Within the first week of its launch in India, Spotify India had apparently clocked up more than 1 million active users across its free and premium tiers, amassing another million users over the course of the first month. But it has not been a complete smooth sailing for Spotify in India. Warner Chappel Music (WCM), the music publishing division of Warner Music Group (WMG) had filed an injunction at the Bombay High Court, to stop Spotify from using its catalogue of songs in India. Saregama too moved the Delhi High Court seeking the court’s injunction against Spotify to stop it from exploiting its songs or doing any act which would result in a violation of its intellectual property rights. Spotify had told the Delhi High Court it will remove all content that belongs to Saregama from its platform.
Nonetheless, Spotify is performing beyond expectations in India according to its latest financial report. The growth has been primarily driven by innovative marketing strategies, localised playlists, non-music content in the form of podcasts, subscription plans tailored for the Indian market and other factors.
In this exclusive interview, Music Plus spoke to Amarjit Singh Batra, MD, Spotify India, to gain insight into the streaming giant’s journey in India.
1. How would you describe Spotify’s performance in India so far?
We spent 2-3 years to build Spotify for India, based on our research in the market. That hard work paid off when we saw the brand love for us on the day of launch; within the first week, Spotify crossed 1 million monthly active users in India, subsequently growing to over 2 million within the first month. Every day, we see more users identifying Spotify as a preferred audio streaming destination to transform their music and podcast experience. This reflected recently in the Q3 results (ending Sep 30, 2019), wherein we outperformed our growth forecast for India by 30%.
We are constantly evolving the experience in India as we listen to what our users want. Right from the launch of Spotify Lite, to integrations with social media platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat, and from improved ubiquity through our partnerships with Google Assistant and Sony Playstation, to curating playlists that are relevant for and seeing high traction with local and diaspora users; all these innovations and efforts are a reiteration of our commitment to enhance the audio experience, relatability, and shareability, while developing India’s creator talent pool. Our marketing campaigns have seen an overwhelming response, right from There’s A Playlist For That, to Sunte Ja, both of which increased brand awareness, but also had a positive business impact. From an artist perspective, we have worked with several of them to educate them on the benefits of using Spotify For Artists, as a result of which, we have several local artists on the platform already, using listener insights to manage their business of music.
And finally, our non-music content, driven by podcasts, is also seeing interest among Indian users, with consumption of content around self-motivation, crime, and technology making it to local podcast charts on the app.
2. Your route to India has not been the smoothest, how would you describe Spotify’s launch and how important is the Indian market to Spotify?
We believe that Spotify entered the market at the right time, and we are here for the long term – the goal is to create the market, and provide a platform that allows creators to share their work with 248 million users across 79 markets.
Spotify’s eight months in India have been an exciting, encouraging, and a journey of learning based on user acceptance, feedback, engagement, and consumption. In fact, in terms of consumption on the platform, we are already among the top three companies in the audio streaming space. That’s high stickiness for a brand that’s been in the market for less than a year.
India is unique, given its social and cultural diversity, so we’ve continuously focused on personalisation, seamless discoverability, and in-depth localisation to understand how Spotify can become a part of the user’s life, moods, and moments. We’ve seen the impact in the time that users spend in our editorially curated playlists, the virality of our content through marketing and social media, and the overall artist response.
India is an important market and while we’re pleased by the early results, we are running a marathon in the market, vs. a sprint. Spotify is a data based company and we are always going back to the drawing board to see what tweaks can be made to make the content discoverability and consumption more seamless. We recently introduced mobile sign-up in India, have several tiers of Premium plans, including the Family plan that was announced a few weeks ago, and are always improving our search and metadata to ensure users find the right content.
3. What are the efforts that you have put in to localise Spotify for the Indian market?
When it comes to a market as dynamic as India, our intention was to introduce a service that isn’t just an addition to India but truly adds value by elevating the music streaming experience in India. So, we built Spotify for India.
Firstly, we arrived in India with a specially upgraded ‘free’ tier offering users full control and access over 50 million songs and over 3 billion playlists based on moods and moments. Users can play any song, for free, and as many times as they want. This is the most immersive experience we’ve offered to our free user, a first for Spotify on mobile, in any country, at launch.
Secondly, understanding the price conscious market, we customised our pricing strategy by offering a range of user subscription plans making it accessible across price conscious consumer segments.
Thirdly, recognising India’s range of cultural nuances and preferences, we aimed at offering user depth in localisation innovated through over 250 playlists curated just for India such as Punjabi 101, Rap 91 and Top Hits in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Punjabi, tailored to suit local consumer sentiments. This ensured we elevate the user’s journey by not only finding their favourites but seamlessly discovering a whole new dimension to localised content & artist community through effective personalisation and recommendation. This also means that every user’s Spotify homepage looks different because that is how they consume content – uniquely.
Lastly, in our efforts to consistently offer an unmatched level of ubiquity to music experiences, we recently announced the Spotify Lite across 36 countries including India, a 10 MB app that allows users to set limits of mobile data consumption. The app is aimed at users with low-end smartphones having lesser storage, slower network, and other limited capabilities, without compromising on the music catalogue that we believe will help attract millions of current and potential users from across regions.
Going forward, you can expect to see more learnings as we continuously mine local insights that into our marketing and product strategies, leading to new features, updates, and other innovations that our users want to see.
4. How important is non film and regional music for Spotify in India?
Film music has long dominated the industry’s share of voice and consumer’s heart. But we are witnessing that, users today are open to newer genres of music, as long as the content is fine-tuned to their preferences, something Spotify has pioneered and continues to lead in. Today, while film music continues to lead streams, regional music in terms of Tamil and Telugu film music, Punjabi non film music, and Hindi independent music have all found their fans.
