x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UrFilez and Etisalat sign deal to launch radio app

UrFilez, an online music service backed by a Bahraini royal, signs a deal with Etisalat to launch its mobile application across 18 countries.

The UrFilez app will initially be available in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.
The UrFilez app will initially be available in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

An online music service that aims to be the world's largest has signed a deal with Etisalat to launch an app in 18 markets.

UrFilez, which claims to have invested a multimillion-dollar sum in music rights and technology, said it would launch its personalised radio app tomorrow.

In one of the most significant deals in the Middle East's fledgling online music business, UrFilez said it had formed distribution agreements with Etisalat, along with Kuwait's Zain Group. It already has a deal with Bahrain's Batelco.

The UrFilez app will initially be available in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, said Hassan Miah, the co-founder and chief executive of the company.

Through the agreement with Etisalat, UrFilez aims to roll out the app to all the markets in which the UAE operator has a presence, Mr Miah said. "It's to launch in conjunction with Etisalat in every Etisalat territory," he said. Two of the first markets will be Nigeria and Tanzania, he added.

The app, which will be available on Apple iPhone, BlackBerry and Android handsets, is a personalised radio service similar to Pandora in the US.

"It does everything that Pandora does and a little bit more," Mr Miah said. "You type in your favourite artist, and it will create a personalised radio station. Since it knows what kind of artist you like, it knows what kind of music you like."

The application will initially be free, after which UrFilez intends to charge between US$1 (Dh3.67) and $2 a month for access.

UrFilez, a privately funded company with offices in Bahrain, New York and Abu Dhabi, announced in 2010 it had acquired rights for music by artists signed with Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and EMI Music.

The company said it was negotiating to acquire the rights to use music licensed by Rotana, one of the Arab world's most prominent music owners.

Mr Miah said the company had invested an "eight-figure" dollar sum in music rights and technology. "We think we can get the break-even within probably a couple of years, given the economic model we built," he said.

Mr Miah said he personally funded UrFilez, along with "a member of the royal family of Bahrain", whom he declined to name.

The company planned to be the world's largest music service, ahead of iTunes, Spotify and Pandora, he added.

"The potential market is enormous," Mr Miah said. "We should be the world's largest, because we're looking at so much bigger markets."

The company launched in Bahrain in 2010, but delayed its wider rollout to perfect its business plan.

"We only launched in Bahrain and we have several thousand subscribers," he said. "We decided to hold back until we had this product really ready to hit the mass."

The company originally pursued a music downloads business model, but said streaming - in which music is played over a computer or smartphone internet connection - is preferable.

"It's all streaming - there are no downloads at all. It's a whole music experience - and you can't pirate that," he said. "We are adding downloads down the line, but we do not believe downloads is a very exciting business for the future."

UrFilez plans to launch another service next month, which will allow users to listen to specific songs on demand, as well as pay to download and keep tracks.

The next service will be more akin to the Spotify offering, Mr Miah said. It will cost about $5 a month to subscribe to and - within the Gulf region - about 79 cents to download a song to keep.

UrFilez is one of just a handful of music download services to have launched in the Middle East.

Last year, the Saudi Arabian company Music Master began offering online downloads, with more than 3 million songs available at launch.

This month, Etisalat's rival du launched its Music Store service, in which users pay Dh1 per day for the right to download and keep five songs a day from a catalogue of 10,000.

Virgin Megastore is also planning to launch a digital download platform on its website, the company said in September.

bflanagan@thenational.ae