Content payment system Piano takes more funding to go global

Piano Media, the paid content platform currently operating bundled kiosks in Slovakia and Slovenia, is taking a €2 million ($2.6 million) second round of venture investment to boost its globalisation ambitions for and general expansion.

The money comes from the Technology in Central and Eastern Europe Fund SICAR (3TS Cisco Growth Fund), backed mostly by Cisco.

Piano took a €300,000 first round in September from Monogram Ventures, which it said valued it at €1 million. It wants to use the new money to hire overseas staff, undertake marketing and develop software further. Netokracija speculates Croatia and Serbia may be next.

The product of a JV between Prague-based media consultancy NextBig and continental PPC ad targeting house Etarget, Piano launched one year ago with ambitions to create a payment package which would give consumers access to multiple, competing news services.

More than 20 publishers in Slovakia and Slovenia have now placed more than 60 sites in to the schemes. Piano takes between 15 and 29 percent of fees paid in by subscribers; the lion’s share is split between publisher partners proportionately according to time spent on their sites.

Piano made €40,000 ($52,248/£33,256) in its debut month in Slovakia and €26,000 in its debut month in Slovenia. Now it has been pitching itself to publishers in several other countries.

The sums Piano has achieved so far are relatively small fry. The company explains that internet populations in its first two markets are small and not usually disposed to paying online.

Publishers also are by no means placing the whole of their sites in to Piano’s payment package – only a minority of content or other features like comments are included.

It remains to be seen whether Piano can prove itself attractive to publishers in larger markets, where “cartel” concerns may dissuade otherwise interested operators and where a growing number of payment platform vendors is trying to woo publishers at the same time.

Many publishers are still making the switch from free to paid online content, but many who have already done so have begun charging for their own content individually, using platforms like Press+.

But Piano has succeeded in corralling rival publishers in to the same ecosystem and says competition is no concern because it is an access provider not a JV partner.

  • Discuss Piano Media’s strategy with Tomas Bella at paidContent 2012, our conference for digital media decision-makers, on May 23 at New York’s TimesCenter. Find out more