The past few years have not been too kind to the Indian music streaming industry. In early 2014, popular music streaming start-up Dhingana shut down, apparently owing to industry challenges like piracy and after one of its biggest partners refused to renew their agreement. Dhingana had been among the top-funded music start-ups in India then and had raised$7 million in series B funding just a few months earlier.
A year before that, e-commerce major Flipkart closed operations of its ambitious Flyte MP3 store, again reportedly owing to issues such as piracy and lack of suitable micro-payment tools. This, after Flyte had built a massive digital music catalogue at very affordable prices along with a loyal base of one lakh customers in just over a year’s time.
Fast forward to the present. In June, Saavn—an Indian music streaming provider headquartered in the US—landed an undisclosed investment from high-profile entertainment industry executive Guy Oseary. At Maverick Records, where he is the CEO, Oseary is credited with leading the label to sales of over 100 million records worldwide. In addition to working with pop legend Madonna for over 25 years, Oseary works alongside some of the best managers in the music business, representing some of the world’s greatest artistes, including U2, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Paul McCartney, Nicki Minaj and Jason Aldean, among others.
There are also reports of US e-commerce major Amazon preparing to launch a standalone music streaming subscription service in India soon, placing it squarely in competition with rival offerings from Apple and Spotify. While Apple launched its Apple Music service some time in the middle of last year, Swedish music streaming service giant Spotify, too, is looking to expand its presence in Asia, including India, as per reports.
If that happens, Amazon and Spotify will also have to compete against existing homegrown music streaming service providers like Gaana, Saavn, Hungama and Wnyk, which have all established a foothold in India, with a wide collection of music genres and languages.
In just about a couple of years’ time, the Indian music streaming industry is once again showing signs of positivity. “We have seen tremendous growth over the past five years. Our current monthly user base is 20 million… over
10.5 billion minutes were spent on Gaana last year. We have seen a 100% increase in music streaming between 2014 and 2015, where 90% of total streaming was accessed through mobile phones because of an increase in mobile Internet usage,” says Prashan Agarwal, chief operating officer of online music streaming service company Gaana.
Saavn, too, has seen a three-fold increase in its streaming volume and a 10-fold rise in daily active users since 2014, with over 300 million streams per month at the moment. “Many Indians are coming online for the first time with mobile phones. And it’s showing in our data. Around 90% of streaming on Saavn has been happening on a mobile device. Indian consumers lead the world in app usage, opening a downloaded app 16.8 times a day on an average. India also represents 2.9% of the world’s in-app revenue,” says a spokesperson for Saavn.
Gaana and Saavn have reason to be upbeat, as listening to music online has been the third-most preferred activity of urban Internet users in the country, followed by email and social media, as per a study conducted by market research firm JuxtSmartMandate (JSM) last year. As many as
97.4 million people in urban India listen to music online, which is close to 63% of the total 168 million urban Internet users in the country. Around 75% of this traffic comes from mobile phones, the study said. In other words, 73.8 million urban Internet users in India stream music on their mobile phones using a data connection. They use either an app or a mobile site (through the browser) to stream music on their phones.
“This could finally provide a ray of hope to music publishers. India, known for its widespread music piracy, is waking up to a legal and cheaper way of listening to music. Live streaming of music—in which a listener listens to music live on the Internet without having to download music files—is steadily becoming popular in India,” says Mrutyunjay Mishra, co-founder of JSM, who led the research. “There are three major factors that are driving the trend: the rapidly increasing penetration of smartphones, availability and affordability of data services such as 3G on mobile, and innovative positioning and marketing by a bunch of third-party music streaming sites,” adds Mishra.
The ideal music app
Pricing: Almost all the players offer free tiers, but the one company that takes the cake in this department is Apple Music. At the moment, the music streaming platform, developed by the American tech giant, offers its service for free in the first three months. Beyond that, it charges a meagre R120 per month per user and R190 per month if you want unlimited access that extends up to six devices. “This is cheap compared to $10 (about R670) that the company charges in the US. Also, its Beats 1 Internet radio station is awesome. It’s free too,” says Pallab Jyotee Hazarika, founder of tech portal Nothing Wired.
The free tiers for the rest of the lot like Gaana, Saavn and Hungama come with ads and don’t allow downloads. As for pricing, while Gaana offers a one-month subscription for R120 that allows for unlimited downloads of songs with a bitrate of up to 320 kbps (up to five devices), Saavn has an India-only ‘Pro Lite’ plan that lets one download up to 3 GB of music on one device for R110. The Pro plan, however, offers unlimited downloads on up to five devices for about R220 per month. Hungama’s monthly subscription package comes for R110.
Wynk’s pricing structure, on the other hand, is a bit complicated. Airtel customers, it seems, have an edge here. “I have never been charged so far, though I have the R99 monthly plan in place. Maybe that’s because I have an Airtel connection. Also, with the paid plans, some amount of music download over 4G is not counted towards one’s data usage,” offers Hazarika of Nothing Wired.
Basically, there are two monthly subscription packs to choose from here: Wynk Plus and Wynk Freedom. Wynk Plus allows one to download unlimited songs within the app, so that one can play them offline and save on data charges. It is available at R99 per month. For Airtel customers, the special price is R29. Wynk Freedom, on the other hand, allows one to stream and download songs without paying any data charges. This is available only for Airtel customers at a monthly charge of R129.
