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Digital Music

Digital music: a driving force in African mobile subscriptions

Very few people know this, but there are now over 100 legal, digital platforms for on-demand music dedicated to Africa and offering streaming and downloading – digital radios and suppliers of ringback tones (RBT) excluded.

Some of these platforms have sealed partnerships with various stakeholders including telecom operators like Orange, MTN, Vodacom, Safaricom and Airtel. For operators in Africa, putting these music services forward has become a competitive advantage, or even a reason for their customers to buy internet services.

That’s what a new study from ‘Balancing Act’ published in November 2014 reveals.

Analysts from ‘Balancing Act’, which followed the development of this segment since 2008, consider that the market is ripe for telecoms operators to launch these music services.

Overall, we know that music like dance has strong African roots. African music has a long history that has been transmitted orally from one generation to another. African music is very old, rich and diverse as the regions and countries with distinct musical traditions. This music was a major factor in the shaping of what we know today as expressions of blues, jazz, rock, reggae, soul, funk, pop, coupé and many more not to mention rap.

But because of limited access to international distribution networks for music, few people in Africa and outside the continent can access contemporary African music. Today, information about African music is often difficult to find, scattered all over the web, sometimes unreliable or specific to a given country. The same goes for listening to African music. Only a few African artists are doing well. This is about to change with the emergence over the last two years of digital music platforms focused on Africa and available worldwide. Those platforms are a new distribution channel for music around the globe.

Telecommunications networks, the web and digital terminals in Africa are the backbone of on-demand music platforms that can reach a large number of customers in the coming years.

These musical platforms will also help operators sell more broadband internet subscriptions across Africa, access which will enable people to use other services including more vital applications.

On the access technologies’ front, fibre, deployment of Wi-Fi, 3G and Vsat can already provide some of these services. Since 2012 in Africa, there has also been considerable investment in 4G and LTE.

To date, Balancing Act has counted 63 LTE – 4G projects in 24 African countries, mainly in urban areas.

On the use of these digital music services, Balancing Act estimates that Africa now has at least 10 million regular active users in 2014, a number that could be multiplied by 10 in the next 5 years. Launched in October 2012 from Nigeria, iROKING is the leading player within the on-demand music services’ segment across the continent. Its use has skyrocketed with one million unique users per month worldwide today. iROKING is in competition with but also a partner of YouTube.

Other major Africa-focused contenders include Simfy Africa, Anghami, Afrinolly from ‘Fans Connect Online’, Spinlet, Truspot, Mziiki, Mdundo (Out of 88 Mph), BiGxGh,, The Kleek (from Universal Music), Yala and Waabeh. A few international music platforms such as Deezer, iTunes, Nokia Mix Radio, rara, Rdio, Simfy and Vimeo have started being used on the African market. There has been rumours that Spotify wants to launch in South Africa by the end of 2014.

When we interviewed him back in June 2013, ARPU former director of iROKING said that he followed the rapid sales growth of smartphones and tablets on the continent as a positive development for Africa, and welcomed the introduction of LTE. “As most people have access to the Internet for the first time on mobile phones, the advent of LTE is welcome. My goal will be focused around accessibility. For now, our strategy (at iROKING / iROKOtv) for Africa is still heavily focused on the delivery of content (audio and visual) to the widest possible market, taking into account the limitations of devices and networks.”

“For telcos, providing on-demand music is trendy, it’s ‘chic’! There are many advantages that telcos can get from partnering with these digital music services: being seen as innovators, especially with respect to younger audiences; Stay in the ‘lead pack’ and better compete; Sell more broadband internet access services; Give a new value-added service to customers, increase ARPU and margins; increase stickiness and reduce ‘churn rate’ in the long term; remove a portion of content piracy and pay royalties back to musicians; help build and export the national music industry; contribute to highlight national cultures; improve their overall brand image and win new customers,” says Sylvain Béletre analyst ‘Balancing Act’ and co-author of the study, adding that “the music platforms that will survive will be those that find the right partners to grow further.”

There are hundreds of potential partners for on-demand music platforms across Africa.

With the high penetration of mobile phones in Africa, mobile phone is the way Africans will want to get their music.