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INTERVIEW: Spotify to double investments in MENA after successful first year

Ahram Online interviews Claudius Boller, managing director for the Middle East and Africa for Spotify, the 'biggest and fastest growing' audio streaming platform in the world

Eslam Omar , Wednesday 11 Dec 2019
Spotify
Spotify's Managing Director for Middle East and Africa (MEA) Claudius Boller who is interviewed by Ahram Online on Thursday 4 December 2019 at a hotel in Cairo.
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It seems that IKEA is not the only Swedish cultural experience that is taking Egypt by storm, as the world's biggest music streaming subscription service Spotify is undergoing a large expansion in the Middle East and in the 100-million-strong Egypt.

Spotify first launched in the Middle East on 14 November 2018. The audio-only service contains over 50 million music tracks from across the globe, has over 248 million monthly active users – 45 percent of whom are paid subscribers – and is very quickly becoming one of the top choices for Arab listeners.

The tremendously-fast growing music subscription service is expecting further success in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), deciding to double its investments after its first year in operation in MENA, which has proved a huge success.

"The results are tremendous and have exceeded our expectations in MENA – Egypt included – with regards to growth rates and engagement levels," said Claudius Boller, Spotify's managing director for the Middle East and Africa, who was keen to sit down with Ahram Online amid the company's PR and advertising campaign in Egypt.

"Egyptians, specifically, love Egyptian music and new releases, but they also are rediscovering music from the past and from other regions as well. They love international music," said the 42-year-old gentleman, who gave a talk on Friday during the Rise Up Summit at the American University in Cairo.

Celebrating the release last week of the "Wrapped" campaign – an annual year-end campaign that announces the leading artists, albums, songs and playlists on the platform – Spotify is currently making a physical presence with numerous billboards across Cairo's main streets and bridges, targeting more users, particularly youngsters, based on their streaming trends and habits.

"We're so happy with the results. We're doubling our efforts and investments in the region, and launching more advertisement and education campaigns because Egypt and the MENA region are a big part of our global success," added Boller, who joined Spotify in 2017 and contributed to planning the MENA launch.

Number one?

Despite the many successful video and audio streaming services in the e-market, such as YouTube, iTunes, Anghami, Deezer and TikTok, Spotify considers piracy its biggest competitor and believes that the presence of similar apps uplifts the industry as a whole.

"We don't look at the competition because piracy is the biggest competition. All the streaming services in MENA have just scratched the surface of the market," Boller asserted, adding that although Spotify does not disclose regional statistics, "when you compare active users on Spotify with other social media platforms, Spotify's usage is about three-fold."

"If you compare it to a video streaming service, Spotify's usage is two-fold. That is due to several factors. The service is quite engaging because it's so personalised. Secondly, it's a pure audio platform and it supports background play, so it is convenient to use while you're driving, in the gym, or getting ready in the morning.

"Spotify is all about ubiquity. We have the right music for literally any moment that you can think of with three billion playlists, which is stunning. Also, it's not just a [mobile] app, as globally we are available on over 500 products and 200 hardware brand, such as cars, smart phones, speakers, and smart watches. My daughter is two years old and she plays songs using the smart speaker, which is amazing. We also did a number of software integrations like Google Maps, for example. When you're driving your car and want to switch songs on Spotify, you can do this while the navigation is still on the screen.

"As soon people start to connect smart devices, their usage more than doubles. Social media in this region is amazing and we have integration for Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and many others, so users can share music instantly out of the app, and they do that a lot. Artists do this as well; they can easily connect to their fans using Spotify.

Founding Spotify

After a couple of years of offline experimenting, founder Daniel Ek launched Spotify in 2008 in some Scandinavian countries, before going on to dominate over 79 markets across the world to become "the biggest and fastest growing streaming service across the world."

"We're really the pioneers of streaming. Our founder Daniel Ek foresaw that digitalisation would kill the physical distribution market, so he came up with the idea for an ideal service for users," Boller said.

Daniel Ek
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek speaks during a media event in New York, U.S., May 20, 2015. REUTERS

"He [EK] did lots of testing back in the day and came up with the technology, and it worked very well. They started off on PC and very quickly they developed it for mobile phones. They then presented it to music labels, who were a bit concerned in the beginning but quickly understood that this was the future," said Boller, who spent seven years in high managerial positions at Universal Music Group.

"This is how we're approaching the creator community. We can help the industry make more money and invest more to help upcoming artists create music and reach more people across the world. That's the ultimate goal."

Next Despacito or Gangnam Style may be an Arabic song

Spotify is boosting music stars as well as potentially successful artists globally and locally. Last month, they celebrated Egyptian megastar Amr Diab’s legacy and his global impact with a billboard in Times Square, New York, and are promoting successful young rappers like Marwan Pablo, Wegz and some mahraganat artists.

"Amr Diab has brought Arabic music to the international stage. He is the most listened-to Arab artist worldwide. His number one market is the US, which is why we selected Times Square for his billboard," revealed Boller.

"In one year, we held more than 70 sessions with artists, label managements and distributors in MENA. It's a lot of work where we explain to them how streaming services work and how they can protect their rights and use data to their advantage."

Boller affirmed that all artists have equal opportunity to be boosted by the platform through various means using a machine-human system that has no commercial motives, stating that "Arabic music has great potential worldwide, and the next Despacito or Gangnam Style may be an Arabic song."

"The depth of the catalogue is huge, but we as a platform are enabling upcoming artists that have not been discovered yet to get an opportunity. Over the last five to seven years, Spotify has developed a healthy symbiosis between machine learning and algorithm which is not driven by commercial aspects, because the aim is to develop the best playlist in the world, one that is most appealing to users. This is a great aim, I believe, but it must not be driven by commercial motives.

"The tools that Spotify has created for artists, labels, and distributors are very transparent, providing them with all the data to help them develop their content by analysing where their music breaks. This is the most fair model we could think of. We are the most beneficial structure for artists and the most unbiased system for equal opportunities that we can think of, and we have spent years at the company developing it."

Spotify, whose users have consumed more than 17 billion hours of content on the platform and whose revenues paid to rights-holders globally are estimated to be over 13 billion euros, pledges more success in MENA and worldwide. 

 

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