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Alexandre Taillefer entertains Eric Boyko, his partner in Stingray Digital's quest for global karaoke domination.
Alexandre Taillefer entertains Eric Boyko, his partner in Stingray Digital's quest for global karaoke domination.

Report on Small Business magazine

I'd like to teach the world to sing on Google legally ... Add to ...

The Google types liked the idea of karaoke, and were even enticed by Stingray's biggest asset: its library of legit recordings. As owner of YouTube, Google knows that it's hard to build a business selling advertising around content that is not licensed. But there's no such problem with Stingray's offerings. Moreover, the nature of karaoke fits nicely with the ascendancy of user-generated content and online communities, not to mention the rise of Guitar Hero and American Idol : Fans could film themselves performing and post the video online, driving audiences and ad dollars higher.

Serendipitously, the organizers held a karaoke party during the trip. The sight of executives belting out their best Bob Seger impersonations was enough to convince the Google types that a karaoke application on Google was just what the world needed.

Stingray will share ad revenues with Google in exchange for making its tracks available. "The numbers we're looking at are like hundreds of millions of views per month," Boyko says of the deal.

Though Stingray now has offices in Budapest and Luxembourg, and the company records songs in the language and style of every country in which the Karaoke Channel operates - such as calypso for Trinidad - most of its content can go anywhere in the world.

It never fails, Boyko says: If the Karaoke Channel is available, Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive is the most requested song. "We don't know why. It doesn't matter where you go - Germany, France, the U.S. - that's the No. 1 song," he says. "There must be a lot of people out there breaking up." In honour of her song's status, Stingray flew Gaynor up to Montreal in June for a private concert, and has since started discussing an endorsement deal with her.

Stingray now has relationships with 64 of the top 75 music publishers in the world, and is recording 50 to 60 new songs every month to freshen its catalogue of 18,000 songs - the largest collection of licensed karaoke songs in the world. "Our objective is to put together a library of probably 40,000 songs in multiple languages," Taillefer says.

There are some holdouts, though. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones recently cracked, but U2, Justin Timberlake and - pure karaoke gold - ABBA are the three most notable acts that remain reluctant to part with karaoke rights. Boyko's goal is to secure deals with the holdouts by showing the company's recordings are good enough to match the originals, and that the artists shouldn't fear their work is being mangled.

The company is also doing away with the lamentable videos that typically have accompanied karaoke tracks, replacing them with a series of video clips whose sequencing responds to the cadences of each song.

How far can Stingray grow? The company estimates the global karaoke market to be worth $7-billion. That includes Japan, of course, but the birthplace of karaoke is a tough market to crack, since companies such as Sega Music Networks already dominate the market. Stingray sees the rest of the world as its oyster.

Even if another big player tries to move into its space, Boyko figures Stingray has a head start on its catalogue that will take years, if not decades, for another company to match through negotiated rights agreements. Indeed, some of the biggest potential players are now coming directly to the company as customers. Electronic Arts has started sourcing Stingray's library. And word has spread around the industry to other players, including Microsoft, which has contemplated having a karaoke product on Xbox. "Even Microsoft said, 'I don't believe you have the rights,' " Boyko says. "Then we showed them the list of publishers."

Stingray's reach extends to commercials and television shows as well. If you've seen an episode of shows like American Idol , you've probably heard some of Stingray's work. If those shows were to go directly to the artist for the original music tracks, it would cost $50,000 to $80,000 per song. The cover versions Stingray makes itself are offered up for only a few thousand dollars.

In a few weeks, Boyko will duck down to the U.S. to meet with American cable carriers, signing up clients such as Time Warner. These deals add subscribers in chunks of 5 million or more, bulking up the company in a hurry.

Stingray is getting restless, though. Boyko and Taillefer want to revisit an old idea of theirs. A trivia channel, or an on-demand trivia service, would be a hit, they suspect. After all, it was Montrealers who invented Trivial Pursuit.

First question: What famous Montreal company was founded with no idea of what it would sell?

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