Business Today

Tuning Up

Local and global players are wooing Indian consumers with music streaming services. Differentiation will decide who wins and who loses.
twitter-logo Nidhi Singal   New Delhi     Print Edition: May 5, 2019
Tuning Up
Illustration By Nilanjan Dasand

Music lovers in India never had it so good. Now there is no need to visit a music store or purchase it online or download it clandestinely (yes, we call it piracy) as nearly a dozen music streaming services, both homegrown and global, are operating in the country.

YouTube Music is the latest to join the league that has global leader Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music (part of the Prime offering in India) and a bunch of heavily funded Indian players such as JioSaavn, Gaana and Wynk in the fray. All of them offer millions of songs across genres, provide curated playlists and feature Internet radio shows. Add to that the growing number of smartphone users, cheaper data and improved bandwidths (3G and 4G coverage), and one can easily understand why online music streaming and downloads are growing.

According to a recent report by the Indian Music Industry (IMI)-Deloitte on the audio OTT (over-the-top) economy, the number of smartphone users is expected to grow to 829 million in 2022 from 404 million in 2017, leading to a digital revolution where an increasing number of people will shift to digital platforms for music consumption. By the end of December 2018, the number of people using music streaming services across the country reached nearly 150 million, but it is only 60 per cent of the online video audience of 225 million-plus. This indicates a significant growth opportunity for increasingly popular audio OTT platforms which procure content from music labels, publishers and other distributors, and deliver the same over the Internet by independently hosted applications. The Indian OTT market, including audio and video streaming, is currently valued at over $280 million, with revenues from the audio OTT industry contributing to 67 per cent of the total recorded music revenue.

"Although there are over 150 million audio streaming listeners in the country, only 1 per cent pays for the music. So, when we talk about pure growth potential, it is huge. In fact, as per the Digital Music Study 2018 released by the IMI and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), income from subscriptions to audio streaming tripled to Rs 220 crore compared to the previous year," says Amarjit Batra, India Managing Director of Sweden-based Spotify.

What Works for India

A growing user base is no doubt good news, but converting users to paid subscribers in a price-conscious market is no easy task. International price tags are not likely to work here and key players have tuned in with a host of affordable options. For instance, Spotify offers ad-supported free subscription across devices while Spotify Premium is an ad-free service priced at Rs 119 per month (Rs 59 for students) that provides high-quality streaming (320 kbps) and download option for offline consumption. You also get a free trial for the first month. Besides the monthly plan, there are choices galore as you can subscribe for a day (Rs 13), a week (Rs 39), a quarter (Rs 389), six months (Rs 719) and a year (Rs 1,189). It also features city-specific playlists in addition to Bollywood Blast, Desi Hits and Editor's Picks such as Punjabi 101 and Jashn-e-Qawwali to build instant rapport with multilingual audiences.

YouTube Music from Google's stable also offers ad-supported free music and an ad-free paid service called YouTube Premium. The latter charges Rs 99 per month for a single user and Rs 129 a month for family sharing. You also get a free trial for three months - the offer is valid until March 31, 2020. One can use the app to watch music videos as well or turn them off using a toggle at the top. Recommendations are based on your YouTube history and Googles best-in-class algorithm ensures excellent user experience.

Apple Music, with more than 50 million songs, is an ad-free music and video-streaming service that allows downloads for offline listening. There is a three-month trial period, and you need to pay Rs 99 per month for individual use and Rs 149 a month for family access. Ad-free streaming on Amazon Music (bundled with Prime membership at Rs 129 a month or an annual charge of Rs 999) enables offline listening, supports hands-free voice commands and can be accessed via the Echo range of smart speakers. In the hands-free mode, users can interact with Alexa and ask it to play the songs that they heard a week, a month or almost a year ago.

Airtel-backed Wynk follows a similar model. Ad-supported Wynk is free while unlimited downloads without ads cost Rs 119 a month. Airtel subscribers get free and unlimited downloads, though. Reliance-owned JioSaavn offers ad-supported free streaming, and so does Gaana, which is backed by Times Internet and Tencent. But both have slashed annual fees for premium services in the face of stiff competition. JioSaavn Pro is now down to Rs 299 a year from Rs 999 while Gaana Plus charges Rs  298 annually instead of Rs 1,098. The student's subscription plan is priced at Rs 149 a year.

"The latest IFPI report says India's music industry grew by 24.5 per cent in 2018, and this trajectory indicates that India will be in the top 10 music markets by 2022," says Batra of Spotify.

But the key question remains: What will differentiate the market leader? With so many players to choose from and little difference in pricing, consumers may bet big on seamless access and flawless user experience across devices and digital infrastructures. A user-friendly interface, intuitive search, well-curated lists, content diversity and original music production are likely to play a vital role in gaining traction.

Prices valid at the time of going to print.

@nidhisingal

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