetizes 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 thousands of the latest Nigerian tracks and stream songs over Wi-Fi 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 favorite tunes offline.

So what about paid options to listen to music, do you have any (like Deezer premium)?:”Download economics at present do not work locally. iTunes/Amazon for diaspora users is currently the most viable option in terms of downloads. Mobile money is in its infancy. Premium SMS is exploitative. A subscription model is the model of choice however digital subscription culture is not yet tested. Our sister platform iROKOtv is testing this come July 1st 2012. For now we stream content for free. We pay license fees to large artists for exclusive partnerships. The freely available nature of Nigerian music content on sites like 4shared, Hulkshare, etc. stifles any move to charge the online audience. Critical mass audio ads and monthly subscriptions will come online. For now YouTube ad revenue is our primary source of income”.

Apart from these above two solutions, other smaller African music entrants on the web include “Musique Kabyle”, djindo , afrique-music streaming websites, a growing number of local radio stations and a few informative web portals.

With Deezer, Orange clients in these two African countries can now enjoy their favorite music anywhere and at any time and share it with their friends easily and legally explained Axel Dauchez, President of Deezer, but right now a broadband internet tariff plan is the sine qua non condition to gain access. With Deezer, “African music and artists will be more powerful than they are today” added Dauchez.

Ms. Laurence Le Ny, Music Director at Orange Group explained that Deezer will partner with local providers of quality music content to enrich Deezer’s catalogue. Deezer signs non-exclusive agreements with rights owners and will have local bureaux in Africa to set up deals with local music content aggregators, music labels and even the small and unknown independent producers, Laurence Le Ny added. “We are working closely with the marketing and technical teams of our local subsidiaries in MEA countries in order to find the best way to integrate Deezer Premium into our mobile offers” Le Ny concluded. This should also benefit to local African musicians and producers.

If it works out well, Deezer could potentially offer Deezer Premium across the whole continent, perhaps even independently of any operator partnership.

The Middle East will apparently be following suit shortly with Orange/Deezer tie-ups, as will more countries across Europe and Africa.

In France, Orange includes Deezer Premium in several of its broadband offers and Deezer Premium + in mobile offers such as Origami Jet and Origami Star. Deezer Premium is also available as an option for 5€ a month for broadband services and Deezer Premium + for 10€ per month for mobile services. This could happen soon in some Africa countries once networks are capable of supporting large music files and once legal and commercial barriers are cleared off.

The content revolution towards unlimited legal music consumption is under way and Africans have started enjoying it. This will help combat piracy further on the continent but the question remains as to how well these online solutions will contribute to financing the African music sector.

The only barriers for paid music in Africa are credit card payment and broadband capacity. Mobile money could be the answer to the first one and improved infrastructure is the answer to the second.

The online music services partly rely on the explosion of smartphones and demand in emerging markets, especially Africa, Asia and Latin America. In a process of recovering from a decade of contraction, the music industry needs to generate new revenues and online access seems to be the way forward.

Some of these new online players have managed to cajole hitherto reluctant record labels, scalded by cannibalizing their CD sales since the rise of digital audio services into signing deals. Today, the trend seems to be more about selling the music experience rather than selling records.

African Voice ARPUs will continue to drop. Competition has already driven them down to teeth-clenchingly low levels in the key markets and the steady impact of mobile VoIP will build and build as it becomes an entrenched habit, particularly for continental and global calling at the top end of the market. This leaves data capacity sales and money from content and transactions as the two sources of revenue to replace the current voice income. Data may not be hugely profitable but Over-The-Top services based on transactions and advertising have potential. The mobile content war is only just beginning so watch out for more content that will really capture users’ imagination.

The upcoming event Broadcast, Film and Music Africa will discuss many of the issues raised in this article. event to be held over 10-11 July 2012 at Oshwal Centre, Westlands, in Nairobi, Kenya will be the occasion to review what’s happening on the online music front in Africa. Among others, iROKING, Spinlet and Orange will send representatives.


Posted by on Jul 2 2012. Filed under Artcultainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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