BRICS Squad: The mischievous streaming titans of Brazil, Russia, India, China & S. Africa
The five countries making up the BRICS conglomerate — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — make up 40% of the world population. And best believe that 40% is listening to music on-the-go with soaring numbers of smart phone users.
While Americans and Brits are all but monopolized by (Sweden’s) Spotify and Apple Music, the rest of the world is busy building its own music streaming platforms and infrastructures. Even just a quick Eurostar away from London and you’ll end up in a France (bonjour, mes amis), a land dominated by its own homegrown (though now Warner Music Group-owned) Deezer.
So what are our favorite loose amalgamation of “emerging economies” (not my words) cooking up in their music x tech hubs to get music from the wisps of the interweb into your earbuds? Who are the power players in those regions? What kind of weird stuff is going on?
Spotify’s 2014 entrance to the market squares off with Deezer and Google Play. With Android powering the majority of smart devices, the built-in Google Play has an advantage. But the titan of the country’s internet and phone service, TIM Brasil, has deals in place with Deezer to bundle their subscriptions into plans. For credit-card-light economies like Brazil, getting a subscription sans credit card is a big plus (more on that later).
A quick aside: much of this is only possible because of another pioneer of late capitalist streaming entertainment: Netflix. Bloomberg explains what they got up to after encountering issues with their roll-out.
Internet access in even the biggest Brazilian cities could be spotty or nonexistent. Cell signals weren’t much better. Yellin realized that until the infrastructure improved, few people would bother paying for Netflix, no matter how seductive its programming.
So the team in Brazil got to work installing web servers around the country. Along the way, they teamed up with telecommunications giants such as Telefónica, which were in the process of introducing high-speed broadband nationwide. Netflix supplied the companies with additional servers at no charge.
We’ve already written about the wildness of the Russian social media platform VKontakte, especially as it related to Night Lovell’s sharp ascent in popularity amongst young Soviet hypebeasts.
They’ve got a strong Apple Music base, though strong on their heels are Zvooq, and Google Play, with Yandex.Music, the streaming arm of Yandex, in second. Yandex.Music tripled subscribers in 2016 through partnerships with MTS, Kiyevstar and Vodafone, though they’ve got about half of Apple Music’s subscribers. Their infrastructure is strong, though: Yandex.ru has about 65% market share of search, and is the country’s biggest tech company — think Russian Google.
They also are operated by the Russian government.
And Yandex Money, the largest electronics payment service in the Russian Internet, has been used to undercut the ability of political competitors to function financially by freezing the purses of the leaders of these groups.
(At least you can get every last one of Putin’s fire mixtapes on their for free.)
Saavn is leading the pack out here. The (counterintuitively American-born and headquartered) streaming service popped off in 2007, and has enormous catalogs of both western and, more importantly for their subscribers, South Asian music. They have built-in integrations across Facebook and Twitter, distribution deals in place with all major labels and every Bollywood, even fully integrated with Shazam.
Recently they’ve gotten some heat from Apple Music and fellow heavyweight Gaana, the streaming service spearheaded by Times Internet / Times India, the country’s largest media conglomerate.
Every heavy hitter is coming out to play in China’s battle for streaming supremacy. They’ve got three (THREE) companies with user bases in the hundreds of millions, and those in charge are the usual suspects in the region: Baidu, Alibaba, and TenCent.
TenCent, the tech and media conglomerate which owns the messaging application WeChat, launchedQQ Music in 2004 and has transitioned it towards streaming a la iTunes > Apple Music. The company has exclusive distribution rights to the American Big Three labels (Sony, UMG, WMG) and South Korea’s YG Entertainment, which it in turn flips to its competitors for licensing. After huge mergers with competitors last year, QQ dwarfs competition, boasting 800 million users, 400M of them active monthly.
Quick comparison — Spotify has 60 M paying subscribers and 140 M total global users. Lol.
Alibaba’s Xiami — acquired in 2013 — trails behind in the tens of millions (scoff), while Baidu (think Chinese Google) has about 150 M monthly users. They’re all on freemium models, but their subscriptions, like most of these, sit around US$1–3 / month.
Apple Music leads the charge here, but the race is still in its early stages. Just in the last year, streaming revenue in the country has quadrupled. Yo!
It still sits at just US$8.5 million, though, so things are still wide open. Spinlet, a Finnish company acquired by Joox, for example, is making an interesting case. The streaming service just made its entrance into the South African market this year, placing a significant emphasis on local music. It’s been a quick hit, and partnerships with Vodafone haven’t hurt.
Joox has a proven track record elsewhere in the world, though. According to McKinsey, “the Joox app was downloaded more than 50 million times last year, accounting for more than 50 per cent of all music-streaming app downloads in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.”
That’s quite a bit — it definitely helps that it is ALSO owned by TenCent, who’s got a firm grip on the Chinese streaming market. Everything is connected.
Music is universal, but access to it hasn’t necessarily matched its appeal stride for stride. With to internet via mobile devices accelerating each year around the world, we find previously physically tethered populations connected to the world in a way they’ve never been before. For many of these regions, working around infrastructural shortcomings comes with the territory, as Netflix encountered in Brazil.
West Africa and its Nigerian center of gravity have been instrumental in moving their region forward, or finding innovative ways to grow their music industry. Remember Nigeria is huge — the 7th most populous country in the world — and the UN predicts it will be the third most populous nation by 2050.
Ringback tones, for example, account for almost 10% of Nigeria’s music industry revenue, a thriving and unexpected sector of profit. Sony, who is a leader in these ringbacks, opened offices in Lagos just last year, and is partnering with major wireless providers to kickstart streaming services to its 180 million residents.
Spinlet, a Finnish-founded streaming services, was bought up by a Nigerian investment firm and has a small but steadily growing subscription base — 650k across Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. They’ve doubled down on regional music, and have a head start:
Spinlet sent teams of “content acquisition executives” into the bars and cafes frequented by local musicians in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa, in order to get local music from the source.
“Our overlap with iTunes is only 50% — we have unique content,” CEO Schwartzman said.
Combining local artists with payment services through SMS to avoid the credit card obstacle — we’re here for that type of spreading of global musical joy.