Does UFC’s new music app hint at the future of subscription streaming?

How do you ensure the continued commercial growth in music streaming when the main players all continue to offer a similar UI and content library at a standardized price point?

One answer to that question might be found in the proliferation of niche platforms, servicing an audience of super-fans.

As we’ve learnt from Neil Young’s archives, Big Hit Entertainment’s WeVerse fan app, and Cardi-B’s OnlyFans account, monetizing die-hard fans via subscription services can be a smart move.

One of the latest examples of a niche music service was launched last month by mixed martial arts brand UFC, whose new $7.99-per month UFC Ultimate Sound app is described as “the first-ever music streaming and media app that allows UFC athletes the opportunity to directly connect with fans around the world through music and content”.

B2B music technology and licensing specialist Tuned Global provided the white-label music streaming tech for the app, including custom branded applications, infrastructure, hosting and more.

Speaking on a virtual panel at last month’s Asia-centric Music Matters conference, Tuned Global’s Chief Revenue Officer Spiro Arkoudis argued that such brand involvement in the music streaming sector will benefit the entire record business.

“We pride ourselves on being complementary to the ecosystem, not cannibalistic,” he said. “Let’s get more brands involved.”

In Arkoudis’s eyes, brand-affiliated music apps like UFC’s can only help pull in current non-subscribers to the world of premium music streaming.

Arkoudis described Tuned Global as a “technical enabler” for brands to launch their own music services via the company’s white label and “turnkey technology”.

The instigator of the service was Norway-based ACX Music who engaged Tuned Global to provide the platform and make UFC Ultimate Sound a reality.

With its team of musicians, DJs, producers and curators, ACX specializes in “creating the right kind of music atmosphere for any brand, event and audience”.

“UFC are one of the world’s largest pay-per-view providers. That means people in this context are used to paying for a service.”

Svein Sorgard, ACX Music

Speaking on the same panel last month, ACX Music CEO Svein Sorgard explained how UFC – with its dedicated base of fans willing to spend their money on events – served as the perfect example of a brand that should be launching a subscription music app.

“UFC are one of the world’s largest pay-per-view providers,” noted Sorgard. “That means people in this context are used to paying for a service. There are a lot of cool music services [globally] today but we thought there might be an [opportunity] here for reaching out to young people.”

He’s not wrong. UFC’s TV audience in the US surged above a million on ESPN during coronavirus quarantine and in July, the $64.99 pay-per-view UFC 251 event featuring Usman vs. Masvidal reportedly saw 900,000 pay-per-view purchases in the US alone, with 1.3m including international buys.

The biggest pay per view UFC event in history was Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor in October 2018 (UFC229), which attracted 2.4m PPV buys.

Utilising Tuned Global turnkey technology, they were able to launch a high-end service within a few months, offering not only music playlists but also podcasts and videos – all content curated with the support of the fighters themselves.

In addition to the UFC Ultimate Sound app, Tuned Global has previously provided music tech solutions for brands and partners such as Coca Cola, Warner Music Group, Virgin Mobile, Universal Music Group, Line Music, Pizza Hut and Samsung.

The company worked with Universal Music Malaysia, and their client Pizza Hut, , to create the “The Singing Pizza” app. It featured an exclusive playlist comprising 200 songs updated every two weeks across a nine-month campaign. The app was downloadable via a QR code printed on pizza boxes and menus.

“When we worked on that, the objective was very tactical,” explained Janice Jose Senior Regional Director, New Business Universal Music Singapore during the panel discussion.

“We weren’t looking at it as a platform that would live for less than a year. It was a very fixed timing because we were offering a very finite set of music, curated in such a way that it appeals to what young people in Malaysia would like to listen to.”

Jose added: “It was a successful campaign. Throughout that nine months we peppered it with a lot of engagements. A lot of our artists [from Universal Music Malaysia] also got involved where there were competitions that we exclusively ran within the platform.”

Said Arkoudis: “If we’re educating a subset of the audience out there that’s not subscribing at the moment… we can create more awareness through these brand executions, and then provide potentially an on-ramp to current services.

“It’s important for the whole streaming ecosystem to have more brands getting involved.”

Although the Pizza Hut and UFC Ultimate Sound app share similar fan engagement objectives, ACX Music’s Sorgard explained that the goal for UFC Ultimate Sound is to serve fans of the sport on an on-going basis, rather than act as a short-term marketing campaign.

“This is a music app for that particular sport and it’s not a secret we have a four year contract with the UFC,” he said, adding: “There is room for everyone to have more than one music streaming app [on their devices] if you are a big fan of a sport. It’s like having HBO [in addition to] your normal TV channels.”Music Business Worldwide

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