Interview of the Week – Prashant Dogra, CEO, Phonographic Digital Limited (PDL)

The way people consume music and video has changed dramatically in recent years due to technological advances and so has the distribution model for content. The exponential growth of music and video streaming on mobile and digital platforms and over the internet is without doubt a welcome and positive trend for the long struggling music industry. It has however posed new challenges for associations and societies engaged in licensing, fee collection and royalty payment of copyrighted content on behalf of rights owners.

To that end Phonographic Digital Limited (PDL) was established in March 2017 whereby it would exclusively handle licensing and fee collection on the mobile and digital platforms for regional music players and smaller music companies in Bollywood.

PDL is a global digital music collection company with 375 plus members and aims to maximize rights owners’ revenues in today’s rapidly changing technological environment with complete clarity and transparency. With that objective in mind PDL initiated various technological innovations including software tools to bring automation to the process and streamline data management and accounting of fee collection and royalty distribution. Today PDL is justly proud of the growth it has brought around in the past three years.

For our Interview of the Week we spoke with Prashant Dogra, CEO, PDL, who has been a game changer in his short stint with the organization after having worked in the mobile content business with Air Tel and Jio. Excerpts from the interview.

What is PDL and why is it different from other aggregators?

PDL was born out of need. When PPL stopped handling the mobile and digital business of the industry, the smaller music labels were at a crossroads, not knowing whether to try and approach mobile operators and OTT platforms directly or to go with aggregators. Used to having official industry status, they decided to come together and manage the digital business as a collective but through a not for profit organization. This was the genesis of PDL. It comprises many strong regional labels, ones who are dormant but have valuable catalogues and now even individual artistes.

How is PDL enabling growth for its members?

Not many new revenue streams are going to open up to the music companies, so in such a scenario what should music companies do to grow their revenues?

My view on this is pretty simple. That growth will come by marketing of their existing content. Labels tend to focus only on new releases. Does that mean the millions of songs that have released earlier are worthless? Retro content still sells. The problem is most of the functionaries do not focus on catalogue content but only on new releases. They need to churn their catalogue and keep marketing all content. In the last 6 odd months, our focus has shifted from just ingesting content and collecting royalty to marketing the content aggressively. And this has enabled us to grow very significantly in Wynk, Spotify, Apple, Gaana and CRBT. In some places we have grown as much as 200% – i.e. tripling our monthly revenue from the platform – and this has been achieved in only the last 6 months.

The target I have set for my team is of 6-7 fold growth which can be achieved by marketing our content. This transparency is also critical with our members. There should be clarity on marketing strategies with the labels. The idea is to give insights to the members that their content can be marketed better in many ways.

How do you ensure Clarity in deals?

All the deals we enter into are informed to the board and our members. And going forward, we intend to use our monthly newsletters to inform everybody in detail about new deals
In fact, we intend to communicate what we learn about making better content marketing efforts on each of these streaming platforms to our members so they too can maximize revenue.
Lastly, our members know that PDL is a not for profit organization, unlike many other music distribution companies. So all we need to do is to ensure transparency in the royalty distribution process.

How are you utilizing technology for royalty & data management and collection?

In its initial days, PDL faced massive delays in execution due to lack of quality infrastructure and IT tools, lack of automation, procedural delays etc.

My objective has been speed of execution because it leads to expedited payments! More time to market content also leads to business expansion. Over the last year or so, the infrastructure issue has been addressed which has dramatically improved business, as I mentioned.

Manual royalty calculation is being replaced by an automated process, which is in beta-testing and will be implemented post the lockdown. Our software is custom built to take into account the nuances of digital rights management and past PDL learnings. So very soon royalty processing and accounting is going to be state of the art, including line by line track wise reporting.

In a nutshell, the automation of processes and upgrading the infrastructure has ensured complete transparency to members.

What steps did you take/are taking to reach out to the regional players? How did PDL India manage to increase its membership count while ensuring transparency?

We had our challenges initially. Members expect payments on time. They look around at our competitors even though they are ‘for profit companies’ as they offer faster payments and even upfront money.

However, there is a realization now that PDL being a ‘not for profit’ company offers better revenues, despite an automated upload facility, assists in upload of content and creation of metadata if required and actively markets the music at no additional cost to the copyright owner. So in a sense, we add far greater value than other digital distributors, some of whom do not even have deals for Ring Back Tones with mobile operators. That business is still significant if driven by the copyright owners / distributors.

This word has spread among the smaller and regional labels, who are increasingly joining us and growing the PDL member base significantly. We also cater to individual artistes though they need a certain number of released songs for full membership. This gives them the sort of revenue shares that are in the league of the majors. Who else is offering them that?

Through the services that PDL offers, how can independent labels/artists benefit?

Apart from all I’ve said above, PDL with its focus on marketing and not just distribution, frees up time for artistes and labels to focus on creation. That is the critical backbone of our business.

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