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Utopia Hits Refresh With New CEO After Year of Setbacks: ‘That’s a Closed Chapter’

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The new CEO of Swiss-based Utopia Music says he is focusing on making the company profitable within the next 12 months through “topline growth” and does not envisage making further cost savings through staff cuts or divestments.  

Alain Couttolenc was announced as chief executive of Utopia Music on Thursday (Oct. 19), succeeding co-founder Mattias Hjelmstedt, who has been leading the company since February and now returns to his former role as executive chairman.

Speaking exclusively to Billboard, Couttolenc says he will utilize his 25 years’ experience of leading global data and media businesses to boost growth across all of Utopia’s revenue streams and move the company into profitability “in one year – maximum.”

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“By getting the right data with the right AI [artificial intelligence] and the right positioning, I think we have the most unknown and unsold jewels in the industry,” he says. “Now the job is to take them out.”

Couttolenc joins Utopia from Ipsos, one of the world’s largest data companies, where he held the post of chief development officer. His executive career also includes senior leadership roles at data analytics company (and former Billboard owner) Nielsen Media, most notably SVP for Latin America and CEO of Europe Nielsen Media.

The Mexico-born, Swiss-based executive joins Utopia Music on the back of a highly turbulent 12 months that has seen the tech company undertake extensive cost-cutting measures, including several rounds of layoffs, multiple executive departures, office closures, legal action over a stalled acquisition deal and the offloading of three of its businesses — Absolute Label Services, U.S.-based music database platform ROSTR and U.K.-based publisher Sentric.

In under one year, the firm’s global workforce has been trimmed from approximately 1,200 staff to around 440.

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Reflecting on Utopia’s well-publicized troubles, Couttolenc says the restructure that interim CEO Hjelmstedt began implementing in late 2022 was a “tough” but necessary response to the wider financial pressures felt by all tech companies over the past several years.

“The good news is that we’re still here,” says Couttolenc, who spent several months working at Utopia’s headquarters in the Swiss town of Zug on a consultancy basis, prior to being officially appointed CEO.

As a result of the restructuring, the chief exec says that Utopia is now well positioned at “the right size with the right products,” while his main goal is achieving profitability through “topline growth, not [reducing] cost out.” 

“Cost out is about people and that is absolutely not my intention,” says Couttolenc, referring to the multiple rounds of job cuts and divestments Utopia undertook between late 2022 and summer 2023. “I think that’s in the past. It’s not my intention to continue that,” he says. “That’s a [closed] chapter.”   

Instead, Couttolenc says he will focus on developing Utopia’s existing tech solutions for all layers of the music business, adding value for its artist, label, publisher, distributor, collecting society and streaming platform clients.

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At present, those tech solutions encompass six main product services, spanning cross-platform analytics, an AI-powered recommendation engine targeted at DSPs and streaming services, lyric and language analysis tools to aid discoverability and Utopia’s royalty processing and payments system TrackNClaim, which tracks music consumption on digital platforms and helps identify conflicts and unclaimed mechanical royalties.

According to Utopia, TrackNClaim’s analysis of music consumption on YouTube in North America helped collect over $4 million in royalties for rights holders in 2022. The company aims to expand its TrackNClaim product to other streaming platforms and international markets.

Utopia’s other core businesses include its two main physical music distribution entities: Proper Music Group, which provides distribution services for over 5,800 indie labels and service companies, and Utopia Distribution Services (formerly Cinram Novum), whose clients include Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and [PIAS].

While the sale of CDs and vinyl may appear to sit uncomfortably with Utopia’s AI and tech-driven business model, Couttolenc says the opposite is true and both businesses deliver a wealth of vital sales data that Utopia then uses to drive revenue elsewhere, as well as providing opportunities for the company to upsell its services to artist and label clients. Together, Proper Music Group and Utopia Distribution Services account for 98% of the physical music market in the United Kingdom, says Utopia.

“For me, [physical] distribution is not a legacy business. On the contrary, it fuels the other solutions and vice versa. It’s a good hybrid to have,” says the chief exec, who was himself a music DJ in the 1980s.    

In a statement announcing Couttolenc’s appointment as CEO, Utopia co-founder Mattias Hjelmstedt said the exec’s successful track record as a global business leader coupled with his “deep understanding of data and its implementation” makes him the ideal person to steer Utopia’s ongoing transition from a hyper-growth company to a profitable one.

“It’s our products that will ultimately talk for us,” says Couttolenc. “I’m pretty much obsessed with understanding and tracking why people listen to music. The why for me is very important because that’s where you understand the real trends of listeners.”

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