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INTERVIEW: An international company opening in the Middle East is not exactly the same as being from the Middle East, says Anghami CEO

Last month, regional music streaming platform Anghami completed its merger with Vistas Media Acquisition Company and went public, becoming the first Arab tech company to list on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

“Some might say 10 years is a long time, and some might say it’s not long enough, to become a public company,” Anghami co-founder and CEO Elie Habib told Arab News. .

When Anghami was launched in November 2011, locals were unaccustomed to paying for music and music labels had no idea what streaming was, he said.

“The odds were not in our favor,” he added.

He and Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of the company, expected just over 300,000 users in the first year, Habib revealed – instead, they got 1 million users in the past few years. first three months. Over the next decade, he said, they received several offers to sell the company.

“But, we felt we weren’t ready because we could still grow the business – it hadn’t reached its maximum potential,” he said.

Anghami co-founder and CEO Elie Habib. (Provided)

Anghami now has a library of 72 million songs, 75 million registered users and around 40 telecommunications partners in the MENA region. The company is free from any fundraising or pressure from shareholders and Habib and Maroun have the freedom to develop the company as they see fit.

Anghami’s growth has been accompanied by the development of the broader audio streaming industry in the Middle East, which has attracted global players to the market. Apple Music, for example, was launched around 2015-2016. In 2016-2017, Anghami recorded its strongest growth.

“I have full respect for all other music services, but we are at a stage (in building Anghami) that is not comparable to others,” Habib said.

Along the way, French streaming service Deezer took on Anghami’s content library and made it exclusive to its own platform. They “took a lot out of our rulebook, but we still kept growing,” Habib said.

He added, “An international business opening in the Middle East is not exactly the same as being from the Middle East and understanding that we have to care about artists, brands and users.”

The Middle Eastern music industry is unique in several ways. For example, there are no major labels in the region, unlike in Western markets, which means the requirements for artists are different, Habib said. That’s why Anghami partnered with Sony Music Middle East to launch the Vibe Music label.

Arabic music makes up only around 1% of Anghami’s catalog, but generates around 50% of its traffic. Arabic indie music and hip-hop have each grown by 20-30% over the past year, showing that there is a growing demand for modern Arabic music. It is this demand that motivates Anghami to work with regional artists, Habib said.

“Artists in our region don’t have a proper platform to spread their content,” he added.

Some global companies also invest in promoting regional talent. Spotify, for example, launched its emerging artist program, RADAR, in 2020 and the following year it collaborated with viral online teen singing sensation Issam Al-Najjar from Jordan.

As part of the partnership, Spotify provided editorial and marketing support, including billboards in New York’s Times Square, as well as a host of social media promotions.

“It’s very different (from what we do),” Habib said, adding that Spotify’s main focus and investment is in podcasts.

“In our part of the world, we invest in music; create a label and content,” he said. “It’s very different from creating a marketing campaign for an artist.

“It is very important to know that Anghami invests in the artists of the region; we are part of the ecosystem of artists.

The company’s goal, he explained, is to attract a “whole new generation of artists” who want to create music, and then empower them to do so at scale, profitably. .

As part of this commitment, Anghami has produced 300 original songs under its Anghami Originals banner and plans to launch Anghami Lab – a physical space combining food, music, artists and fans – across the Middle East, starting in the Arab Emirates. United and Saudi Arabia.

“Our interest in growing artists is tied to the interest in growing the music ecosystem in the Middle East,” Habib said. Anghami is therefore in the process of creating several businesses that aim to help artists thrive in both the online and offline worlds, he added. Future plans include expansion across territories and industries.

“We are trying to expand into places in the Middle East where we haven’t invested enough yet, but we want to expand beyond the Middle East to where there is an Arab diaspora,” Habib said. .

“We connect with the ear,” he added, which means looking for opportunities to invest in anything audio-related, including podcasts.

“We’re launching several services later this year that connect people to people, people to music, and people to other forms of audio content,” Habib said.

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