Deezer Betting On Hi-Fi Audio as Streaming Service Launches In Japan

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After years of trying, Deezer is about to launch in Japan, partnering with audio hardware companies Onkyo Pioneer and Yamaha to deliver lossless CD quality streaming to the world's second biggest music market.

Deezer says it is the first streaming platform to provide Hi-Res 16-Bit FLAC CD quality audio to Japanese consumers, who from tomorrow (Dec 8) will be able to listen to a catalog of over 36 million tracks, encompassing repertoire from a host of independents and two of the three major labels (negotiations with Tokyo-based Sony Music are ongoing).

At launch, the Deezer Hi-Fi tier -- costing 1,960 JPY per month ($17) -- will be the platform's only available product in the market, with the freemium or Premium+ services that Deezer operate in many other countries not available to Japanese music lovers.

It brings the number of countries that Deezer is active in to over 185, cementing its long-held position as the streaming platform with the biggest global reach. The Paris-based company still has a long way to go to catch its main rivals, Spotify and Apple Music, when it comes to all-important subscribers, though.

At the last count, Spotify boasted 60 million subscribers, while Apple has 30 million. Someway behind, Deezer has 12 million active users although does not say how many of them are paying subscribers.

Spotify and Apple also both beat Deezer to launching in Japan, with Spotify available since last fall and Apple Music making its bow two years ago. Google Play and South Korea-based Line Music are also available in the market, which has experienced strong growth in streaming take-up with revenues growing to $204 million in 2016, according to IFPI.

Nevertheless, Deezer CEO Asia Henrik Karlberg believes that Deezer's unique Hi-Res offering will differentiate it from its competitors and appeal to Japan's tech-savvy 35 year-old-plus music fans.

"We're confident that we can be the number one in the Hi-Fi sector, appealing to real audiophiles who buy high end speakers and music equipment and want their streaming service to be of that same high-quality calibre," Karlberg tells Billboard.

"Entering with the Hi-Fi offer, building the confidence of labels, artists and users with our best product is an important first step in the market," he says, citing a strong emphasis on domestic repertoire as a key part of Deezer's strategy for breaking Japan.

"Local repertoire is, in our view, always king, but in Japan it's even more important than anywhere else," continues Karlberg. "The demands that people put on the quality of the repertoire when it comes to music, especially classical, jazz and blues and hard rock [are huge] and we can deliver that content better than our competitors through the HiFi product."

By limiting Deezer's initial Japanese offer to just the premium HiFi tier Karlberg says that the platform is also in a good position to strike licensing deals for the large amount of local repertoire that have, so far, held out from streaming services.

"The way to get that content is through the HiFi model and the [higher returns paid] to the labels and artists, at an audio quality that the artists are a lot more comfortable with sharing on streaming," states the exec.

"We'll really be pushing hard to make sure that we will be home of most, if not all of the local content, and certainly want to be beat Spotify and Apple on that front."