MTN changes the face of music

The landmark deal clinched by MTN with the Grammy award winner and British singer and songwriter Adele is an indication that the mobile phone operator, which has been promoting music streaming and caller tunes on its platform, is changing the face of the music industry in Africa. By Gugu Lourie

To call MTN a music company would be stretching it at this juncture.

Sure, MTN is a mobile phone operator, but it also plays in other adjacent markets such as video-on-demand (VOD) and fibre-to the-home (FTTH) services, but it can’t be classified in the same category as Sony Music or Apple iTunes.

Nonetheless MTN is a cellphone operator that is not afraid to go where many fear to tread – proof is Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.

This time the firm based in the leafy suburb of Fairlands in Johannesburg has been instrumental in developing music in the continent.

MTN has successfully managed to increase sales of albums that had either stopped selling or were selling at lacklustre pace on traditional platforms such as music shops.

The upshot of MTN’s efforts in promoting digital music has been that the mobile phone operator is gaining market share in attracting music lovers on its platforms and its music download sales are improving.

For example; the late South African music icon Brenda Fassie’s signature song “Weekend Special” received more than half a million downloads on its platform.

MTN’s platform also enabled iconic song “Jabulani” released by Hotline featuring PJ Powers to reach more than 500 000 downloads in a week, while Oskido received more than a million downloads.

Harrysong’s “Tribute to Mandela” garnered more than  two million downloads.

This phenomenal success has enabled MTN Music+ to have more than 30 million customers in Nigeria and close to 15 million in South Africa.

MTN’s most recent move –  to scoop the exclusive rights to caller back ring tone or caller tune to Adele’s much-awaited upcoming single title “Hello” – may be a turning point for the operators strategy to provide music to its customers.

The deal was accomplished through MTN’s content aggregator, Content Connect Africa.

Watch below the video of the “Hello” single, which is from a new album that might be titled “25” after Adele hinted on her official social media accounts.



The caller tune to “Hello” single will be exclusively available to MTN South Africa customers for downloading on its online music streaming platform Music+.

The “Hello” single caller tune will also be extended to MTN operations in Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda, where there is a huge market for caller tunes.

The landmark deal with Adele comes at a time when the music industry is facing dwindling sales and artists are looking for new ways to sell their albums even singles.

However, MTN caller tunes and streaming seems to be flourishing with the rise of the usage of smart devices – smartphone and tablets – in Africa.

MTN operates in more than 20 countries across Africa and the Middle East, which includes Botswana, Sudan, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Syria and Iran.

Adele – whose last album “21” released in 2011 scooped six Grammy awards and exceeded six million sales in the US – has never before given caller tunes rights to any mobile operator.

Larry Annetts
Larry Annetts, MTN’s chief consumer officer (Photo Credit: MTN SA)

Clearly Larry Annetts, MTN South Africa marketing boss, could not have wished for a better and early Christmas present.

“This is indicative of our quest to use our expansive footprint to give our customers the best music in a digital format. The rights (to Adele single “Hello”) give expression to the company’s ongoing commitment to promoting music as an art form,” explains Annetts.

He has been instrumental in promoting music and collaboration among African musicians, such as South Africa’s Mafikizolo, Nigeria’s Davido, Don Jazzy and Praiz.

MTN’s strategy of diversifying its revenue into the music industry meant that the mobile operator not only look at telecoms services for source of income.

“We have done a lot of work in promoting music in the digital space, with Music+ being one of our key offering that has given artists across the continent a bigger platform to market their music,” explains Annetts.

“We are humbled and pleased that our efforts in the music space are being acknowledged and recognised, and we are looking forward to similar partnerships of this nature going forward.”

What do the clinching of the rights with Adele really means?

For all intents and purposes, this may be the beginning of a coup. If MTN customers download Adele’s “Hello” single caller tune in droves, clearly more global artists may look at partnering with Africa’s biggest mobile phone operator.

It will also mean that more African musicians will want to be associated with MTN to get the benefits of its caller tunes.

Furthermore, the deal with Adele may simply imply that MTN will be able to reinforce its connection with subscribers, who have grown to love Adele’s music. This will also accelerate MTN’s efforts to provide added value to its mobile phone users and create more value for the company.

The signing of the landmark deal with Adele suggests that MTN is beginning to reap the rewards of its diversification strategy, which has been ruthlessly undertaken under Annetts’ watch to attract more music loving customers.

Looking at the South African and Nigerian users of Music+ that are now reaching more than 50 million show that this is not only a strategy aimed at enticing new subscribers – but is a successful effort in retaining the existing ones.

Additionally, MTN has also created a niche for itself among musicians, who view it  as a company that cares about their music and provides a platform for them to generate additional income.

If you are in doubt, ask musicians such as Praiz, Hotline and Harrysong if they haven’t benefited from MTN’s music downloads.

Let’s face it, African musicians can do more with partnering with MTN in promoting their albums and singles in its African markets.

MTN has conquered tough markets of Nigeria and Iran and may be doing the same with music industry.

“These exclusive rights we have secured with Adele will set us apart from competition and reaffirm our commitment to delight millions of our customers and provide them with a distinct MTN customer experience,” says Annetts.




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