Man wears a headset while listening to a fortune telling machine as people flock to Juhu Beach at low tide to see a cargo ship which ran aground due to rough weather in Mumbai
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
So many players, so few headphones.
TUNED IN

There’s more to music streaming in India than just libraries with millions of songs

By Ananya Bhattacharya

Who will win in India’s crowded music streaming market is anybody’s guess as of now. But experts believe there are certain factors that can go a long way in helping one app succeed over the other.

In just the last month, two of the world’s biggest streaming giants—YouTube Music and Spotify—entered the $213 million (Rs1,470 crore) Indian over-the-top streaming industry. They will now compete with local players such as JioSaavn and Gaana, as well as international incumbents Amazon Music and Apple Music.

“The success of these (music-streaming) businesses rests on three pillars: content, distribution, and affordability. For Indian audiences Gaana and JioSaavn win on all three,” said Aman Kumar, chief business officer at the data analytics firm Kalagato. “…foreign players will have to tailor their offering and plans for Indian audiences and how they like to consume content.”

Experts also believe a single company will likely not win across the length and breadth of India. With 29 states and 22 official languages (and hundreds of unofficial ones), there is space for several companies to thrive at once in the music-streaming segment.

“There will be two or three large general players for Hindi-English content. And then a plethora of smaller guys for particular genres and regions,” Jehil Thakkar, partner at Deloitte India, told Quartz. “For instance, imagine an Indian classical player with a deep content base, which the general player won’t have.”

Already, many of these players have competitive catalogues with upwards of 30 to 40 million songs. As the music-streaming wars heat up in India, here are some other factors that could change the order on the leaderboard:

Breaking the language barrier: The 19 to 30 age group, which comprises three-fourths of the market, is inclined towards mainstream Bollywood music—a sweet spot for Indian firms but a weakness for foreign ones.

Regional language is another battleground. “…with growing penetration in tier 2 and 3 regions, a shift can be witnessed from Bollywood music to regional content such as Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bhojpuri etc.,” said Karan Chechi, research director at TechSci Research. No platform has cracked it fully yet, but YouTube may come close.

Alternate foreign content like K-Pop is also gaining traction in India.

Podcasts and shows: Beyond just music, consumers are also looking for alternative audio content on streaming platforms. Noting this trend, Swedish player Spotify, with over 96 million paying subscribers across the globe, has made acquisitions in the podcast space. It is “an important strategy for driving top-of-funnel growth, increased user engagement, lower churn, faster revenue growth, and higher margins,” said Amarjit Singh Batra, managing director of Spotify India.

Experts see value in creating original shows to build customer loyalty and retention. “It’s like with radio channels, the radio jockeys are the differentiators,” Thakkar explained. Saavn has Bollywood actress Neha Dhupia’s talk show exclusively on its platfom. Gaana, the largest Indian music OTT platform with 80 million users, meanwhile, has its originals—a series of non-film tracks by popular Indian singer-composers. YouTube is also offering “originals” in India.

Tech capabilities: Given the tough competition, music streaming companies in India will need to closely monitor the data they gather, understand what the audience wants, and make sure that is delivered to them, said Sandeep Murthy, a partner at Lightbox VC. “From improved search to personalised recommendations, the smart use of AI will give these companies an edge,” Murthy said.

Moreover, devices influence which apps listeners use, Twitterati feel. For instance, Manohar Kanapaka, a product manager at IT firm Webdunia, uses JioSaavn and Gaana on his phone with a Jio SIM but switches to Amazon Music on Alexa devices.

That’s why Spotify’s Batra hails “ubiquity” as one of its strengths. “At the time of launch, we had Google Maps, Xbox, and several other integrations live in India, and there are more coming soon,” he said.