【英语中国】流媒体拯救中国音乐? The beat goes online in China’s music market

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所属分类:双语中国

2014-6-6 06:32

小艾摘要: China’s music business will grow substantially thanks to the rise of online streaming services, according to Max Hole, head of international business at Universal Music Group, the biggest record comp ...
The beat goes online in China’s music market
China’s music business will grow substantially thanks to the rise of online streaming services, according to Max Hole, head of international business at Universal Music Group, the biggest record company by sales.

For decades, piracy has undermined the ability of rights holders to sell CDs or digital downloads in China. Although China has a fifth of the world’s population, it accounted for less than 1 per cent of record companies’ $15bn in worldwide revenues last year. Labels make more money in New York state than they do in China.

“The Chinese existing model for music is not entirely broken, but it’s pretty broken,” says Mr Hole, who runs Universal’s operations outside the US. “We’ve got the opportunity to skip all that and go straight to a streaming and subscription model.”

What is changing, he says, is that consumers are listening to music via streaming services controlled by the country’s biggest internet companies including Tencent, Alibaba and China Mobile.

These companies are willing to pay to license music for their platforms. This is because Beijing is stepping up enforcement against copyright infringers and because the big internet groups are looking to expand into countries with tougher copyright?regimes.?“They’ve all got aspirations in the west so they’re becoming much more amenable to a solution with intellectual property owners,” he says.

Until recently, most online platforms in China provided pirated music. But in the past three years, the “major” record companies – Universal, Sony Music and Warner Music – and some independent labels have licensed China’s eight biggest online music services.

The licensing deals were triggered by a landmark agreement in 2011 with Baidu, which runs China’s biggest search engine. That deal also settled anti-piracy litigation.

“Has [the Baidu agreement] been fantastically successful? No,” says Mr Hole. “Was it a start? Yes.”

While Chinese consumers are listening to more music on licensed services, the most popular ones are free and supported by advertising, generating very little revenue for record companies.

The next step for China’s music business – and a much more challenging one – is to convince consumers to pay. Most big free streaming services have introduced paid options following pressure from record companies.

So far, the paid userbase is small. Tencent’s QQ Music, which is one of the longest established services, has attracted 2.8m subscribers paying up to Rmb10 ($1.60) per month.

Perhaps the best evidence that it is possible to make money from music in China comes from China Mobile, the state-owned telecom group that has more than 700m customers. It reportedly generates more than Rmb22bn a year from music, mostly from ringback tones, but has hitherto shared only a small proportion of its revenues with rights holders.

Outdustry, a Beijing-based consultancy, recently predicted that the consolidation of digital music services would benefit record companies.

“We will see these few major players – with the support of the government – being able to shut down or license any rogue sites or apps,” one of its reports said. “At this point, with the market largely under control, there will be a concerted push towards more realistic freemium structures in which paying money does actually add value.”

For Mr Hole, the opportunity in China has never looked bigger. He says Universal is increasing investment in its operation in Beijing, where it has signed artists such as Sa Dingding, a folk singer from Inner Mongolia, and Li Xiangxiang, the winner of television singing competition Chinese Idol.

“I feel the wind of change in China,” he says. “Up until fairly recently I had to go to China to sell. Now they’re coming to me.”

环球音乐(Universal Music Group)的国际业务主管马克斯?霍尔(Max Hole)指出,得益于线上流媒体服务的崛起,中国的音乐行业将出现显著增长。按销售额计算,环球音乐是全球第一大唱片公司。

几十年来,盗版侵蚀了版权持有方在中国销售CD或者开展付费数字下载业务的能力。虽然中国拥有占全球五分之一的人口,但在唱片公司去年150亿美元的全球总收入当中,来自中国的收入占比不足1%。唱片公司在中国的收入还不如在纽约州的收入高。

霍尔表示:“中国音乐市场现有的商业模式虽未完全崩溃,但已严重受损。我们有机会跳过所有这些,直接进入流媒体和付费业务模式。”霍尔负责环球音乐在美国以外地区的业务运营。

他说,正在发生的变化是,顾客开始通过腾讯(Tencent)、阿里巴巴(Alibaba)等中国主要互联网公司以及中国移动(China Mobile)提供的流媒体服务欣赏音乐。

这些公司愿意为自身平台提供的音乐支付版权费用。原因之一在于中国政府正在加强针对侵犯版权者的执法,另一方面也是因为这些大型互联网集团正在准备拓展市场,进军版权管理制度更加严格的国家。霍尔指出:“这些公司都有进军西方市场的抱负,因此它们正变得越来越愿意与知识产权所有者达成一个解决方案。”

直到不久以前,中国的绝大多数网络平台提供的都是盗版音乐。但在过去三年中,主流唱片公司——包括环球音乐、索尼音乐(Sony Music)和华纳音乐(Warner Music)——以及部分独立唱片公司,对中国八家最大的线上音乐服务商进行了版权授权。

这些授权协议主要受到了2011年唱片公司与百度(Baidu)达成的一项里程碑式协议的推动。这项协议还化解了反盗版诉讼。百度运营着中国第一大搜索引擎。

霍尔说:“与百度的协议是否取得了巨大成功?并非如此。但这是否是一个好的开始?毫无疑问。”

虽然当前中国消费者在拥有正版授权的服务平台上欣赏的音乐更多了,最受欢迎的仍然是提供免费服务的平台,主要靠广告收入支撑运营,为唱片公司带来的收入非常有限。

中国音乐行业要走的下一步——并且是更具挑战性的一步——是说服消费者为服务付费。由于受到唱片公司的压力,绝大多数大型免费流媒体服务商都引入了付费选项。

截至目前,付费用户的基数仍然很小。以腾讯的QQ音乐为例——这是中国运营时间最久的流媒体服务之一——现已吸引到了280万付费用户,平均每人每月的付费金额约为10元人民币(合1.6美元)。

证明在中国做音乐能赚到钱的最佳证据或许来自中国移动,这家国有电信集团拥有超过7亿用户。据报道称,该公司每年来自音乐业务的收入超过220亿元人民币,其中彩铃是主力现金牛,但该公司到目前为止仅拿出了很小一部分收入与版权所有者分享。

总部位于北京的咨询公司Outdustry近期预计,数字音乐服务市场的整合将有利于唱片公司。

Outdustry在一份报告中说:“我们将看到,市场中的少数主要企业,在政府的支持下,将有能力关停盗版网站和应用,或要求其支付版权费用。在这一阶段,鉴于市场秩序大体可控,各方将同心协力地推动更加合理的‘免费+增值服务’(freemium)模式,在这种模式之下,支付费用确实能够优化体验。”

对于霍尔来说,中国市场的机遇从未像现在这么诱人。他表示,环球音乐正在扩大对其在北京业务的投资。该公司在北京签下的艺人包括来自内蒙古的民歌歌手萨顶顶,以及电视歌唱选秀节目《中国梦之声》(Chinese Idol)的冠军李祥祥。

霍尔说:“我感到中国的风向正在改变。就在不久以前,我还必须前往中国负责销售事宜。现在他们会主动找上门来。”

译者/马拉

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