Grassroots algorithms and Amazon experiences: 6 things we learned at the ERA AGM

Grassroots algorithms and Amazon experiences: 6 things we learned at the ERA AGM

The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) staged its AGM at the Curzon Soho at a time of renewed optimism, both among the DSP membership and the physical retailers benefiting from the vinyl boom. Here, Music Week pulls out the key takeaways from the panels and keynotes…

Music manifesto

This wasn’t just another ERA AGM. As well as the first appearance by a global CEO (BMG’s Hartwig Masuch), it was also the launch of its first manifesto in three years - a five-point plan to further drive growth in the music, video and games business: Maintaining diversity, sustainability, enabling licensing, modernising the supply chain and putting consumers and creators front and centre. If that sounds a bit dry, we can report that the ERA crowd definitely had a spring in their step, perhaps in part thanks to big initiatives such as Record Store Day and National Album Day.

Newly-elected ERA chairman James Morton said, “The first ERA Manifesto succeeded in giving a new focus to our activities and paving the way for a series of collaborative initiatives with our partners in the music, video and games sectors. This new publication comes at a buoyant time for the entertainment sector with sales in the first half of 2018 up 8% on the same period last year thanks mainly to the innovation of digital services and retailers. We are confident that if we continue in the same spirit of collaboration, we can unlock even greater growth, fulfilling our mission of bringing entertainment to the UK public.”

New Sky thinking

Get used to that name: James Morton replaces long-serving chairman Paul Quirk, who received a warm tribute from CEO Kim Bayley. Morton, the youngest ever chairman of ERA, was one of the key figures behind Sky Store’s Buy & Keep video service - a hybrid of digital and physical. “This is one of the most exciting periods in entertainment history,” saids Morton. “Across video, music and games, digital services and retailers are delivering more choice of format, access and content than ever before. I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to represent such a vibrant sector embracing the smallest independent to the giants of digital entertainment, supermarkets and High Street specialists.” 

Bayley added: “ERA has developed significantly over the past three years since the launch of our first manifesto which paved the way for the launch of a raft of new activity including successful promotions such as Must See Movies, Let’s Play May and the forthcoming National Album Day as well as Record Store Day which continues to go from strength to strength. I want to pay tribute to the retiring board members who have given us such a strong foundation. I look forward to working with James and the new board to further evolve our agenda.”

‘Grassroots algorithms’ (aka indie retail)

While she admitted to not having a sizzle reel to wow the audience or much of a social media strategy (“We’re an indie record shop”), Natasha Youngs of Brighton retailer Resident had plenty of insight for the ERA audience. “We’ve been focusing on staff retention and customer service,” she said. “When people can order from the sofa and the train, our true differential is service and the culture we offer.”

In a room of digital retail executives, Youngs suggested they could coexist with fans sampling on Spotify and then buying the physical release. “You need to have desirable products that people want to own - we’ve seen quite a lot of people that have been driven to buy physical products from listening on Spotify and YouTube.”

Describing their curation as “grassroots algorithms”, Young said it was the opposite of D2C which is “feeding your own fans - that’s not going to grow the market.”

YouTube Music marches on

As you might expect, YouTube Music did have a sizzle reel to highlight the recent launch of its app. Azi Eftekhari, head of music content partnerships (EMEA), said 2018 had been “huge” with the launch of the streaming service in 21 countries. But how can it stand out? The range of catalogue (including concert video) and Google’s search, apparently. “If you remember part of the lyric, that’s good enough to find it,” she said. Personalisation means it will also re-order playlists and, depending on your settings, recognise if you’re at the gym or on your commute and play appropriate music. Very cool or a bit creepy, depending on your point of view.

“We are going to continue rolling out YouTube Music to new countries - that’s part of the plan,” she added.

The Amazon experience

Russell Jones, leader, entertainment media at Amazon, had more to say about games than music. But there were hints of a new direction for engaging with consumers. “We know that customers love experiences,” he said, as he showed off the UK Treasure Truck, an immersive experience for Nintendo fans that called at seven cities. “We’ve lots of plans within entertainment media to have a lot of fun with this.” Perhaps there will be a new twist for music retail in Q4...

Election results

It wouldn’t be an AGM without an election. As non-executive chairman, Morton will lead a new-look executive board at ERA with returning members Paul Firth, director of Amazon Music UK and Rudy Osorio, commercial director at HMV Retail, plus four new faces: Tom Connaughton, managing director UK, Spotify, Nick Hill, Head of entertainment & electrical accessories, Argos/Sainsbury’s, Phil Moore, VP northern & southern EMEA, Deezer and Natasha Youngs, co-owner, Resident.

Click here for the full coverage of Hartwig Masuch’s ERA AGM keynote.


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