Africa: Emerging Opportunity

Despite its huge influence on music repertoire across the globe, most countries in Africa have not historically been significant markets for the international music industry. Today, that is beginning to change. Digital technology is enabling the recording industry to effectively reach mass numbers of consumers across Africa for the first time. Across the continent, international record companies are working to establish innovative services and invest in A&R.

Africa's economies are growing rapidly and smartphone penetration, though small, is soaring. The International Telecoms Union reported in March 2013 that mobile broadband penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa increased from 2 per cent in 2010 to 11 per cent in 2013. Sean Watson, managing director of Sony Music Entertainment Africa, says: "The forecasts for smartphone growth in Africa over the next few years are staggering."

“The forecasts for smartphone growth in Africa over the next few years are staggering.”

Sean Watson, Sony Music Entertainment Africa

International services are opening for business, domestic platforms are growing stronger and new services are being developed. Ulrik Cahn, VP digital business emerging markets, Universal Music Group, says: "You can really feel that something impressive is happening with digital music in Africa now. Two years ago, the digital business was almost all ringtones, today products and services are taking off and interest from our global partners in the continent is greater than it has ever been."

"You can really feel that something impressive is happening with digital music in Africa now.”

Ulrik Cahn, Universal Music Group

Africa already had a domestic digital music business, partnered with leading regional and national telco operators. These include MTN Nigeria, with 17 million subscribers, and Safaricom, with 10 million subscribers, have helped build a sizeable ringback tone market. International record companies are establishing strong local direct relationships with local partners - telcos, aggregators, local services, publishing societies and independent labels. Digital revenues to international companies in Africa are currently small but fast-growing: South Africa, the region's largest market has seen digital music revenues take off in 2013 following the arrival of iTunes and several music streaming services, such as Deezer, rara and Simfy. Digital revenues doubled in the year, accounting for 13 per cent of a total market worth US$63 million.

International services such as Deezer, iTunes, Shazam, Simfy and YouTube are now also operating across the continent, and while they are still small compared to the telcos, insiders estimate iTunes now accounts for 40 to 50 per cent of digital revenues in South Africa. Other established local services include Spinlet and iRoking in Nigeria and Mdundo in Kenya.

THE KLEEK, a pan-African mobile music streaming service, backed by Universal Music and electronics giant Samsung, and licensed by Sony Music, launched in March 2013. THE KLEEK offers an interactive voice response service as well as an app featuring a huge range of playlists. The app is preloaded on Samsung smartphones whose owners can use it free of charge. Randall Abrahams, managing director, Universal Music South and sub-Saharan Africa, says: "Music fans in Africa have never had access to such a rich and engaging licensed service before, THE KLEEK marks a sea change in the development of the digital market in the region."

Guillaume Quelet, VP, digital business development, Sony Music Entertainment, who looks after three Francophone markets in North Africa, says partnerships with mobile carriers are key. "It's about creating services that appeal to consumers in pre-paid markets who often have limited disposable incomes. I think there will soon be exciting new deals that will also include unusual features such as live tours."

Record companies are increasing their A&R activity across the region. Sean Watson says: "Sony Music Entertainment has already made a significant investment in the development of the phenomenal talent in Sub-Saharan Africa and we are committed to continuing to partner with African artists to endeavour to bring their music not only to the world, but to African music lovers across their own continent." Recent signings by Sony Music include Nigerian artist D'Banj and Rose Muhando, a Tanzanian gospel artist. Exciting, new young artists include Ugandan style icon Keko; and Kenyan rapper and singer-songwriter Xtatic.

Randall Abrahams of Universal says: "We're engaging with artists across sub-Saharan Africa and in particular with independent labels and entrepreneurs as they are at the cutting edge of artist development in the region. We have a significant long-term commitment to investing in African artists and taking them beyond the continent to an international audience. Universal's labels have long invested in African music and are home to artists such as South African superstar Zahara, Joey B and Shatta Wale from Ghana, MadTraxx and Necessary Noize from Kenya and Mozambican artist Lizha James with tracks produced by rising South African star Uhuru. Guillaume Quelet says he is also investing in local artists. "Many French urban artists have roots in North Africa and are hugely popular, but we are also looking to develop more local talent."

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