How Tencent came to dominate music streaming in China
Shares of Spotify, the world’s biggest music-streaming service, are set to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange from April 3. The Swedish company counts nearly 160 million monthly active users in more than 60 countries. But one market is missing on that list: China.
In the world’s second-largest economy, most people are glued to one of three popular music-streaming channels: QQ Music, Kugou Music and Kuwo Music. These service providers, all operated by internet giant Tencent Holdings, have a combined 700 million monthly active users -- that’s four times more than the number of subscribers on Spotify.
A big reason why mainland Chinese consumers flock to Tencent’s services is the sheer variety of songs they make available. They work with more than 200 local record labels, and hold a near-monopoly in Western music fare. Other online platforms that want to stream catalogs from Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music need to pay Tencent for the rights to do so.
South Korea’s YG Entertainment is another star-studded partner: It owns top K-pop acts, such as Gangnam Style singer PSY and boy band Big Bang.
But Tencent’s ambitions in the music industry isn’t limited to China. Across Asia, Tencent competes with Spotify and other Western music-streaming providers by catering to local tastes. One function on the Joox app, for example, allows people to stream lyrics while a song plays -- sort of like a karaoke machine on the go.
This year, Tencent launched its first music label -- Liquid State -- in partnership with Sony Music. Focusing on electronic music, this venture has already planned exclusive collaborations with Alan Walker -- the DJ behind platinum hit Faded.
Spotify, however, has not given up hopes of entering the China market. Last year, it struck a deal with Tencent Music to invest in each other’s businesses.