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Spotify in talks with Vodacom over music deal in Africa

Chris Spillane, Amy Thomson

International digital music service Spotify is said to be in talks with Vodacom to provide users with access to its music library.

Vodacom users will be able to stream music from Spotify's music library if a deal between the two companies goes through. (Reuters)

Spotify Ltd is in talks with Vodacom Group on a partnership that would mark the music-streaming service’s first foray into the African continent, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Vodacom, a unit of Vodafone Group, plans to offer its wireless customers subscriptions that include a limited amount of free data to access Spotify’s music library, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. An agreement with the Johannesburg-based carrier would let Spotify enter Africa after starting in more than 56 countries since it was founded in Sweden in 2006.

The negotiations underscore the race among African telecommunications carriers to link up with content partners as more consumers use smartphones to access music and movies. MTN Group, Africa’s biggest wireless operator, is in discussions with an Asia-based TV-content provider, people familiar with the talks said in April. Fixed-line carrier Telkom SA has held talks with media companies including Netflix and Comcast Corporation about using its network to deliver content.

“It doesn’t mean that 30-million people in South Africa are going to be willing to pay a monthly subscription for a service like Spotify, but entering the market through this kind of partnership exposes the service to that many more people,” said Paul Verna, a researcher at EMarketer.

Music markets
Vodacom is considering content-sharing deals, spokesperson Richard Boorman said in an emailed response to questions. He declined to discuss talks with specific partners. Alison Bonny, a Spotify spokesperson, declined to comment.

“There’s a great deal of excitement about the potential for developing the music markets in Africa and a lot of that is to do with the rising broadband penetration rates, but particularly mobile penetration rates,” Adrian Strain, director of communications at music-industry research company IFPI, said by phone. “The spread of smartphones is forecast to be very impressive in the next few years.”

Vodacom has 31.5-million customers in South Africa. Spotify, the world’s biggest music-subscription service, has 10-million paying users while a further 30-million listen for free through ad-supported services on computers.

Should an agreement be reached, Spotify would compete in Africa against Finland’s Spinlet, London-based Rara Media Group and Paris-based Deezer, according to Steven Ambrose, chief executive of telecommunications advisory company Strategy Worx. Oakland, California-based Pandora Media Inc. is only available in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Content coup
“Spotify would be a big content coup for Vodacom if they are the first to offer it with free data access,” Ambrose said in an email. “A tie-up with the country’s biggest mobile network will tip the scales on music streaming adoption in South Africa.”

In a market with below-average broadband speeds, South Africans spent R90-million on digital music in 2012, about 7.3% of the country’s recorded-music market, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. While the figure is set to rise to R132-million by 2017, or 14% of the market, that’s still a fraction of what Americans and western Europeans pay to download songs.

Vodafone, which owns 65% of Vodacom, said last month that bundling high-speed Internet access with content is driving higher data usage, a trend that may lead to an increase in monthly bills and help reverse service-revenue declines.

Last month, Vodafone said it would give UK users of its high-speed 4G service a six-month subscription to streaming movies and TV shows on Netflix. – Bloomberg

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