Spotify users worldwide will no longer have access to music tracks from K-pop acts represented by Kakao M, an offshoot of Korean internet giant Kakao Corp. The global music streamer’s deal with the label has expired and has not been renewed.
“Spotify can confirm that starting March 1, 2021, Kakao M’s catalogue will no longer be available to our listeners worldwide due to the expiration of our license. We have been working with Kakao M over the last year and a half to renew the global licensing agreement,” said Spotify in a statement forwarded to Variety. “It is our hope that this disruption will be temporary and we can resolve the situation soon.”
Kakao M’s roster includes performers IU and Apink. But the full number of artists and tracks lost to Spotify has not been disclosed.
The failure to agree a new license only affects Spotify users outside Korea, as Kakao M had not licensed its content for use on the company’s new Korean service which launched only last month.
The Yonhap news agency reports Kakao M as saying that the deal suspension was related to Spotify’s policy under which it seeks worldwide content deals spanning local and international services. Both parties say they will keep talking.
Despite the importance of K-pop worldwide, Spotify was a latecomer to the Korean music streaming market. Although Spotify identifies South Korea as the sixth largest music market in the world, in February the company described South Korea as only the 93rd market in which its service would become available.
Its late entry into a market which has long been an internet pioneer – Korea’s mobile broadband is widespread and among the world’s fastest – meant Spotify was launching behind deeply-entrenched incumbents. These include Kakao Corp.’s market-leading Melon, with an estimated 8.81 million subscribers. Other established players include telecom operator KT Corp.’s Genie Music, with 4.47 million, and SK Telecom’s Flo, with 2.86 million.
Spotify said at launch that it was introducing 120 playlists exclusively for the South Korea market, including Hot Hits Korea, New Music Friday Korea, Korean Music Rising, and Fresh! New Music Korea.
While Spotify has some catching up to do inside South Korea, it argues that it scale and operations have played a part in expanding the success of Korean music on an international stage. The service has 155 million subscribers, 345 million average monthly users, to whom it currently offers more than 70 million tracks. Its users have created 4.5 billion playlists.
“Since Spotify debuted its first K-Pop playlist in 2014, the share of K-Pop listening on the platform has increased by more than 2,000%,” a company spokesman said. Part of that has been curation efforts such as Spotify’s globally-available K-Pop genre hub which presents K-Pop, Hip Hop, Indie, OST, and R&B, or Radar Korea, a playlist uncovering fresh K-music finds that is part of Spotify’s global emerging artist program.
“We always want to be where the listeners and artists are, and South Korea is rich in both,” said Alex Norstroem, chief freemium business officer of Spotify, in February. “This launch presents a massive opportunity for us to not only further our mission of bringing new and quality content to more audiences, but also help local Korean artists tap into Spotify’s 320 million listeners worldwide. We hope to create more opportunities for K-Pop as a genre to further its discovery in new markets around the world.”
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