With a phenomenally successful NBA career, and a bar/restaurant in Texas already under his belt, Chinese basketball star, Yao Ming, has added online music to his portfolio. Yao is one of the investor-owners of China's largest pay-for-music website, www.top100.cn, which was officially launched in Beijing on March 15.
The site, which has just completed a month-long trial operation, is owned by Orca Digital Inc, a company founded by Chen Ge (Gary G. Chen), Yao Ming and his manager Zhang Mingji (Erik Zhang). Speculations are that the three invested a total of 20 million yuan (US$2.49 million) into the business.
"I don't want to discuss how much each of our investments is," Zhang said in a March 16 Dong Fang Daily report. "I myself don't have any share in www.top100.cn. Yao Ming and Chen Ge are the major investors."
Zhang said that Yao has always been interested in high-tech and new media. "So, it's only logical that he would cooperate with Chen Ge who started a website two years ago."
"Everybody wants to be in control of their money. Yao Ming or not, if you have enough money, you will invest it to make it work for you." Zhang said. Yao's profession might not have anything to do with music or the Internet business, but "he personally is a big music lover and an Internet user. So investing in a music website seemed like a natural progression for him."
Zhang admits that, as with any business venture, there are risks involved. "But we all think www.top100.cn has great prospects. Although Yao for the moment is more of an investor and doesn't involve himself in the practical operations of the business, he would like to contribute his ideas on how the site could be further developed. Besides, he might decide to work in the company when he's done with playing basketball."
When asked if Yao will use his popularity to encourage fans to the site, Zhang said that it is unlikely. "Yao prefers to stay behind the scenes and wants to keep a low profile. He actually didn't want people to know about his investment."
Chen Ge, the CEO of www.top100.cn, said that although the Apple iTunes music download model hasn't become a profits-jumper in China, it has proven very successful elsewhere. So much so that Chen and Yao both believe that digital music downloads is one of the trends to keep a lookout for.
"We began working on the website last June and got our operation license on September 28. Since we started trial operations on February 15, we've been registering thousands of members every day," Chen said.
There is huge support for the site from all corners, including the Chinese government, the international and local music industry, and international and local copyrights societies. It has also signed licensing agreements with major international and independent music labels such as EMI, Sony/BMG, and Sanctuary Record Group. It has also established cooperation relationships with business partners including Shanda Entertainment, China's leading interactive entertainment media company, and Sina.com, one of China's largest Internet portals.
More than one million tracks have been catalogued according to region, genre, theme and other classifications, which makes it easier for Chinese music lovers to find exactly what they want.
The rise and rise of online digital music is one of the major reasons why traditional formats like CDs are on the decline. Chinese Culture reported last December that the country's digital music industry grossed 2.66 billion yuan (US$331 million) in 2005. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's (IFPI) Digital Music Report 2006 released on January 19, digital music generated sales of US$1.1 billion last year, up from US$380 million in 2004. Digital music now accounts for about six percent of revenues of international labels, up from practically zero only two short years ago.
(China.org.cn March 24, 2006)