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Thursday, April 27, 2017, 12:23
Mini karaoke booth biz creates social buzz
By Ouyang Shijia
Thursday, April 27, 2017, 12:23 By Ouyang Shijia

Customers sing at the mini karaoke booths in the basement of the Tianfu Square in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. There are four such mini booths here. It will cost 80 yuan ($11.6) for an hour of singing. (Hao Fei / For China Daily)

Walking around the shopping malls of Beijing, you will find a throng of glass-enclosed mini karaoke booths covering just 2 square meters, in which people indulge in their love of singing without blasting out loud music.

The booth houses a karaoke machine with a large touch screen, two barstools, two pairs of headsets and two microphones.

Equipped with everything singers need in a KTV room, the new booth can be paid for online using apps such as WeChat and Alipay, and will automatically send the saved recordings to users, enabling them to share them on social networking platforms.

Luo Anwu, founder of U-sing mini karaoke, said in a recent interview with NetEase Inc's tech news channel tech that the karaoke booth catered to people's increasing need for entertainment.

"Our U-sing mini karaoke offers consumers a place to sing while socializing with their friends or other singers online."

From Beijing to Shenzhen, mini karaoke houses are being rolled out in shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants and even tourist spots in an effort to win back the past glory of KTV bars, which dominated the entertainment market from the early 2000s to early 2010s.

Having received 60 million yuan ($8.72 million) in its latest round of financing, U-sing provides services in more than 100 cities. It is expected that the company will provide over 30,000 karaoke booths nationwide by 2017-end, according to Luo.

Other competitors, such as WOW mini KTV and Minik, are seeking to get in on the act, depositing thousands of mini karaoke booths in high-foot traffic venues nationwide.

Customers sing at the mini karaoke booths in the basement of the Tianfu Square in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. There are four such mini booths here. It will cost 80 yuan ($11.6) for an hour of singing. (Hao Fei / For China Daily)

Lei Yifeng, WOW mini KTV's product director, said the new mini booths bring convenience for karaoke lovers and provide a specific place for enjoying private time.

It is WOW mini KTV's mission to "offer a convenient place for entertainment when customers wait for movies or food in a popular restaurant", he said.

"I predict that the China mini karaoke market will grow to over one million houses in three to five years," said Lei, as the firm has more than 3,000 entertainment units across almost 100 cities in China, and plans to expand to 100,000 units by the end of 2017.

Nan Jiang, 27, a doctorate student at Beijing-based Beihang University is a karaoke lover who tried the new self-service entertainment booths.

"Generally, a standard mini karaoke booth will cost me 60 yuan per hour. I also can choose singing for only 15 minutes just before seeing movies. It is really convenient. And I really love the recording function.

In U-sing's case, users can locate and preorder the nearest two or three mini booths via its official WeChat account. WOW House and Minik currently do not offer similar services.

Dang Jianwei, lecturer at Business School at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said the key for sustainable development is improving the user experiences accordingly as time changes.

"It really digs into a new market segment for karaoke lovers. But they still need to see further to maintain sustainable development. And the key lies in whether they can provide specific services for targeted consumers.

"The popularity of a particular mode, games or movies, won't last for long. Suppliers should continuously improve the products to meet consumers' real needs," Dang added. Now The mini KTV industry is taking a closer look to tackle copyright issues

Minik, recently indicted three companies, including U-sing, for copyright infringement, asking them to stop manufacturing and selling products involved in copyright issues. And the company also called for a compensation of 160 million yuan.

A group of youngsters try the services offered by WOW mini KTV. (Provided to China Daily)

Online function gives singers fun options

Beijing ThunderStone Technology Co Ltd, one of the largest karaoke system suppliers in China, is gearing up its expansion of online-to-offline or O2O services, betting big on the emerging market segment for karaoke lovers.

The Beijing-headquartered company said it would spend 300 million yuan ($43.57 million) on its mini karaoke booth called WOW House. And it plans to expand the number of installed self-service entertainment machines to 100,000 units by the end of 2017, mainly in cinemas and restaurants.