In recent times, regional music has been driving substantial growth in the streaming segment. The Indian music industry is no longer a one genre race where Bollywood dominated the segment with 67-70% in 2016. It is exciting to see the regional music segment account for around 32% of the market in FY19 where Punjabi contributes 15% of the total streaming across various platforms followed by Tamil at 5 % and Telugu at 4% (source: KPMG 2019).
These trends were reflected in Spotify’s 6-month audio trends report as well which highlighted that Indian listeners love homegrown as much as upbeat music with Punjabi 101 and New Music Punjabi being among the top five playlists in India. We believe the music culture is extremely rich in India, and striking a balance between film and non-film music draws a huge difference compared to what we see in other markets.
5. What are the advantages for artists to partner with Spotify and utilise the platform effectively?
As we build seamless and quality music experiences for fans on the platform, our efforts are also focused on developing a whole new dimension for artists and creators to grow their music journey with us through the Spotify for Artists platform. Powered by data and insights, this platform, also available as a mobile app, has dynamically evolved the relationship between fans and artists into a symbiotic success mechanism and revolutionised the value chain for creators in the music industry’s ecosystem. It places the creator at the front and center of a growing global audience, empowering them to create their own unique authorised identity, address the right avenues to monetise their talent through a life-time revenue medium, and create better and lasting connections with the global fan community.
When you talk about the potential in Spotify’s global reach, to give you an example, Bekhayali’ from Kabir Singh which garnered 7 lac+ streams in a week post its launch and featured as #1 in Spotify’s Global Viral Top 50, today, has more than 16 million streams. Additionally, take independent artists Divine, Arjun Kanungo, Ritiviz whose fan base grew multi-folds on the platform over the period of Spotify’s existence in India (Divine – 90x growth, Arjun Kanungo – 53x growth, Ritviz- 25x growth).
Lastly, we are focused on building an ecosystem that helps build the overall growth story of a two-sided marketplace. Through exclusives artist-fan experiences like Spotify Live Events and our recent acquisition of SoundBetter, we are also facilitating a global communal engagement between artists-fans and the creator community itself to engage, inspire and and thrive.
6. How important is podcast for Spotify and how do you look at the potential of podcasts in India?
Globally, Spotify is focused on building our service progressively with an ‘audio first’ approach, keeping users and creators at the heart of what we do. We have now grown to become the world’s second-biggest platform for podcasts in just under two years; looking at current consumption trends and potential, India can play a big part of this global opportunity in the coming years. In addition to our recent global acquisitions in the space, we are working towards building an ecosystem of creators, brands, and partners as we leverage the potential of building an unparalleled podcast destination through Spotify in India.
We believe that the future of audio is limitless and in the Indian market, though podcasting consumption is still in its nascent stage, we see immense potential given the immersive nature of the medium. Increasing awareness around streaming, long hours spent in commutes and India’s position as a knowledge economy act as important factors to realise that there is scope for podcasts to become mainstream in India. Additionally, India’s diversity in language and culture open exciting opportunities in creating and developing podcasts across languages for national and possible global consumption amongst diaspora.
And yes, we will look at original and exclusive podcast content for the market.
7. With India having less than one percent paid subscribers for streaming, how do you think Spotify’s subscription based model fits in this market?
In India, the biggest challenge to the music streaming industry is piracy, so when we entered the market, we knew that the number of people who would pay for listening to music, would be minimal. Understanding the price conscious market, we customised our pricing strategy by offering a range of user subscription plans that span from a day to an annual subscription (INR 13 to INR 1189) and student plan – making it accessible across price conscious consumer segments. Recently, we announced the Family plan as well, which has seen good uptake, priced at INR 179 per month. This ensures we are customising our premium value offering, making it accessible across price conscious consumer segments as we focus on providing the best audio experience in the industry. Our intent is to reach anyone and everyone who loves music in India; on an average, less than 1% of people pay for music, and we are above that average.
We do believe that users will pay for an experience they believe is made just for them, ranging from playlists and personalisation, to payment options and brand engagement, which is what we at Spotify aim to consistently bring a more generic product experience.
8. What steps has Spotify taken to convert free users into paid subscribers?
We believe education on a mass scale is the need of the hour and that’s an area we are focused on, that primarily includes getting masses on-board to the concept of free and legal music streaming by effectively highlighting its value proposition against piracy. Later through habitual experience, convert them to paid subscribers. It’s a long term vision.
Spotify is also hosting masterclasses with artists to educate them on how best to use the Spotify For Artists platform for fan insights, and encourage their listeners to convert from pirated to free, legal streaming music consumption.
9. How do you look at the future of Spotify in India?
Moving forward, our goal is to become an ‘audio first’ company. This means that we will continue to develop the market for creators and businesses alike; in parallel, we will focus on evolving our service to consistently redefine the streaming experience, built through innovation and inspired by keeping our users at heart.
From consumers’ perspective, our goal has and will be to integrate ourselves in India’s cultural moments, ranging from the love of memes and cricket, to celebrating festivals and seasons with relevant audio content. Our marketing campaigns reflect that, and it will continue to be at the heart of what we do.
From a creators’ perspective, it is not only about giving international artists India’s diverse audience, but also elevating Indian artists and taking them to the world. In India, we are spending time with our partners, including labels and artists, to educate them on making the most of their music on Spotify’s global platform. We will also look at original and exclusive content for India in the podcast domain.
From a product perspective, we are constantly developing and making the UI more intuitive for everyone on the app – creators, brands, and users. Through focus on personalisation, seamless discoverability and in-depth localisation, we used our entry timeline in India to gather feedback, and understand the market landscape. Such global market drives enabled us launch Spotify Lite in India, a great avenue to audio streaming overcoming internet bandwidth challenges and storage issues.