Business Today

India's iTunes reinvents itself as an online music and video store, but will it work?

Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: November 1, 2009

Back in the good old days of the Internet, when access cost a couple of arms and a leg and everyone used dial-up, was a quiz site that posted a question every hour and one could win prizes. Cut to October 2009: The portal has become an entertainment hub and is undergoing its most dramatic transformation yet. The all-new is trying to become an online music download hub. Over the past few years, Neeraj Roy and his team at Hungama have been busy acquiring the digital media rights to a lot of movies and music content. They even power the Yash Raj Films download service.

So, what's the plan? Hungama wants to make their collection of music available to web users, for a price. Here is how it will work: You first need to go to the site and register. Then choose a piece of content (a song, in Windows Media Audio format or a video in Windows Media Video format) and buy it. The complicated part is the pricing plan. Hungama will have three pricing plans. The first is a Rs 10 per download a la carte scheme. The second is a Rs 20 for four pieces of content. You will need Windows Media Player to play the content.

Hungama promises that you own it (the content) and it never expires. But then there is a third pricing plan, the Rs 99 monthly eat-all-you-can-download plan. On the face of it, this one sounds great. The problem is that the content you download will be protected using Digital Rights Management (DRM).

DRM is a dirty word in many people's books and, perhaps, for valid reasons. Once your monthly plan is over, Hungama automatically renews your plan by charging your credit card. If you suddenly choose to stop your subscription, though, your content will die as its licence is valid as long as you keep paying. However, if you're travelling and don't want to pay for that month but restart your subscription after a while, your music will come back to life again, even if you have sideloaded it onto another device. Or so Hungama claims.

As far as "quality" goes, both the audio and video are good, but could be better. Also, Hungama plans to launch fullmovie downloads "in the future", but my experience says that if you want to make full use of this service, you better have broadband. There is also a mobile version and application, but unless you have an unlimited data plan, the charges will be prohibitive.

The competition

Nokia Music is betting big on India and has launched the Nokia Music service on a limited number of devices where customers will have to buy "vouchers" to download content. A bigger launch is expected when Nokia introduces the X3 and X6 Music devices soon (the latter is the best Nokia touch screen device yet). The service is eventually going to work quite simply. The cost of the music service for a year with unlimited downloads will be bundled into your handset price. Downloading onto a PC directly and sideloading the content will also be easier and faster when 3G networks come along.

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