Pre-loaded music devices, the last link to the music cassettes and CDs that once accounted for a significant chunk of sales for music labels, are trying hard to find a place amid music apps and smart speakers. It started with music cards — USB sticks loaded with 150 songs — the kind Saregama launched in 2016, priced at `500. But these contributed only 4% to the music label’s revenue of `144 crore in FY 2017.
A year later, Saregama launched a portable speaker (Carvaan), pre-loaded with 5,000 songs at `5,990, to address a need gap for the 40+ age group that was looking for a convenient and rather passive music listening experience. When launching the device, the company hoped it would contribute to 40% of music business. In FY 2018, the company’s music business doubled with nearly 50% of the revenue coming from the sales of Carvaan, which was marketed on the plank of nostalgia.
Shemaroo and Acoosta, too, have launched a range of pre-loaded speakers over the last few months. Could these devices help music labels win back their consumers and lost appeal?
In August 2018, Shemaroo launched two devices loaded with devotional content — the Shemaroo Bhakti Bhajan Vaani and Shemaroo Bhakti Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, priced at `3,999 and `4,999, respectively. Kranti Gada, COO, Shemaroo Entertainment, says the ultimate goal for the company is to turn its devices into basic devotional gear for households. “Smartphones have become overloaded devices. A device such as the one we have removes interruptions in the form of email, text, notifications or phone calls that could disrupt a soulful moment,” she adds.
Acoosta, primarily an audio device maker, partnered with Sony DADC to offer 14,000 preloaded songs on its Acoosta Uno, priced at `12,999. Based on its catalogue, which is dominated by English and Hindi music from the ‘80s and onwards, Acoosta is targeting the 25-35 age group. Dinkar Pathak, CEO and co-founder Acoosta, says the product is aimed at “taking the party outside home”. “Coupled with the karaoke feature, we are addressing the desire of the consumer to record their own voice,” he says.
All these devices claim to improve the listening experience by offering curated playlists. “People don’t make their own playlists anymore. We take the effort of building playlists and categorising music, making it easy for users to choose albums they want to listen to,” Pathak says.
Acoosta and Carvaan also have their own devotional offerings, making devotional music a highly contended segment in the market.
Who’s tuning in?
Casual and serious music listeners in India have a host of options to choose from — free/paid music streaming apps, smart speakers, illegal music downloads, and YouTube. Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte India, points out that the dependence on pre-loaded devices is inextricably linked to data costs. He believes pre-loaded speakers will gain relevance chiefly if data costs increase, making streaming unviable.
Pre-loaded speakers available today are only Bluetooth and USB compatible, making them weak competitors to smart speakers that retail at `3,000 and upwards. Oindrila Roy, head – strategy, Essence India, suggests that “these speakers could borrow a couple of features, such as voice activation to perform actions such as search or create playlists, from other apps to make the device a complete package.”
Even while there is a segment of users which is tech-averse and may prefer such devices, most are unable to understand the complete benefits of pre-loaded speakers. “We have noticed that when people experience the product they convert easily,” Gada says. This is why having a wide offline retail footprint is crucial. In a bid to create awareness and allow for experiential opportunities, these players are trying to solidify their offline presence. Shemaroo’s products are sold in over 2,500 stores, Acoosta is growing its 1,000-store retail footprint, while Saregama has cast its net wide across 22,000 stores.
Vinyl’s comeback could signal hope for pre-loaded speakers, but future-proofing these devices will be crucial for them to remain relevant for longer, experts say. Tie-ups with streaming apps, Pathak suggests, could be a possibility.