Omnifone have been in the game for a lot of years and have seen their fair share of ups and downs. Now 10 years on from being founded they have turned their first annual operating profit, from a record full year revenue of £29.5 million.
When Omnifone first came to market it had no shortage of direct competitors. But as the first wave of digital music services, powered by Omnifone competitors such as OD2 and MusicNet, smashed against the rocks of the new upstart iTunes Music Store, the marketplace soon consolidated. Omnifone wasn’t quite the last man standing, but it certainly had a lot more competitive leg room. Over the intervening years it has managed to establish a solid reputation for providing the back end infrastructure for music services for global brands such as Sony, Blackberry and Vodafone.
Over the last year or two though, Omifone has been quietly repositioning around the streaming zeitgeist. The most visible ouput of this strategy to date has been the formation of the direct to consumer streaming service Rara, which has since been spun out of the company. Hughes says of streaming music that Omnifone has “built a racetrack and now we want to put horses on it”. This, he adds, will not just mean working with big global companies but also starting to work with a select number of ‘interesting’ start-ups, up to 5 a year.
Hughes points to bullish streaming and cloud music revenue forecasts by the likes of Strategy Analytics and ABI Research as an indicator of the market opportunity. Although these forecasts are optimistic (to put it mildly) there is clearly a pronounced pivoting towards streaming consumption. As regular readers will know, I have little faith in 9.99 ever being established a mass market consumer price point and it will certainly never drive the numbers some people are forecasting. But work with a hardware company to absorb some or all of the cost of the music into a device or car (or even a home as Hughes suggested) then you start to have the ability to drive mass market adoption.
Four years ago I proposed the creation of digital music box for the living room, to halt the steady demise of the home hi-fi. Back then the economics of the proposition had to be engineered around pre-installed downloads, making it nigh on impossible to make the concept work at mass market price points without dramatic license rate discounting. Streaming changes all of that. Now the concept of a $/€/£250 hi-fi unit with a year’s worth of fully integrated unlimited music is a genuine opportunity (and one that some one should address with urgency). Omnifone is exactly the sort of company who could make it happen with the right device brand.