Ovum’s Digital Consumer Insights 2018 survey has provided some interesting answers to the question of how consumers subscribe to music streaming services. Certainly, the availability of multi-user plans as well as bundled offerings with mobile access have been a big success but, until recently, the precise popularity of the likes of family and student plans was largely unknown. The results of this Ovum survey clearly show that family plans are a hit with subscribers, so much so that they are keeping a lid on music streamers’ average revenue per user (ARPU). Also, despite bundle deals for music services through mobile operators becoming less generous, a sizable share of subscribers still gain access to music through their mobile operator.
Driving sales of recorded music in the last few years has largely been the responsibility of a small number of streaming services such as Apple Music, Deezer, and Spotify. These services have successfully convinced consumers that they do not need to own music but, for a fixed monthly fee, can access pretty much every track that has ever been released, or will be released, so long as they keep up the payments.
How users pay to stream music
Direct or as part of a bundle
Payment for a music subscription service takes a number of different forms. Consumers can either go direct to the service and pay monthly or make one single payment covering a year. That subscription can cover one person or a whole family (usually up to six people, including the account holder). Services also offer reduced-rate access for students. For a few years, users have also been able to take advantage of bundle deals with mobile operators that either roll in access to a music service for free with a mobile tariff or give a discount on the direct subscription price. The benefit for consumers is clear – lower-priced access to music. Mobile operators also benefit from increased “stickiness” of certain mobile tariffs, which boosts customer retention. However, as noted in the last couple of financial results presentations by Spotify, the rising popularity of discounted access plans has impacted on ARPU. No service has published precise details on how the total subscriber share is split by the different plans, but Ovum’s Digital Consumer Insights 2018 survey, conducted at the end of 2018, has shed considerable light on the uptake of the different plans.
Multi-user access accounts for a growing number of users
According to the survey, which took in the views of around 6,211 consumers spread across Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, the UK, and the US in December 2018, 60.7% of respondents said they took out a music subscription through a single package, while 34.7% said they accessed it via a family package, with the remaining 4.6% being students (see Figure 1). By country, the split offers some notable differences. For example, in the US, currently the biggest streaming market in the world, the family share was 43.4%, while in Brazil the student share was 9.9%. Given that a family subscription costs 1.5 times a direct subscription but provides access for the account holder and five other users, the survey findings suggest that the impact on ARPU could be significant, particularly if uptake of family packages rises faster than single-user subscriptions.
Figure 1: Share of music streaming subscription users by package, December 2018
Ovum’s Digital Consumer Insights 2018 survey also revealed details of access via bundled plans. Overall, 66.7% of subscribers held a direct subscription, with 22.2% of subscribers accessing a service via some form of mobile bundle, and 11.1% through a fixed-line service deal (see Figure 2). As with package access, there were differences by country. The UK had the highest share of direct subscriptions (76.3%), with China being the lowest (57%).
Figure 2: Share of music streaming subscribers by access, December 2018
Although bundled offerings with mobile and fixed operators have shifted over the last few years from being included for free with an access plan to simple billing arrangements, there are still plenty of bundled offers that give discounts on music subscriptions or extended free trial periods. Moreover, when respondents were asked about the addition or removal of a service bundle in the past 12 months, 24% said they added online music streaming compared to just 6% saying they removed music service access. So, at the moment at least, music bundling is still important for a significant number of consumers.
Despite music streaming’s advances, it is worth noting that music access is still a relatively new way of listening to music, so slight reductions in ARPU through discounted plans and bundled access are not a problem at the moment. However, the issue of costs to services is something worth keeping an eye on. Eventually, services may be forced into looking at raising prices, and the obvious first target is the underpriced family plan. As Ovum’s Digital Consumer Insights 2018 survey has shown, the multi-user plans have proved popular, and a modest price rise is unlikely to result in mass subscription cancellations.
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