PIANO Media, an online subscription-based content payment system for media publishers, was launched in Slovakia just a year ago. Despite initial doubts about the viability of a paywall that covers popular (and previously free) websites, the project has been attracting investors and expanding abroad. The company has now announced that it has secured a €2-million investment from regional venture capital firm 3TS Capital Partners. It will be used to continue Piano’s expansion and development.
“We are impressed with the depth and quality of the management team at Piano and believe that 3TS has the resources, skills and market experience to assist Piano in strengthening and expanding its unique market position,” said Jiří Beneš, partner at 3TS, who led the investment, as quoted in Piano’s press release.
It is the second large investment the company has obtained. Last year Piano received €300,000 from IT Monogram, after which it launched in Slovenia.
“Our €300,000 seed funding, raised in 2011, enabled us to launch in two countries and prove Piano’s model works,” said Tomáš Bella, Piano’s chief executive. “This deal represents the next step in Piano’s growth; helping speed our expansion, recruit top talent, ramp up our marketing, broaden our sales channels and keep improving our software.”
3TS sees Piano Media as a promising company with great potential.
“The technology of this payment system comes from Slovakia, but it can be applied globally,” Beneš told the online version of the Sme daily. “This is because it solves the worldwide problem [faced by] online content publishers of how to enable users to pay in a simple way for online content. We expect that Piano will spread out in other countries, not only in Europe.”
Beneš expects consolidation of payment systems, pointing out that from the viewpoint of users it is a greater obstacle when they have to register and pay via various platforms for each website.
“Payment gates at individual publishers is not a [convenient] solution,” said Beneš.
3TS Capital Partners, according to its website, is one of the leading private equity and venture capital firms in central and eastern Europe. It says it targets investments in sectors including technology and the internet, media and communications, and technology-enabled business and consumer services.
3TS will become a minority shareholder in Piano Media alongside its original owners, Monogram Ventures, Etarget and NextBig. The so-called ‘Cisco fund’ through which 3TS is investing focuses mostly on capital investments in technology, media and communications companies in central and eastern Europe.
After a trial operation Piano Media started providing Slovak publishers with a national online subscription-based content payment system for media websites last May. Piano expanded to Slovenia in January this year. Currently, 20 publishers with more than 60 websites and services participate in Piano’s system.
The Piano scheme is similar to the model used by cable TV stations. Subscribers get access to a range of content from various media. A week of access in Slovakia currently costs €1.39, while the monthly fee is €3.90 and an annual subscription costs €39. The prices are slightly higher than when the service launched, a reflection of the increased number of media and services that have since joined, according to the company.