WOW mini KTV product director Lei Yifeng said the company was keeping an eye on the latest developments, and it sees China as a big potential market for self-service entertainment booths.

"We see a very positive outlook for that capability," he said: "With the rapid development of mobile internet, consumers are able to enjoy the convenience of paying with mobile devices, which enables the new self-service entertainment modes.

"Today our lives move at a fast pace. Compared to spending a particular period of time for entertainment like singing karaoke, using it in our spare time may be a better idea."

Founded in 1996, ThunderStone accounts almost half of the global market share for karaoke systems, covering around 40,000 KTV stores, according to company figures.

Seeing the potential to cater to younger generations and karaoke lovers, the firm launched the WOW mini KTV program at the end of 2016. Generally, users pay around 20 yuan for 15-minute karaoke and the price fluctuates according to the needs.

"As few State-owned companies pay for staff entertainment, the traditional KTV business is declining. Thus we really need transformation and upgrades, attempting to create new momentum in the key market," Lei said.

According to the company, the retail price per machine is 23,800 yuan. Taking Beijing as an example, during peak time it can earn at most 1,000 yuan per day from one machine. That means it can yield high rates of return, with break-even in three to four months.

Originating in Japan, the personalized mini KTV was formerly a small-sized version of a normal KTV room. Entering China, manufacturers upgraded it by adding online functions to cater to consumers' specific needs. Now Chinese users are able to share the saved recordings on social networking platforms, such as WeChat.

Wang Chuanzhen, interactive entertainment analyst at Beijing-based consultancy said the new mini karaoke booth was actually an effective complement to traditional KTV bars.

"They cater to consumers' different needs. Mini KTV targets the groups yearning to kill spare time while shopping, while traditional KTV aims to meet the consumer's need to meet friends. To seek further development, mini KTV needs to expand to more places and involve more users, instead of only the younger generations seeking new trends, to use the services."

A man passes by two karaoke booths at Beijing Yintai Center in Beijing. (Feng Yongbin/China Daily)

Mobile apps for singing tap offline KTV for more users

In line with the popular online-to-offline mode adopted by many businesses, the mobile music industry wants online singing platforms to present services like bricks-and-mortar mini KTV bars as they strive to attract more users and seek new selling points.

"Extending the application of our product to more scenarios is part of our key work this year," said Mario Ji, vice-general manager of the QQ Music unit of Tencent Holdings Ltd. WeSing, a singing app developed by the internet giant allows users to sing, record and share songs with their friends online.

"We are striving to enable our users to experience the joy not only on smartphones, but also in other places, such as shopping malls, cinemas and restaurants. Mini KTV, in this sense, offers a good solution."

WeSing teamed up with mini KTV brand U-sing in February. Under the cooperation agreement, U-sing users can upload their songs to the WeSing platform, where they can listen and share with others.

The number of U-sings has increased significantly in less than a year, with more than 5,000 units running in 140 cities in 29 provinces across the country.

"Joining hands with U-sing can help us attract more users, as the large number of visitors brought in by mini KTV are likely to become WeSing users. In the future, we will deepen our cooperation by exploring more ways to integrate with each other," Ji said.

WeSing is one of China's biggest online singing platforms. Since its launch in 2014, the mobile app has attracted nearly 400 million registered users, with daily active users reaching 45 million on average, it claimed.

However, WeSing is not the only online platform that sees underlying opportunities from the new KTV. In February, Changba, another major market player, announced it would invest in Aimyunion Technology, a Guangzhou-based company which owns mini KTV brand Meda miniK.

"Integration of online singing platforms and mini KTVs not only satisfies diversified singing demand among consumers, but also helps enhance loyalty of the apps' existing users and attracts others, thereby promoting their profits," said Wang Chuanzhen, interactive entertainment analyst at Beijing-based consultancy Analysys.

The Chinese mobile music market expanded 42.5 percent over the past two years and growth was still accelerating, according to a 2016 report by Analysys.

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