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Spotify hits sweet spot

Streaming has shifted the music industry away from ownership and towards customer experience, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week marked the end of the beginning of the streaming music revolution. Apple announced the closing of iTunes, the 18-year-old platform that helped shift the music industry from physical to digital. At its height, in 2014, close to a billion people were using it.

However, the business model was still based on traditional ownership of music. Users either converted their physical music into digital tracks, or bought songs from iTunes. Apple founder Steve Jobs said back in 2003, when the iPod music player was launched, that consumers “don’t want to rent their music… They don’t want subscriptions”.

History proved him spectacularly wrong, and when streaming subscriptions services like Spotify and Pandora began taking off, even as iTunes hit the 800-million user mark, the company launched Apple Music in a dramatic acknowledgment that subscriptions were the future. It was also an admission that iTunes, which had also become a download service for movies and TV shows, had become top-heavy and frustrating to use.

Apple’s late arrival in the streaming world has cost it: In January this year, Apple Music reached 50-million subscribers – exactly half the number paying monthly subs to Spotify.

Spotify took South African music by storm when it launched here in March 2018, thanks to close collaboration with local artists.  It has a dedicated South African team that creates playlists for South Africans, in genres that appeal to local audiences. It also has a local ad sales team, and achieved early success with automotive brands like BMW and Mini using the platform extensively.

The company does not break down user statistics by country but, says Claudius Boller, managing director for Middle East and Africa, uptake exceeded all expectations.

“It’s been an amazing year,” he told Business Times. “Engagement in South Africa has crossed the world average. Users are extremely active, lean forward, and engage with playlists on a daily basis. We are not running many campaigns to move people from our free service to the Premium offering, but people do it right away.

“The metric we look at is how often and how long people use Spotify on average per day, and we have already seen those on premium subscriptions using Spotify much more than Facebook per day.”

The South African audience has another key differentiator, says Boller: “The market is extremely loyal. We know other music services have been in the market for many years. But when people make up their minds to try Spotify, they fall in love with it and continue to use it. The drop-off rate of people using our service is one of the lowest of all the markets in which Spotify operates.”

One of the secrets of Spotify’s success is the close relationship it builds with what it calls “the creative community” – both artists and labels.

“They are extra engaged, because of the data they are able to get. We give them a huge amount of data in a way that is very easy to digest. Through Spotify for Artists, they can see in real time how many listeners they have, their demographics, where they are listening, and where their audience is growing. If Jeremy Loops is doing very well in Australia, he can adjust where to promote his music and how to plan his touring schedule.

“We also use that data to work more closely with the creative community. We bring artists, labels and managers together for educational events so that they can get to know how to use the data. We give them practical advice, for example that they should release music on the same day on all platforms, including radio and streaming services, to maximise monetisation.”

Music entrepreneur Siya Metane agrees that audience data is one of the greatest benefits of streaming music. Better known as Slikour, founding member of the legendary hip hop group Skwatta Kamp, he now runs SlikourOnLife, an online urban music site and community with well over a million regular users. Understanding user trends has been at the heart of the growth of the platform, and he believes Spotify and its competitors add yet another dimension.

“The analytics that the streaming platforms provide give artists more insight of where their music is being consumed,” he says. “It is therefore giving the artists and their managers insight on where to invest nationally or globally. Such information has not been readily available to artists and managers before. Historically, everything was based on the physical purchase of a copy in a region – most of the time locally.”

But there is a downside, he says: “The cost of the streaming sacrifice is losing a whole R100 per album to a streaming company that pays you based on their pro rata plays on their service. Therefore only a few people can benefit. But streaming has definitely shifted the business from music alone to everything else music can influence.”

Both Vodacom and MTN have recognised the potential of streaming music to add value to their services, which are becoming increasingly commoditised. MTN late last year bought the local music streaming service Simfy Africa, and Vodacom in April this year launched its own streaming music service, called My Muze. The latter invites aspiring musicians to upload their music, with the possibility of being discovered and signed to a music label.

“The music industry has changed rapidly in recent times in that everything now lives digitally,” says Rehana Hassim, portfolio manager for music at Vodacom. “We also hope to attract new young consumers, to whom music remains one of the biggest passion points, providing various ways to engage with and consume the music they love.”

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Dell plans 50/50 gender split; 1:1 recycling and reuse

Dell Technologies has unveiled an ambitious 2030 target for a social impact plan called Progress Made Real.

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Dell Technologies has declared a decade of responsibility and innovation to ramp up the company’s social impact worldwide. At the company’s Dell Technologies Summit in Austin, Texas, last week, chairman and CEO Michael Dell unveiled a set of ambitious goals in a plan called 2030 Progress Made Real.

“Unlocking the power of data will advance humanity more than any other force over the next decade,” said Dell. “We are committed to making that power broadly available to communities around the world, so we can all move forward together.”

Over the next decade, he said, Dell Technologies will use its global scale, broad technology portfolio and expertise to yield meaningful and measurable impact on society and the planet. 

