LONDON (Reuters) - Smartphone app developer Shazam has found an unlikely ally in the form of Carlos Slim, one of the world’s richest men, who is investing $40 million to back the development of the start-up best known for helping music fans identify catchy songs.
The move is surprising for 73-year-old Slim, who built his company America Movil in a more staid sector, namely the highly regulated telecommunications and TV business in Latin America.
Before Shazam, Slim’s only forays into Europe were to plough 4.8 billion euros ($6.1 billion) into stakes in Dutch operator KPN and Telekom Austria, on which he is nursing huge paper losses after their shares declined sharply in the past year.
Slim, ranked the world’s top billionaire by Forbes magazine with a net worth of $73 billion, was brought in by one of Shazam’s venture capital owners, Silicon Valley fund Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
British-based Shazam will use the funds to accelerate its expansion into television, where its recognition software can tune into an advertisement’s soundtrack then link viewers directly to the brand’s website.
It wants to establish the offer in Britain and the rest of Western Europe and Latin America.
“Within 18 months we expect TV will significantly outperform the music side (of the business) and that’s part of this investment,” Andrew Fisher, executive chairman of Shazam, said in an interview.
Blue-chip brands such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble and American Express are among the companies who have already used Shazam in advertising campaigns in North America, where the company generates tens of millions of dollars in revenue from the TV side, Fisher said.
Given that global TV advertising spending totaled $350 billion in 2012, according to researchers Nielsen, the scale of the opportunity for Shazam is huge, said Fisher, who hopes the TV business will help build the company into one suitable for a stock-market listing.
“That’s our ambition, to list ... Certainly, two years’ time is realistic,” he said. The company’s products are already used by 350 million people.
America Movil has also agreed to promote Shazam across the dozen or so markets it operates in Latin America. “Shazam is defining a new category of media engagement that combines the power of mobile with traditional broadcast media and advertising,” Slim said in a statement.
Slim’s investment takes the total backing that Shazam has secured since 2009 to $72 million.
The billionaire businessman’s empire of phone, construction and banking companies often expands by buying stakes in small companies. Earlier this year, Ora.TV, a fledgling online digital television network funded by America Movil, bought TV production company Stick Figure Productions.
Separately, Slim’s Grupo Financiero Inbursa, which runs an investment fund managing about 5.15 billion pesos ($394.1 million), has invested in companies from film financier Movie Risk to natural gas company Gas Natural Mexico. ($1 = 0.7792 euros)
Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris and Elinor Comlay in Mexico City; Editing by David Holmes and Maureen Bavdek