Spotify May Need To Be More ‘Asian’ To Dominate Region

Asia’s fragmented music fanbase and subscription habits may stand between Spotify and its total domination of the region, or at least so its competitors hope.

The music streaming service recently launched in the Asian countries of Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. When we spoke to Spotify’s head of new markets in Asia-Pacific, Sriram Krishnan, he was evasive on how extensive the company’s Asian catalog was, saying that the company is working with labels here and does feature local music, but emphasized that “mainstream” (read: US-originated) music is big here, and that catalog Spotify has plenty of.

But several Asian-originated competitors say that their experiences here have been quite different. Taiwan-based KKBOX was launched in the region in 2005, and is available in its home country, as well as Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, with plans for other Asian countries, said representative, Inman Lin.

“The Asian market is very fragmented in terms of (each country’s) culture and preference in music. In Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, local artists and songs usually (dominate) with over 70 percent to 85 percent market share, and Western artists are the minority,” he said.

Hong Kong carrier, CSL, has a streaming music service called Musicholic. It’s one of the country’s larger telcos, and has over three million subscribers, as at end-2012. It said the Musicholic service, launched in 2009, has a “double digit percentage” of its user base, and that a whopping 92 percent of its catalog is made up of Chinese songs.

Some Asian consumption habits dominate as well. Rolling lyrics karaoke-style is a feature on KKBOX, but not on Spotify or other Western-based services, for example.

And it has a different take on the music discovery process, as well. Where Spotify and Twitter just rolled out discovery functions, Lin said Asian music artists have been using KKBOX to communicate directly with users here.

Spotify’s discover service was released earlier today to UK and Nordic users, but hasn’t arrived in Asia yet.

KKBOX has about 10 million users, with one million of those paying subscribers–the majority on the mobile. That’s another big difference between Spotify and KKBOX, in that KKBOX does its billing through carrier tie-ups. In many markets in Asia, where credit card payment isn’t as common as it is in the US, carrier billing helps remove a lot of the friction in signing up.

In Singapore, KKBOX will relaunch in May on StarHub, one of the carriers in the country.

French-based service, Deezer, launched in the region (except for Japan) in September last year. Like KKBOX, Deezer works with carrier partnerships in the region. In Malaysia, its representative carrier is Digi.

The carrier tie-up allows Deezer to offer more ways of monetizing beyond providing streaming music. With Digi, it has a subscription service called Deejay, priced at $2.64 (RM8.00) per month, which offers Deezer’s tunes as dial tone replacements. The service replaces the typical dial tone that callers will hear with pop tracks from Deezer’s catalog whenever a subscriber is dialed.

Globally, Deezer has 26 million users in 182 countries, three million of those paying, and a catalog of 20 million tracks, it said.

To compare, Spotify has 24 million “active” users (in undefined Spotify terms), and six million of those are paying. It has a similar catalog size of 20 million tracks. KKBOX has 10 million tracks.

Image credit: Andrew St. Clair