Library: Like pricing, the library is another make-or-break deal for a music streaming service provider. Here, Saregama, which owns most old Bollywood music and Indian classical music, takes the lead. But, by and large, it has remained restricted to connoisseurs and has not been able to tap the masses.
Then there is Saavn, which offers over 25 million songs across 13 different languages. “We believe music is an essential part of life for everyone and we remain focused on making the listening experience as seamless and accessible as possible,” offers the spokesperson of. “This year, we expanded our content offering with Saavn ‘Original Programming’, a slate of original, non-music audio programmes that range from comedy and storytelling to mythology and cricket,” he adds.
Users aren’t complaining. “Saavn stands out for its exhaustive Indian music list. Search for any song and chances are that it will be there,” says Manvendra Mohanty, who works with an IT company in Gurgaon.
As far as Gaana is concerned, its song library comprises over 15 million songs. Like Saavn, Gaana, too, has recently started a series of original programming under its sub-brand Gaana Specials. “This encompasses audio content across music-related shows, comedy, storytelling, etc. The initial response has been great, with some of the streams doing exceptionally well,” says Agarwal of Gaana.
But when it comes to an international catalogue, Apple Music has, by far, the best songs. “With over 30 million songs, Apple Music is the one I use mostly. It is also known for offering some exclusive music content,” says Hazarika of Nothing Wired. Also, once you’re an Apple Music member, you can listen to its radio stations, enjoy unlimited listening from the library, add Apple Music content to your library, download for offline listening and even get expert music suggestions. “Apple Music members can also keep up to one lakh songs in their iCloud music library,” says Binod Mili, an avid music listener and a banker based in Mumbai. Unfortunately, its collection of Indian music is severely limited.
But if you don’t listen to international tracks much, Hungama could also be a decent option, as it has a fairly large collection of Indian music. “Besides providing music streaming/downloading options on Hungama Music, we also showcase exclusive audio/video content from independent artistes and live events such as Supersonic, Khazana and Arijit Singh Live in Concert, among others,” says Siddhartha Roy, CEO, Hungama.
User-Friendly: At present, almost every music streaming service provider has its presence on the Web, as also on popular platforms such as iOS and Android. Saavn was one of the first digital music streaming companies to integrate a social networking feature that allows users to follow profiles and playlists of their friends, as well as celebrities. “We were the first digital music streaming company to introduce music sharing and tagging through ‘Saavn Social’. Where we see a greenfield opportunity, we seize it. Our industry-leading design facilitates a UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) for Saavn listeners,” says the Saavn spokesperson.
Users agree. “Saavn has a strong social quotient. The app is clean and easy to navigate on any operating system, with a Web-based offering as well for those who want to listen to songs on the PC,” says Mohanty of Gurgaon. Mili agrees: “Saavn has a good interface. I like its app, but the only thing that I find a bit unsatisfactory is its curation. If the app could provide better playlists, it’d be easier for people to find new music.”
Gaana, too, has a social layer in the app where one can see what music friends are listening to. As for user-friendliness, its vibrant interface will appeal to many. “It uses an attractive theme and is well-laid-out,” adds Mohanty.
For Apple Music, playlists and the easy UI are great crowd-pullers. It has genre-based playlists such as Indian classical and rock apart from ones that are dedicated to activities such as workouts and running. The curation on Apple Music is exemplary and you’re sure to find what you need. Hazarika of Nothing Wired lists out the minuses though. “Apple Music has a very ‘buggy’ Android software… it often crashes. If you have songs downloaded, you need to, at times, connect to the Internet again for it to sync the catalogue. This is annoying when you’re travelling and don’t have Net access for long. Also, it removes albums without notifying whenever copyright issues come up.”
Key differentiators: So eventually, what makes these music streaming services tick? Agarwal of Gaana says its main differentiation has been its focus on curated content. “We create playlists based on genre, mood, hour of the day and featured artistes, among others. More than 65% of content consumption on Gaana is through curated content,” he adds.
As per Saavn, for entertainment companies to succeed in the mobile era, they need to make sure that they expand their content offerings to keep users’ attention and trust. “Saavn was the first music streaming app to launch on Android in India. We have been the first in the Indian market with almost every product, as well as with our marketing campaigns,” the spokesperson explains.
Roy of Hungama says, “With more and more people spending an increased amount of time on their individual devices, the streaming industry is steering towards providing content that caters to individual user preferences. Original content has become the key differentiator for music streaming platforms, which otherwise offer an overlapping range of movie-related music content. An elevated music consumption experience based on unique features also plays an important role in deciding the preferred destination for the consumer,” he adds.
Currently, Hungama’s destination services across music and video reach over 67 million monthly active users and 16.7 million transactional users across Hungama.com, Hungama Music and Hungama Play.
“For me, the standout feature on Hungama Music is the ‘discovery’ option where one can select one’s mood for the day—happy, sad, romantic, party, ecstatic, etc. The feature throws up some very interesting song suggestions and will be good for those who love to discover new songs,” says Shouvik Sarkar, an HR manager with a leading corporate house based in Mumbai. Another key feature is ‘gamification’. With this feature, Hungama users are rewarded points while using its services, which they can then redeem to buy digital goods like songs, music videos or movies.