With more than 70 million users across MENA, Europe and USA, music-streaming platform Anghami has come a long way in the decade since it was launched in Beirut, Lebanon, by Co-Founders, Elie Habib and Eddy Maroun. Since then, the company has moved its headquarters to Abu Dhabi as part of the Abu Dhabi Global Market and it also has offices in Beirut, Dubai, Cairo and Riyadh, with more than 160 employees. While the company was built on music streaming – something which remains at its heart – Anghami is also on a mission to contribute to the wider music and entertainment ecosystem, with numerous subsidiaries, co-operations and ventures adding strings to the company’s bow.
The most recent of these strings came with the acquisition of Dubai-based live events management company, Spotlight Events. The strategic partnership aims to bridge the gap between online and offline, with Spotlight becoming Anghami’s arm for live events and concerts – and it has already borne fruit, with its Beat The Heat series of summer concerts in Dubai proving incredibly popular.
Here, Co-Founder and CEO Eddy Maroun talks to TPMEA about the motives behind the acquisition, delves into the possibilities for AR/VR, and speculates on the outlook for music and live events in the region.
Why did Anghami acquire Spotlight Events?
Anghami is now more than just a music streaming platform; we are becoming an entertainment platform. We believe that given Anghami’s infrastructure and network, and the relationships we have with all stakeholders in the music and entertainment scene, that we must play a bigger role within this ecosystem to help it grow and to grow within it.
The Spotlight acquisition is part of an overall strategy to unlock the synergy between the physical and digital worlds. This connection was made obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic when we saw that as offline music stopped, online streaming was also somehow affected. We believe that we can fill that gap between offline and online by being present in the Middle East and North Africa and by bringing in our tech and data to the offline world. With this, we can accelerate growth within the industry and give more opportunities to artists, brands and, of course, fans to experience something new.
What kind of live events are we likely to see as a result of the acquisition?
If you look at the festivals happening in the region, you’ll see the same artists appearing time after time – the ones who have historically done well and are a safe bet for promoters to sell enough tickets. However, there is a huge range of artists that do not get that chance, but according to our streaming figures, we know they are popular within certain segments. We want to be the platform for those underrepresented artists, give them a way to grow, interact with their fans more and monetise that interaction.
We started our programme of events this summer with our series of Beat The Heat concerts in partnership with Dubai Tourism, which saw up-and-coming artists from across the region perform live at Dubai World Trade Centre. If you look at the line-up, most of the artists there are names who you don’t often see on stage in the UAE, and the results have been amazing. The tickets sold extremely well, and the audience reaction was incredible.
How much of an advantage does this data-driven method of hosting live events give you?
All promoters and event organisers look at data, but we have a deeper access and understanding, and we can identify trends as they start to happen. We have had a presence for the past 10 years and in that time, we have gathered a tremendous amount of data. Being digital, we see what is trending and we know the artists who are popular and even what regions, countries, and cities they are the most popular in. This helps us identify who should perform where, with which support acts, at what times, and with what kind of messaging.
Yet while the data helps us understand the trends, we always need to be present in the region to keep our finger on the pulse. We have boots on the ground in every major city in the region to complement the data and digital presence. So, we understand each of the individual markets and we can cater to what is relevant. There’s a real gap in the market and we’re trying to bring something new to the table. In doing this, we’re trying to help the ecosystem grow and, in turn, we are growing with it.
What other initiatives have you launched to expand your offering?
Another initiative that we announced at last year’s MDLBEAST XP Music Futures conference was Vibe Music Arabia – a joint venture record label in partnership with Sony Music to support the independent Arabic artist community in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, wider GCC and Levant. We see so many talented artists and songs emerge daily from this region and believe there is a real opportunity for a boutique label to foster these fast-growing music communities and help develop their craft.
We also partnered with Addmind to launch Anghami Lab – an innovative studio, stage and lounge venue in major cities around the GCC and beyond, where artists and creators can come together and co-create music inspired by both Arabic and International cultures, and we can give that music the right reach. The first edition will take place at Riyadh Boulevard, the entertainment hub of the Saudi capital and home of the flagship Riyadh Season festivities.
How much of a focus do you place on promoting Arabic artists?
Our focus as a platform has always been on local artists and local audiences. Arab culture is at our core and is part of our slogan – ‘make some noise, the world is listening’. Of course, we are also open for more than just local talent; there’s demand for international acts and we want to be the platform for them as well. However, our focus is primarily on local talent.
We are also looking to help local and international talent work together. We contributed to the recent collaboration between Marshmello and Nancy Ajram, for example, which was executed by our head of international partnerships Wassim SAL Slaibi under Universal Arabic Music which he runs.
How important is the KSA market to Anghami?
Saudi Arabia is a gamechanger in everything we’re doing. When we started Anghami, music was banned in Saudi, and everybody used to tell us that we were mad to start a company that we were unable to promote in the biggest market in the region. That was true at the time, but we were so driven and obsessed with the idea that we pushed forward anyway.
Today, it’s a different story. Music is not just allowed; it’s a pillar of the country’s Vision 2030 plans. This represents a huge opportunity for us to grow into a market that is evolving at a rapid pace. As the largest platform for the region focusing on Arabic culture, we have a responsibility and role to play to contribute towards the growth of the industry in the Kingdom. We are cooperating significantly with the leadership and with the leading companies in the region to be part of the ecosystem and promote music and culture.
How much do you work with MDLBEAST as part of your remit within Saudi Arabia?
Anghami was the official streaming partner for MDLBEAST Soundstorm in 2021 and hopefully it will be in 2022 as well. We were also a part of the XP Music Futures Conference, where we announced Vibe Music Arabia. This shows our commitment to what’s happening there and to this ongoing transformation and evolution of the music scene.
The MDLBEAST team is fantastic, and we see eye to eye on many points. They are young, dynamic, and empowered by the leadership to push their agenda. Soundstorm is probably the world’s biggest party and it’s happening in Riyadh. This is mind-blowing, amazing and we are part of this evolution that is happening in the country. We believe in partnerships, and we think that this is the best way to complement each other’s strengths and do the best for the industry.
How much of a role do you think AR and VR will play in the future of live events?
We are a tech company at the core, which means we have the technical adaptability to go into new innovations, and when you speak about the industry both offline and online, AR and VR is always high up in the list of conversation topics.
We want to offer immersive experiences and we believe that this technology is a viable route to achieving that. As we grow into an entertainment platform, this can represent an opportunity to give our users something more than what they have experienced before on any other platform. When it comes to the development of this technology, we usually do most of it in house, but that doesn’t stop us from partnering with the right companies who have specialist knowledge in these areas if an opportunity arises.
What are your goals for the company?
Our biggest goal will always be healthy growth. We’re lucky to be in a part of the world where a lot of opportunities are opening, and we’re positioned very well to capture this growth. Our focus remains on music streaming and monetising subscriptions and adverts on the platform while accelerating growth through the various initiatives we’re launching. We believe there is a lot of depth in our core markets – the Middle East and North Africa. Take Iraq, for example, which is growing quickly and presents a huge opportunity. We always focus on Arab culture, and we believe that by focusing on Arabs, we maintain our edge over the competition in the region and remain the market leader, which has been proven over the years.
What are your favourite genres to stream or see live?
I have a very eclectic taste in music. I’ve seen Coldplay live twice and they were phenomenal, The Weeknd was also incredible live, and I am also a fan of dance and electronic music. On the Arabic front, I like pop music but also Oriental Deep House; this is a genre that is growing quickly in the region and globally, and we at Anghami are supporting it.