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Music Ally interviewed Simon Robson, president of Warner Music Asia, for an upcoming country-profile of China. We thought the full Q&A was interesting enough to post as a standalone article.

How are people engaging with music platforms in China?

“Chinese music services have done a much better job than their international counterparts at adding social media functionality. This has made the whole music consumption experience more interesting and interactive for fans and has helped drive take-up of services.

Often people access a music service for free, but pay incrementally when using interactive features on it. Music services can offer a great way for fans to entertain themselves and their friends.

Two popular areas are live streaming and sing along features. Live streaming has become like an online version of busking. If people like what they see they’ll share their views and tip the musicians via virtual gifting. Karaoke culture is huge in China and we’ve seen it migrate online as fans share footage of themselves singing along to their favourite songs.”

Are music services becoming social networks in China?

“Many Chinese music services are much more interactive than their international equivalents. China is such a big country, people are always looking for new ways to stay connected with each other.

That’s why many music services enable fans to share opinions on songs and build communities of likeminded people. You see the same approach on platforms that offer film and TV programmes, with comments running alongside the content. It’s very different to a Spotify or a Netflix.”

Is the digital-music market changing in terms of leading players?

“The make-up of the traditional streaming market has stayed pretty consistent. But fans are also finding new ways of discovering music. For example, Douyin offers short 15 second clips of songs and is heavily used for music discovery. It claims more than 150 million active daily users – that’s 10 per cent of the population.

One success for us has been Fitz & The Tantrum’s ‘Handclap’ – the track started to generate a buzz in Korea and Chinese fans tuned into it through Douyin and now it’s racking up huge numbers on all services.”

Do you have any idea of how much the Chinese market will grow in 2018?

“I think we’ll see double-digit growth in the overall value of the market this year. But that growth could be so much stronger if we address some issues in the market.

The most important one is the way many subscription services are structured. Users can pay a fee for a month, download up to 500 tracks, and then end their contract. Needless to say this leads to huge levels of churn as people download the latest tracks, opt out and then join again some months later.

These services are structured this way so that users can listen offline, but they’d be better off enabling users to cache tracks and educating them that they can still listen offline with this model. Fixing that issue could accelerate growth dramatically.”

How are Western artists performing in China – are they really mainstream?

“Local repertoire accounts for around three-quarters of listening on streaming platforms. But the volume of consumption here still means that international acts can rack up huge streaming numbers.

K-Pop and J-Pop stars do well, but we’re seeing an increasing number of Western artists gain real traction. Western artists are starting to understand that although the China market has huge potential, it is also unique, with completely different social media accounts needing to be set-up (Sina Weibo and Wechat) and that to get traction with fans, the artists need to spend time in territory with regular visits.

A number of our artists are doing that, such as Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, Charli XCX & Anna Marie and as a result they are starting to enjoy success here.”

Are you optimistic about the Chinese market?

“I’m very optimistic about the long-term prospects for the Chinese market. We’re only just scratching the surface, there’s a lot more to come and the potential here is extremely exciting.

The market has gone from almost 100% piracy to one where licensed services are widely used. There’s a growing economy and increasing disposable incomes which means people can focus on lifestyle spending, not just on buying necessities. People have more money and they’re prepared to pay for high quality experiences – that’s good news for us.

Everyone talks about how China can be a top-three market in the future. I have no doubt that will be the case, the only question is how long it will take to do that. Potentially it could take less than five years but that will require a more compelling subscription offering, which is more differentiated from the current free services.”

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