Merlin Inks Its ‘First Direct Deal In Korea’ With Curation-Focused Streaming Service FLO

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Seoul, South Korea. Photo Credit: Mathew Schwartz

About 10 weeks after finalizing a “groundbreaking” deal with Twitch, Merlin has inked a licensing agreement with South Korean streaming app FLO.

The indie-music licensing company unveiled its pact with four-year-old FLO via a formal release today. FLO, which costs individual users $8.94 (₩11,000) per month, is a subsidiary of Seoul-based electronics and entertainment business Dreamus (KRX: 060570). SK Telecom (NYSE: SKM), South Korea’s largest cellphone-service provider, in turn owns a majority interest in Dreamus.

As London-headquartered Merlin’s release acknowledges, FLO centers on presenting subscribers “with a carefully-curated selection of tracks aligned with their musical tastes,” in addition to charts that highlight trending (and recently uploaded) songs.

Interestingly, a quick examination of FLO’s website shows that releases are further categorized by geography as well as genre (such as “foreign pop” and “domestic hip-hop”), besides listener activity (like “driving” and “relaxation/healing”) and “atmosphere” (including “exciting” and “consoling”).

Bearing in mind the curated nature of FLO, Merlin emphasized that its members “now have the potential to increase their artists’ fan bases by connecting with more international music lovers than ever.”

Addressing his service’s agreement with Merlin in a statement, FLO headquarter manager Jacob Jaejoon Kim touted the union’s significance in terms of affording music fans in South Korea (population 52 million) access to a more varied song library.

“It gives us great pleasure to be able to offer more diverse music to FLO users through this deal with major global music licensing partner Merlin,” said the FLO exec. “This contract with Merlin will be remembered as one of the most important milestones as FLO strives to make more diverse artists and songs available to Korean music lovers.”

Similarly, Merlin CEO Jeremy Sirota emphasized the contract’s potential listenership benefits for indie acts.

“We’re thrilled to partner with FLO as Merlin’s first direct deal in Korea,” said the former Warner Music Group exec Sirota. “This partnership will help our members engage new fans across Korea, while delivering greater access to our members’ wide-ranging music from around the world.”

More broadly, it stands to reason that the Merlin-FLO licensing deal may make it harder yet for global streaming services including Spotify to establish a material presence in South Korea.

The Stockholm-based platform only arrived in the Asian nation (without an ad-supported version) in February of 2021, and as of Q4 2021, just 11 percent of Spotify’s 180 million paid subscribers resided outside North America, Latin America, and Europe.

Of course, it’s proven difficult for international competitors to overcome well-entrenched regional players like Gaana and Anghami in their respective markets, in part because the latter two entities (and FLO) can focus attention and resources solely on reaching local fans. For instance, Anghami today announced an agreement to host content from TOD, a new subscription-based visual-media platform designed for individuals in MENA.