The Unlocked Potential of Africa’s Music Streaming Market

There is no denying that Africa has an indelible impact on the direction that global music has taken over the last decades. The melodic persuasion that resonates through the mosh pits at American rock concerts or on the holiday islands of the Mediterranean can often trace its way back across the waters to the African continent.

The African influence on global music is by far not just limited to the sound of the drums in the background but spreads out to the vocals, as well as the fashion and the dance moves used in the music videos . Major international record labels have generated substantial profits off platinum records which were based on the appeal of the African influence, often subconsciously.

While the Western music industry used the inspiration of the tropical rhythms to move forward, the music business in Africa consistently seemed to lag behind. Not anymore. The music that left the continent in a cloak of barkcloth and hide is returning in a suit of bits and bytes.

Even though Music streaming has taken off rather gracefully on the continent, it clearly shows the potential to reach the dizzying heights experienced in the United States and Europe.

While the major streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify increasingly host African music on their platforms, they seem rather uninterested in availing their services to geographical Africa. More often than not, when trying to install a streaming app while on the continent, you receive a curt but polite message letting you know that the service is not available for your location.

A quick review of the platform’s trending artists will however likely show a representation of the most popular African music icons. As the majority of their fans are located on the continent the potential for streaming in Africa is obvious.

A number of streaming services have identified the potential which the leading companies in the industry have largely ignored. It is therefore worthwhile having a look at some of the most popular streaming services on the African content.

Boomplay, the Africa-focused streaming service founded in Nigeria in 2015, is the brainchild of the partnership between NetEase and Transsion. Headquartered in Lagos, this streaming service has garnered relative ubiquity across the continent due to the fact that Transsion is the largest supplier of mobile features and smartphones in Africa. Therefore, handset brands like Tecno and Infinix are purchased with Boomplay already installed.

Boomplay features an enviable catalog of African music and videos. This, alongside the fact that users can subscribe to premium content packages makes it appealing to the populace. The platform also features plenty of international music acts which offers the consumer sufficient variety. An agreement signed with Universal Music Group in November 2018 provided Boomplay with the required license to stream Universal’s international music selection.

With Transsion hogging over 40 percent of the African smartphone market, Boomplay is certainly playing a significant role in the continent’s music streaming experience with over 40 million users.

Simfy is a subscription platform that runs under the auspices of Africa’s largest mobile wireless carrier MTN. The service boasts a catalog of over 40 million songs. The service is however still confined within the borders of South Africa.

Being a subscription-based service, Simfy may also encounter challenges expanding across the continent since mobile payment methods in South Africa are more developed than in the rest of the continent, making the country a more suitable distribution market.

With roots in Nigeria, this platform offers a plethora of African talent and enables listeners to discover a wide range of musical tastes spanning the entire content. Spinlet also has a regional branch in the United States, giving it access to international music.

Spinlet is available for free but also provides premium subscription packages that are devoid of ads and let the user buy and download content to listen to when offline. The choice between weekly and monthly subscription plans makes the streaming service quite popular.

Millicom, an international telecommunications company, launched the streaming service Tigo in Africa in 2014 after doing the same in the Latin American market. By partnering with the music streaming service Deezer, Millicom leverages the platform’s 35 million track catalog to push Tigo to success in the African market.

Tigo is predominant in Ghana, Tanzania, Chad, Rwanda and DR Congo. The platform is taking advantage of the growing internet penetration across Africa, offering its service as part of a mobile data package. In a youthful population that is eager to keep up with the times and enjoy music, Tigo has chosen the right way to conquer the continent.

Congolese music has always played a significant role in the continent’s musical landscape. Despite the politically challenging environment, Congolese artists have successfully managed to remain relevant and provide their fans with unique sounds.

The streaming service Baziks launched in Kinshasa in 2017 with the objective to promote the Rumba Lingala, Soukous, Ndombolo and other forms of Congolese music. The streaming service has also partnered with the Congolese copyright company Socoda in a bid to ensure the promotion of legitimate music, while boosting local talent.

Despite the considerable number of African music streaming platforms, there are still several challenges preventing them from reaching the success of global players like Spotify and Apple Music.

Even though internet connection and bandwidth availability on the continent have significantly improved, the last mile penetration is still lacking.

Much of the high-speed connection is confined to the urban areas and even then, the speeds are not on par with world standards. The end result is a streaming experience that is interspersed with plenty of lagging and buffering.

Apart from connectivity issues, streaming platforms must be able to generate profits in order to deliver quality services. However, the average African listener is not yet ready to pay for the music experience. In a region where copyright laws are either weak or nonexistent, content piracy has been – and still is – the norm in most areas.

While listeners try to keep up with the times and move on from radio and pirated mp3 songs, they still prefer free streaming platforms as they have yet to become accustomed to remunerate the music providers.

Nonetheless, the African music fans are gradually waking up to the fact that their beloved artists need to be compensated for their work. Not many people can however pay via credit or debit cards since the majority of Africans remain unbanked. A number of newly introduced mobile payment systems have therefore started tackling this issue.

Boomplay for instance has partnered with mobile money payment service M-Pesa in Kenya to accept payments from customers who wish to subscribe to its streaming packages.

Despite some undeniable challenges, there is plenty of potential in the African music streaming market. While other large streaming platforms are jockeying for position in the West, Tidal for example has partnered with Africa’s largest wireless carrier MTN to offer its streaming services in South Africa and Uganda.

International venture capitalists have also recognized the potential of the African music streaming space. Boomplay alone raised in the region of $25 million in order to expand its operations throughout the continent whereas Simfy raised $23 million prior to partnering with MTN to expand into South Africa. Kenyan streaming startup Mdundo has so far raised $700,000 from seed and angel investors.

The African music industry as a whole has clearly piqued the interest of global players. Warner Music Group has not only offered Boomplay a license to stream its international acts but has also partnered with Nigerian music label Chocolate City.

Universal Music Group also expanded to Africa itself, setting up Universal Music Nigeria. The imprint, covering territories including Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia as well as others, signed top African musicians like Mr. Eazi, Odunsi (The Engine), WurID and recently songstress Tiwa Savage.

With the continent’s online market in its infancy, the enthusiastic investment activity clearly underscores the unlocked potential of Africa’s music streaming business.


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