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Make some noise for Anghami’s Elie Habib

Elie Habib's Anghami generates close to one billion streams a month with a catalogue of more than 72 million Arabic and international tracks
Elie Habib's Anghami generates close to one billion streams a month with a catalogue of more than 72 million Arabic and international tracks

The Lebanese music streaming mogul talks to AGBI about the meteoric rise of his Nasdaq-listed company, its battles with music pirates, relocation to Abu Dhabi and his ambition to launch Arab music stars

Elie Habib fell in love with coding early. He started selling software at the age of 17 and launched several companies in his home country of Lebanon before spotting a gap in the music streaming market.

In 2012, alongside his business partner Eddy Maroun, he launched Anghami – meaning ‘My Tunes’ in Arabic. A decade of coding and innovation later, Habib still spends most of his time working between clouds, streams and pixels as Anghami’s ambitions to make a big noise globally enter a new phase.

Sound of success

As chief technology officer at Anghami, Habib has been at the centre of the music streaming service’s success so far. It has seen it reach 75 million registered users in 16 countries across the Middle East and North Africa and has recently expanded into the US and Canada, with Europe in the pipeline. 

Anghami generates close to one billion streams a month with a catalogue of more than 72 million Arabic and international tracks. It has also established more than 40 partnerships with telecom companies to facilitate subscriptions and customer acquisitions and has built long-term business relationships with major music labels including Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and the Merlin Network.

On Wednesday, it announced its preliminary results for 2021 with total revenue increasing to $35.5 million, up 16 percent year-on-year with overall gross margin reaching 25.5 percent. 

The company also said that subscription revenue reached $25.7 million in 2021 as 43 percent more paying subscribers were converted into a monthly plan deal. 

Anghami’s paid subscribers increased to 1.4 million as of the end of 2021 while advertising revenues also grew by 70 percent to $9.8 million.

The total number of active Anghami users increased by 20 percent year-on-year to 18.5 million in the first quarter of 2022.

But Habib says there is much more to be done. He’s excited about the “next chapter” after Anghami listed on the New York Nasdaq earlier this year via a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), Vistas Media Acquisition Company. The transaction implied a pro-forma enterprise value of $220 million.

He says he is confident that 2022 revenues will be double that of last year, boosted by big plans to transition from a music streaming platform to an entertainment media company. 

However, Habib admitted that the biggest challenge to the company’s ambitions remains the same as a decade ago – online music piracy.

Battling piracy

Habib, who holds a MS in Software Engineering and was selected as Lebanon Top Innovator in 2018 by Forbes, explained: “When we launched, people weren’t ready for it. Everyone wanted everything for free. When you are used to things being free, it takes a lot of time to break that particular mindset and habit. 

“In terms of piracy there were no laws when we started and there are barely any laws today… When I look at it right now it’s better but at the same time our biggest competitor is still piracy. It is the biggest competitor of every media service. Whether it’s Netflix, Anghami, Apple or anybody else, people will only pay when they are forced to.”

That’s one reason why he has no problem competing with other legal platforms such as Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music, in the region. “We have to educate much more in the Middle East. It’s still the ‘wild, wild east’ so I’m happy to welcome any media platform that supports the fight against piracy.”

He added that he is resigned to the fact that it will take many more years before everyone accepts the paid-for media streaming model.

Asked if stronger legislation is the answer, he said: “We don’t wait for laws. The younger generation accept the subscription concept but ask a 35-year-old and it’s different… so it will take time for everybody to understand that there is a cost to create content either through ads or subscription or maybe a combination of both.”

Moving to Abu Dhabi is encouraging us to build and do more and we’re very thankful for that. We’re able to grow our team and attract new talent

Elie Habib, co-founder of Anghami

Going ‘offline’

Looking ahead to the next 12 months, Habib said the launch of the first Anghami Lab in the Gulf region will lay the foundation to the company’s online-offline ambitions.

Anghami has partnered with Addmind, which operates hospitality brands such as White, Iris, Clap across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Qatar and London, to launch the new concept which will debut in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in “about four months”.

This will be followed by venues in Dubai (early 2023) and then Abu Dhabi and Cairo, Habib revealed.

The venues will feature a lounge, stage and recording studio where artists can experiment by co-creating music inspired by both Arabic and international cultures to be performed in the venue. The resulting music will be made available exclusively on Anghami.

The world is listening: Anghami projects branding message onto Burj Khalifa in Dubai
The world is listening: Anghami projects branding message onto Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Launching Arabic stars

Habib said the ultimate aim of the concept will be to discover the next big Arab music star, adding: “We want to help artists find their voice and give them an incentive to create content… We want to help them build their career and help them monetise their passion.”

With just one percent of Anghami’s content being Arabic, this is one area Habib is looking to grow significantly. An original Anghami record label has so far created about 300 songs while the company also operates Vibe in association with Sony Music to create content with local and international artists.

He’s hoping the recent exclusive deal to secure the entire Nay Label audio and video catalogue of Amr Diab, the world’s most streamed Arab singer, will inspire others to join Anghami.

“The Amr Diab deal is an experiment into what could be for other artists.”

Abu Dhabi ambitions

Habib explained that establishing a global headquarters and research and development centre in Abu Dhabi in 2021 under a partnership agreement with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office will be key to the company’s next phase of growth.

“Moving to Abu Dhabi has been essential for us. It is a place that helps and supports us and honestly we are not used to that,” he said, referring to Lebanon, where Anghami was founded, which has been plagued by major economic and political crises for years. “We’re used to growing despite the problems and we’re being resilient in spite of everything that’s going on. Now we’re in an environment that is encouraging us to build and do more and we’re very thankful for that. We’re able to grow our team and attract new talent.”

Anghami has recently signed partnerships with Rotana Music Holding, the Arab world’s leading independent record label, and TOD, a new subscription based over-the-top platform, to add beIN Sports audio content to its platform.

Carrying the Arab flag

Habib hinted that further deals are in the offing, saying that while the immediate growth will focus on audio services, the next chapter will be “bigger than that”. 

“We have an opportunity by being a publicly traded company to grow organically but also inorganically into what people need… Hopefully in 2023 we will be much more than just audio,” he teased, adding that the company’s new public status stopped him from revealing more.

But more than building a successful business, Habib stressed that there is a bigger picture – securing the future of Arab culture. 

“We as Arabs are carrying the flag. If we don’t allow new Arab artists to come through and create new content – very different content – what will happen? This is part of our mission.”

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