There’s huge potential in Africa’s mobile-first music scene. But you need strong local knowledge to unlock it. So says Antos Stella, managing director of Content Connect Africa. In this exclusive interview for MEF Minute, she explains why she is so excited about the market…
In the ‘mature markets’ of Europe and North America, the music industry is undergoing profound change. There’s excitement, but also trepidation. The traditional analogue model of CDs and high street shops was extraordinarily lucrative. Now, it’s gone. Re-adjusting is painful.
In Africa, the prevailing attitude is very different.
“There is so much potential here. I am completely optimistic about the future,” says Antos Stella, managing director of Content Connect Africa.
And so she should be. CCA is emerging as a model of how to be a 21st century digital music entity. The company offers the kind of 360 degree service that is often talked about but not properly executed in other markets.
It can take an artist, and offer them distribution across a broad range of channels across Africa such as streaming and music TV. It will arrange ‘sync’ deals in which tracks are licensed for use on advertisements or other branded products, and it can even set up artists as presenters and documentary makers. “We do a lot of work creating brands around our artists,” says Stella.
But the key component of the package is ringback tones. Stella says up to 80 per cent of the CCA revenue today comes from RBTs. It’s testament to the enduring appeal of a format that has been around for a decade. A format that has, of course, failed to develop in mature markets.
There are the three major labels here, and they still treat Africa as if it were anywhere else… they focus on major international artists and look to sign deals with iTunes and Spotify… But the vast majority of African consumers prefer local talent and they don’t use iTunes..
Stella says: “Africans love ringback tones because they’re affordable and accessible from a feature phone, which is still a big part of the scene here. They cost around 50c a week in South Africa and you can change them as often as you want.
Actually, CCA was built on its success with ringback tones. The company launched in 2005 as a specialist supplier and was eventually acquired by pre-paid telecoms group Blue Label before being bought back in an MBO led by Stella.
That was in 2012. With around 30 years of experience in the music business (much of it with major labels), Stella had a very clear idea of how to grow CCA.
She established the 360 degree idea and even went as far as turning CCA from a distributor/licensor into a fully-fledged music label. Today it represents around 400 independent labels across Africa and has signed around 15 artists directly.
Fundamentally, Stella believes the African music scene is different from ‘rest of world’ and that CCA is far better equipped to to handle its differences than the major labels.
“There are the three major labels here, and they still treat Africa as if it were anywhere else,” she says. “They have their habits: they focus on major international artists and look to sign deals with iTunes and Spotify.
“Now, obviously there is a place for that. We work with overseas artists and streaming services too. But the vast majority of African consumers prefer local talent and they don’t use iTunes.
Of course it will take time for CCA to change the thinking of major international brands and advertisers, who also persist with a multi-national outlook. Stella says: “Most big brands just do what works in other countries. They pay far too much to sign deals with global stars. So we’re trying to show them a different option.”
It’s already working to a degree. For example, CCA recently closed a sync deal with a network brand for one of its biggest artists, Euphonik. And Stella believes that sync deals will in time flip the conventional model. In other words, the sync will come before the artist is even signed.
CCA is focused on this kind of activity because it knows that the ringback tone revenues won’t last forever. This is why it has invested in another fast-growing area: mobile TV.
Here, the company creates short video content for outlets such as Vodacom, which the operator makes available on its VideoPlay portal. Customers can pay five rand for 30 minutes of access, and CCA and its artists/labels/producers take a cut of this revenue.
Elsewhere, CCA is working closely with Africa-focused streaming services – most notably MTN Music+, which has experienced huge success in Nigeria. MTN Music+ is a subscription based music streaming and download platform that hosts mostly local artists. It has around 3.3m subs, and has just launched in South Africa too.
Stella says artists are enthusiastic about the service (as they are about ringback tones) for the simple reason that they pay. This is something that piracy obviously doesn’t do.
And now CCA is intensifying its focus on other African markets. It already offers pan-African distribution for its artists, and says business is growing especially fast in Uganda, Zambia and Swaziland, Cameroon and Nigeria.