The plan sets the following goals for the company:

Advance sustainability 

·        Recycle an equivalent product for every product a customer buys

·        Lead the circular economy with more than half of all product content being made from recycled or renewable material 

·        Use 100% recycled or renewable material in all packaging 

·        Deliver future-ready skills development for workers in their supply chain

·        Drive a comprehensive science-based climate program, setting emissions goals across facilities, supply chain and operations to customer use of our products including partnering with suppliers to meet a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 60% per unit revenue by 2030

Cultivate inclusion

·        Acquire, develop and retain women so they account for 50% of the company’s global workforce and 40% of global people managers

·        Acquire, develop and retain black/African American and Hispanic team members so they account for 25% of the company’s U.S. workforce and 15% of U.S. people managers 

·        Educate 95% of all team members on an annual basis about unconscious bias, harassment, micro-aggressions and privilege 

Transform lives

·        Advance the health, education and economic opportunity of 1 billion people

·        Digitally transform 1,000 nonprofit organisations

·        Achieve 75% team member participation in charitable giving and volunteerism in communities

The company says ethics and privacy are foundational to its corporate and social impact strategies and are essential to executing the 2030 goals. To this end, it is fully automating data control processes, making it easier for customers to access, delete or share their personal data. The company will use digital tools to make it easier to get insights from, measure and monitor compliance issues using digital data. 

In addition to seeking customer input, Dell Technologies engaged third parties, considered the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals and Business Roundtable’s Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, and surveyed team members to assess the most critical issues and opportunities they see in their work and the world.

“We have a great responsibility to apply the full power of Dell Technologies to transform lives and society,” said Karen Quintos, chief customer officer at Dell Technologies. “By combining our technology portfolio, global scale, team member talent and customer partnerships, we can drive significant positive impact. Our 2030 agenda is comprehensive and deeply embedded across the business. The moonshot goals stretch us to go far beyond incremental change. In some cases, we’re still working to uncover how we’ll get there – but we know that significant change and innovation starts with deep commitment.”

In June 2019, Dell Technologies announced early completion of many of its 2020 goals. For example, through a global recycling network, it reached a 2020 goal of recycling 2-billion pounds of used electronics.  Through partnerships with the Government of India and Tata Trusts, it deployed a cloud-based analytics solution to deliver preventive healthcare to remote villages, reaching 11 million people who would otherwise not have these services. A range of additional social impact goals have also been reached (see graphic below)

* For the full list of 2030 goals, see delltechnologies.com/2030goals

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Behind the scenes of Netflix SA’s Queen Sono

South Africa’s first Netflix Original TV show, Queen Sono, is almost ready to air. Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER spoke to the show’s creators on set.

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In the heart of Johannesburg, a house is about to make history as one of the first homes to have a South African Netflix Original filmed inside. During filming, it’s surrounded by a dozen large trucks that carry props, camera equipment, set equipment and equipment needed to make this production a reality. 

We chatted with Queen Sono’s writer, director, and showrunner, Kagiso Lediga, on set recently. He also heads up Diprente, the Johannesburg-based production company behind the show.

“[Being writer and director] gives one the ability to carry out the vision,” says Lediga. “I mean, it’s not just that I’m wearing many hats. But there’s the other creators, other HODs: from production designer to cinematographer, to the other writers that I work with. So it’s great, I guess that being a showrunner you kind of have to touch on all of those.

“It’s a huge responsibility in terms of carrying out the narrative. You know, sometimes what’s great is when you come up with an idea, and then when you see it when, either you’re sitting behind the monitor, directing, or while you’re sitting and editing, and you’re like ‘Whoa, that’s exactly how we imagined it’.”

The show is an action-packed series that follows Queen Sono, a highly trained top spy in a South African agency whose purpose is to better the lives of African citizens. While taking on her most dangerous mission yet, she must also face changing relationships in her personal life.

Of course, the gravity of being a Netflix Original means that Queen Sono will be put on a global stage, and will be available to stream in over 40 countries. We asked the show’s Director of Photography, Motheo Moeng, how the show’s image has been carefully crafted for a local and global audience.

“Overall, the treatment of the show is based on the characters we have written, naturally, and other spy films that we have looked at,” says Moeng. “So the treatment of her visually, and the look to the show visually, had that in mind. So as much as you wanted to treat it as an African show, we were well aware that it had to have international appeal.”

It’s also dangerous work getting the show to be perfect, Moeng says.

“It’s like being in a boxing ring, so there are days when you’re getting punched, there are days when you have to stand up and go. But overall, I guess the banter between myself and the first aiders is interesting. Our jobs are a direct contrast to each other; I’m trying to constantly light and make things look pretty, and he has to make sure we make the day, so if you stick around for long enough, you’ll see the love-hate relationship between us.”

Stunt Coordinators Grant Powell and Filip-Ciprian ‘Chip’ Florian have us a quick insight into how to get the actors (and film crew) ready for a spy movie’s action.

“[Most productions] have the same demands because they all have the same elements,” says Powell. “It doesn’t matter how big the movie, they’re still an actor. An actor still has to be trained. I still have to deal with the psychology of that. Convincing them that they can do it. So it really doesn’t matter the scale of the film, you’re still dealing with the same elements, which is training an actor from scratch sometimes.

“There was a combat scene with Queen Sono and the baddies, and she kicks one of them out the window, which is Chip by the way. So he goes through plate glass, goes over the balcony, three stories up and lands on a car. I thought that was cool. We had three weeks prep, which is great for a local show. You never get that, you’re usually learning on the day. That’s why the audience will instantly see the quality will be better because of this preparation. That’s what’s going to make this show stand out over and above anything that’s ever been done locally.”

Queen Sono is expected to be released exclusively on Netflix in 2020.

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