Music has always been an important part of civilization; transcending the boundaries of culture, race and gender. Known for its ability to induce profound emotional experiences, music often touches us because it has the ability to capture and frame day-to-day moments in life.
Music streaming has elevated entertainment, enabling listeners to discover a larger diversity of tracks from all over the world. Undoubtedly, this has been a great source of comfort amid the current pandemic that left most of us with little or no connection to the outside world.
Anghami, was established as the first legal music streaming platform and digital distribution company in the Arab world. Today, the company has over 90 million downloads. It provides unlimited Arabic and international music to stream and download, as well as other entertainment features.
Inside Telecom met with Anghami Vice President of Business Development, Choucri Khairallah, to find out more.
Tell us more about the way Anghami began as a startup and evolved into a thriving business, gaining millions of subscribers?
Anghami started around 8 years ago when there were no legal streaming services in the region. The founders Eddy Maroun and Elie Habib created this platform based on the idea of enabling users to access the music they want in a simple and convenient way.
Before the company’s inception, no big international players were available in the region and people were used to listening to music from unofficial websites. This ultimately inspired the concept of Anghami.
Over the last 7-8 years, we have had 90 million downloads, achieved mainly through our diversified partnerships which helped us grow to become the number one streaming service in the region. The companies that invested in Anghami include, Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), Mobily in Saudi Arabia, du in the UAE, SAMENA Capital and MBC, the biggest media group in the region.
Our competent, highly-qualified team is based in Dubai, Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Cairo, Morocco and Algeria. They work incredibly hard on the products and partnerships, users and subscriptions.
Launching partnerships with mobile operators in the region has been instrumental in our progress; offering an easy payment solution to our users who want to subscribe to Anghami Plus.
Tell us about some of your more recent partnerships?
Currently, we have more than 34 telco partnerships, working directly with the mobile operators, covering the whole region from North Africa to the Levant and the GCC. The reason for working with them is to offer carrier-billing services, so our users can very easily subscribe to the Anghami Plus subscription from their mobile credits – a very convenient method for users in the region.
We worked on many marketing activations with telcos by organizing live sessions with artists and letting subscribers win trips to watch concerts and sessions in different countries, as well as arranging ‘meet and greets’ with their favorite artists. We always participate in unique activities with mobile operators to keep our users entertained and engaged.
Another way to benefit from operator partnerships is by bundling Anghami with telco services. For example, recently, we launched a bundle with Mobily in Saudi Arabia by offering Anghami Plus to Raqi subscribers as part of the benefits they get.
How does your platform differ from other streaming services?
We understand what users in the region want, and have identified their listening habits by gathering data about how they consume music, which differs a lot from country to country.
Algorithms and machine learning drive our music recommendations, so we are able to suggest the music that people from different parts of the region would like to listen to. The music tastes in Algeria to Saudi Arabia to UAE differs a lot, therefore it’s important that we tap into the cultural diversity and experience and offer music to suit everyone’s personal taste.
On top of that, we develop features specific to the region. During Ramadan, we allow users to switch the app to a “Ramadan mode” for those who do not want to listen to music and who wish to access more religious content and receive parts of the Holy Quran on a daily basis.
If you open Anghami and compare it to any other service, you will notice that we have many social features, like stories that show you what your friends are listening to and chats to interact with people, even connecting you to others that share a similar taste in music. We’re also launching a major feature that will allow users to go Live and interact with each other in a very fun and engaging way.
How important is it for music streaming services to attract older audiences?
It is important for us to address all age groups. We want to provide a convenient service that can be accessed from one single platform, so they can enjoy music on any device whether on mobile, laptop, TV, in the car or at the gym
What is interesting regarding the older segment of users is their higher purchasing power. The 5$ a month subscription fee for Anghami Plus is inexpensive to them, yet offers them access to all the music they want at any time of day in a very simple and convenient way.
The service you provide does not require ‘online mode’, can you tell us more about that?
There are two ways of using Anghami: being a free user without paying any subscription fee, which requires 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi connection and does not enable offline access to music. The free user is also subjected to advertising in-between songs in addition to other restrictions.
The offline mode is available if you are a premium subscriber (Anghami Plus) which costs an average monthly fee of $5. People can download as much music content as they like and play all the music they want without interruption or restriction.
Is your streaming service accessible to users in any location?
Anghami is available worldwide but the only difference is that if you are in the Middle East and North Africa, you can play both Arabic and International music. If you are an Anghami subscriber outside the region, you can only listen to Arabic music because the licenses we’ve acquired for international music only permit streaming in the MENA region.
The Arab diasporas in the United States, Europe and Brazil who use Anghami, constitute around 20% of our user base.
What are the most prevalent market trends in streaming?
On the music level, we are working very closely with local rising talents and seeing new Iraqi artists achieving great success in the Gulf region. We are also witnessing the growth of the hip-hop/rap scene in North Africa and Egypt, in addition to trendy genres such as Egyptian Mahraganat taking over the Arabic music scene.
The company has collaborated with Emirati and Saudi artists who are gaining traction, and we are interested in fostering these talents more on our platform.
Some streaming services provide multi-gaming facilities. Are you planning to diversify your services?
In the past few years, we introduced many features including a partnership with OSN offering series and movies on Anghami.
We are not only thinking of music but also looking at other forms of entertainment. We have dedicated a section to podcasts which are becoming very popular, so we are working closely with podcasters from the region to create more content.
We are trying to make Anghami more of an entertainment platform where you play music, watch series and movies, listen to podcasts, watch live shows and experience thrilling artist and audience interaction.
How is music streaming changing the music industry?
Since Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures, we believe that the music industry will gravitate more to online concerts and events.
Moreover, having diversified entertainment features in one service will help the industry grow bigger. The music business will no longer remain dependent on ticket sales and live events – music streaming services will also become a major contributor to this industry.
Did Covid-19 affect your streaming services? If so, how?
The lockdown did not affect us negatively; however, there was a shift in the consumption. Playing music continued but driving and listening to music stopped in all countries given the lockdown. Working from home led to the shift in consumption from car to laptop and on TV, as well as playing ‘workout’ music while exercising at home which became more of a trend.
Anghami also created a tab called ‘stay at home’, to help people get through the day with different music content and podcasts. Educational podcasts about Coronavirus – how to prevent it and the measures to take – were included as well.
Do you have a contingency plan in place to buffer the effects of Covid-19? How has your strategy changed?
The company had a plan ready before the lockdown and started working from home very early because most of our work can be done remotely. We also made different tools available for the team like ‘Workplace’ by Facebook where you can see everything happening in the company, the projects, chats, create different groups with different teams.
We are still working from home and will continue to do so for the coming months with a gradual plan to return to the office. However, this has not affected our workflow and productivity, in fact, we saw an increase in productivity during lockdown.
How will deployment of 5G enhance your business and the services you provide?
Anghami works on all bandwidths, from 2G, 3G, 4G and 4G. The launch of 5G will impact more people using cellular data and will offer a faster connection from home for those who don’t have fiber or ADSL, thus 5G will enhance that and will push people to use more online entertainment services. Overall, it will enhance the quality of the experience but Anghami already has very good quality music on any network.
Are you supporting any local initiatives?
Our company is working closely with many NGOs and we launched different initiatives during the lockdown to support local businesses and artists, under the slogan: “Together We Will Overcome”. We offered around $3 million worth of free advertising to support small local businesses in the region, and we received positive feedback from all those involved. The ads reached around 13 million people in the Middle East. We also offered support to local artists who were impacted by the lockdown and couldn’t perform their usual concerts and events, allowing them to promote their content and amplify their reach.