Universal Music Digital Head Rob Wells Gives Keynote on Asian Market At Singapore's Music Matters

Rob Wells, Universal Music Group's head of digital being interviewed by the Mobilium Advisory Group's Ralph Simon at Music Matters 2013 in Singapore on May 22. (Photo: Rob Schwartz)

Music Matters, Asia’s premiere music conference, kicked off its 2013 edition with a music industry heavyweight: Universal Music Group president of global digital business Rob Wells who was interviewed by Ralph Simon, Chairman Emeritus & founder of the Mobile Entertainment Forum - Americas and the CEO of the Mobilium Advisory Group.

Held at Singapore’s Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Hotel May 22 -23, Music Matters explores the global music industry with a focus on the Asian market. This year's event drew a reported 1,500 attendees, up from 1,207 last year. The live showcase component Music Matters Live runs from May 22-24 and features 58 bands from 20 countries performing  some 160 shows and both follow sister event Digital Matters, which took place May 20-21 in the same venue and this year focused on YouTube.

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Wells’ keynote examined UMG’s digital strategy and also outlined his larger take on Asia's digital music space. For example, he said Universal recently made deals with Smart Communications in the Philippines and Zing in Vietnam, which he cited as examples of how legal licensors can legitimize existing services by granting licenses and bundling product for revenue streams which encourages new legitimate ways for consumers to enjoy music and grows markets.

Universal, Wells said, is no longer competing against other major labels; but rather its competing for consumer attention across the larger entertainment space with entities like Rovio, Activision and HBO.

Addressing subscription services, Wells discussed the choice between algorithm recommendations versus human-chosen tent-pole playlists concluding that both are important but deciding how much weight each is given is open to debate.

Wells also highlighted the rise in Asian markets of domestic subscription services with local content which he said is the most important difference between them and global providers. Having domestic repertoire, he explained, is crucial and Universal is focusing on signing domestic acts in Asia. He believes global superstars will increasingly come from the Asian market.

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Speaking on YouTube, the much discussed video platform during Digital Matters, Wells thought it fascinating how the platform has developed and fulfilled its promise as an important player in the market. He noted that more than a billion people touch the service every month and predicted in the future YouTube will be a huge partner for the music industry in addition to a significant revenue and talent resource.

An announcement during the exchange revealed Wells had been appointed to Universal Music Group’s Executive Board. The music exec was presented with a gigantic bottle of champagne (which, it should be noted, is not the first time Wells has been presented with alcohol onstage at Music Matters).

Of the overall digital landscape, Wells used a British analogy, saying the global ‘High Street’ will look similar to domestic "High Street" of 10-15 years ago, but added each “High Street” will be different for each local market.

The Chinese government, Wells believes, is interested in proving they can produce superstar acts and movie blockbusters among other global entertainment properties and are slowly bringing their services in line with international standards and laws. Wells added that it's an inevitability that a Chinese act will become a global superstar.

He also noted that other Asian territories are pairing with Western acts to create content with crossover potential and pointed to India’s Priyanka Chopra and Pitbull collaboration as an example.

Wells finally summed up his thoughts on the Asia market by noting that for the last six years the continent has been a Petri dish of experimentation for services and revenue streams now gaining traction. He pointed to iTunes taking root in the region and said that with the music industry is starting to take off worldwide again, fresh revenue and platforms are springing forth throughout the region.