Business News Digital

Omnifone placed in administration

By | Published on Friday 6 May 2016


Back in March this year, white label digital music provider Omnifone announced a new CEO and two new priority products. And for its next trick, the company was placed into administration this week.

A message that appeared on the company’s website yesterday reads: “On 4 May 2016, Omnifone Limited and Omnifone Group Limited were placed into administration in the High Court Of Justice, with Andrew Duncan and Neil Bennett, of Leonard Curtis Business Solutions Group, appointed as joint administrators. The affairs, business and property of the companies are being managed by the joint administrators, who act as agents for the company and without personal liability”.

Omnifone has powered various digital music services over its thirteen year history for various brands, tech companies and tel cos, as well as some of its own offerings. Most of those have fizzled out with time, partly due to trends in digital music, and partly due to working for the sorts of clients which entirely overhaul their music strategies every few years.

AMong those companies still utilising Omnifone services as of 2016 were Neil Young’s silly Pono Music download platform, and the latest in a long line of Samsung music set-ups, Milk Music, which, rumour has it, is soon to be shut down.

Then, of course, there was Omnifone’s own in-house streaming service, which was launched in 2011, later spun off into its own business, and then put up for sale in February last year before being shut down a month later.

Rara was seemingly an attempt by Omnifone to have a brand of its own, outside the often short-lived projects it worked on with other companies. But, even though the attempted sale in 2015 was spun as Omnifone simply setting the service off on the next phase of its existence – while it got back to its core B2B business – the speed of the subsequent shutdown suggested there wasn’t much of a userbase to sell.

A big knock to Omnifone itself came in January last year when the Sony streaming service it powered, Music Unlimited, was closed and replaced on the Playstation Network by Spotify. A dwindling client base – coupled with a general trend amongst tel co and consumer electronic firms to bundle in existing streaming services rather than setting up their own white label ventures – suggested that the Omnifone business was entering tricky times. Its last big partnership announcement was in October last year with Line Music, to provide western music to the Japanese streaming service through its MusicStation platform.

In March, COO Doug Imrie was promoted to become CEO of the company, replacing Jeff Hughes who had held the role since April 2010. Amid talk in the industry that Omnifone’s greatest asset as of 2016 was the database of music rights it had built up over the preceding decade, Imrie’s first move was to announce two new music data products, consumption reporting tool Global Metering Hub and “music information retrieval platform” Acoustic Lab.

The company’s losses grew considerably from 2011 to 2014, while revenues began to fall in the latter year. Accounts for 2015 have not been filed, but this trend probably continued. Companies House records also show that two of the company’s three founders – Rob Lewis and Mark Knight – resigned as directors last month, and also that the company increased its borrowing.

What can now be salvaged of the company remains to be seen, of course, with administrators charged with the task of deciding whether to try to keep the business together as a whole, or to seek buyers for its constituent elements, such as the aforementioned MusicStation platform and the music data assets.

What all and any of this means for Omnifone’s existing clients, current licensing deals with labels and publishers, and its workforce, remains to be seen.