December 18, 2014:Messaging app Line buys Microsoft’s MixRadio streaming music service

nokia-mixradio

MixRadio started life as Nokia’s free streaming music service, preloaded on its Lumia range of Windows Phone smartphones. After Microsoft bought it as part of Nokia’s devices and services business earlier this year, MixRadio announced plans to spin off on its own.

Since then, though, the plans have changed: MixRadio is being acquired by Japanese social app Line for an (as yet) undisclosed amount. The deal was announced this afternoon, as Microsoft and Line reached a definitive agreement for the deal.

MixRadio will remain available for Windows Phone as a third-party app, with its familiar blend of streaming playlists curated by the company’s team of “mixologists”.

It’s a big deal for MixRadio. While it claims “millions” of listeners from its Lumia days, Line has 170 million monthly active users for its app, which blends instant messaging, voice and video calls and now payments too, with an external network of mobile games using its social graph.

87m of those users are in Japan, Taiwan and Thailand, but Line is pushing hard to expand globally in Europe, Latin America and the US. The company’s last set of quarterly financial results revealed $192m of revenues, up 104% year-on-year.

Line is already involved in the music business too. Partly through working with artists like Paul McCartney, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift to launch profiles within its app as another social channel – those three have 10m, 11.1m and 7.7m fans on Line respectively, by the way.

lineHowever, Line has also just this month announced a joint venture with record labels Sony Music and Avex Digital called Line Music, which the company described as a “streaming music business”.

MixRadio boss Jyrki Rosenberg told Music Ally that Line Music will sit separately to MixRadio, the former focusing more on Japan, while the latter continues as a global service, run from its headquarters in Bristol in the UK.

Here’s the official, er, line from Line’s chief globalisation officer Jung-ho Shin in the announcement of the acquisition:

“Line has been ceaselessly evolving to become the world’s leading mobile life platform.  I am confident that MixRadio provides an outstanding music service, which is an important component of consumers’ life. I also believe that Line’s global footprints will further enable MixRadio to bring endless pleasure to them.”

Rosenberg provided some more context in an exclusive interview ahead of the acquisition’s announcement.

“With this outcome, I couldn’t be more pleased and excited. It’s a wonderful match,” he said. “Line has an amazing team, and when you look at what they’ve done with their current businesses, and how that fits with a very mobile-optimised music app like MixRadio, it’s the perfect match.”

Rosenberg declined to comment on whether the acquisition accelerates MixRadio’s plans to make its service available beyond Windows Phone, on iOS and Android. I suspect that the company was already treating this expansion as a high priority, but Line’s huge footprint on those platforms should be a powerful marketing base for MixRadio’s launch.

“Today we’re announcing this partnership and the acquisition, not commenting on launching on other platforms. But I have said before that I don’t think any mobile music app can be successful unless they’re ubiquitously available,” said Rosenberg, who confirmed that MixRadio will continue to be preloaded on Microsoft’s Lumia smartphones, through a partnership with its previous owner.

Does being bought by Line mean Japan becomes a higher priority for MixRadio, or will it leave that country to Line Music? “Japan is the world’s second biggest music market,” was Rosenberg’s carefully-chosen response. He did say that the Line deal will give MixRadio “even more tools to be social, in many different and fun ways” – we’ll be interested to see if Line’s social graph is integrated into the MixRadio app sooner rather than later.

“Personalisation is very important for us: playing the right music for you at the right time and in the right context. So personalisation is number one [in MixRadio’s priorities] but social has been a high priority for us already,” he said. MixRadio recently switched to a new, in-house recommendations engine for its service, which Rosenberg said has “improved retention and usage of the app”, on the personalisation front.

“People have realised that it’s not enough to have thirty to forty million tracks in the catalogue: you have to know the individual users – the listeners – and play the right music to them,” he said, of a streaming music market where even on-demand services like Spotify are putting much more emphasis on curated playlists than in the past.

Rosenberg said that “several” options had been on the table for MixRadio to spin off from Microsoft through funding or acquisition, but declined to say what other companies were in the frame. “In the end it was pretty clear that Line was the best fir for us, with their reach and the way they can help us reach more audiences,” he said. “We had a lot of interest, but Line is definitely the best outcome.”

What’s next for MixRadio? ‘Basically, we’re planning a spin-off…’

Social app Line confirms its move into streaming music

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Stuart Dredge
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