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Music Streaming Platforms Confront COVID-19 Lockdown Hurdle

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March 13, 2020, is a day that will go down like an apocalyptic milestone in the history of mankind. On this day numerous countries across the world shut down shops, malls, bars, businesses, and educational institutions and forced people to practice social distancing and stay indoors. This drastic step was taken to contain the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from spreading.

Though India announced a nation-wide lockdown on the 25th of March, by then the pandemic had already brought the global entertainment industry to a standstill. However, the expectation that people holed up in their houses would be streaming music from various platforms, ensuring a surge in the streaming numbers, did not turn out to be entirely correct.

“Early trends showed declines in overall streams, specifically during peak commute and work hours, but we are beginning to see that decline settle and in some cases even reversed. Listeners are evolving their habits and streaming on many platforms in addition to smart phone,” explained Gaurav Sharma, Chief Operating Officer, JioSaavn.

Contradicting Gaurav, Gaana CEO, Prashan Agarwal claimed,

“As the leader in the country’s music streaming space, our pervasiveness has made us the ideal choice for the wider Indian audience across urban and tier II/III cities, triggering a growth in traffic over the two weeks.”

Thanks to the streaming platforms, music had become a daily partner for people during their daily commute, working out, meditation, etc. But the current situation has made it important for people to stay at home and practice social distancing, putting a stop to their day to day activities.

While music streaming figures showed a decline, the audio-visual OTT platforms witnessed significant growth. With fewer people streaming from their cars during their daily commutes and an increase in work from home, more people were streaming across devices like computer desktops, TVs, smartphones to access the OTT platforms.

Video streaming is a more inclusive activity that can also involve the entire family at the same time. Since most people are now at home, there has been an increased preference for video streaming.

Speaking on this development, Siddhartha Roy, COO, Hungama Digital Media said,

“Video streaming remains high between 8.30 am and 11.30 am, 1 pm and 3 pm and then 6 pm and midnight, music streaming remains high from 11 pm to 2 am, which is when families have gone to sleep and users can probably listen to music on their headphones.”

Change in music consumption pattern

People’s outlooks, behaviours, needs, and wants are going to be transformed through this pandemic and the music streaming business is left with no choice but to adapt to this change. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a major shift in the consumption pattern of the listeners.

Consumer behaviour has seen significant changes owing to enforced work from home. Non-music genres like podcasts and shows across comedy, storytelling, and devotion, that can be played in the background throughout the entire day received significant traction. Consumers are turning into softer songs, more news-related and educative podcasts, meditational music, songs they can work out to, etc.

There’s also been an increase in cooking and housework themed playlists, showing that people are primarily focusing on family and domestic tasks instead of music intended for get-togethers. Self-improvement podcasts are seeing an uptick as well.

Music platforms evolve new strategies

The change in people’s consumption patterns has not gone unnoticed within the music streaming platforms. All of them were in a huddle not so long back to devise strategies to counter this unexpected development. With multiple platforms to choose from, retaining their regular consumers would thus be a challenge for the streaming platforms.

Agreeing to the need to adapt to the situation, Nupur Chaturvedi, Content, Business and Partnership Head, Airtel, said,

“At Wynk Music, we are looking to build content by understanding the consumer’s mind-set. People are forced to adapt to a totally new lifestyle and we are looking to help them through various playlists.”

Film music has been the undisputed king of music streaming platforms. The genre has always enjoyed unparalleled success. But with the film industry in a lock-down too, movie releases are being postponed and so are the movie-driven new music releases.

This is certain to cause a major drop in streaming numbers in India as the film music crazy audience is likely to look the other way.

“We are innovating with our programming and leveraging technology to offer interesting content formats to our users. For example, we recently launched a property called ‘Hungama Artist Aloud #StayAtHome #StayEntertained’ that sees various artists render live acoustic performances from their homes, every day on Hungama Music’s Facebook page, while also interacting with fans. It is important for streaming services to introduce newer initiatives like this to continue engaging with their users,” opined Siddhartha.

Just like Hungama, JioSaavn has also rolled out its own innovation. With large scale cancellation/postponement of shows, artists have no platform to perform Live. The digital space is the only viable option at the moment.

“We’re also in close contact with artists and creators who are searching for new ways to connect with their fans and to monetise in a world where live shows won’t be possible any time soon. As a result we are now adapting JioSaavn to enable artists to reach their audiences with live performances with an initiative called ‘JioSaavn Live Anywhere’,”said Gaurav.

Community Support to fight COVID-19

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the music industry executives, streaming platforms, and other stakeholders have discussed ways to support artists and other members of the music fraternity who have been deeply impacted by the virus. The revenue generated through streaming does help artists and the platforms do play a key role in connecting creators with their fans.

“Spotify has always been focused on creating connections between artists and their fans, using music and podcasts to help break down barriers and build stronger communities. That community of support has never been more important. We have several COVID-19 efforts already underway,”

said Amarjit Singh Batra, MD, Spotify India.

Adding,

“With ‘Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief’ project, Spotify will recommend verified organizations that offer financial relief to those in the music community most in need. Spotify will match dollar-for-dollar public donations, up to a total Spotify contribution of $10 million.”

Dilemma for Brands/Advertisers

Confronted by the economic situation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, brands/advertisers are facing a Catch 22 situation. Should they increase their media spend or cut back due to the uncertainties prevailing at present.

Any entertainment or content OTT APP has either a subscription or advertising business model, unfortunately in India it is advertising led. The uncertainty has moved the advertisers to explore other methods of reaching out to their consumers. Brands are now working towards building personalized and long-lasting relationships with their audiences through responsible messaging.

“In times like these, brands don’t know how to reach out to consumers in the right way so they are currently refraining from spending their budgets. The advertising industry needs to rethink and re-strategise their content. So there will be a drop in advertising revenue in the interim period. Once we tide over this period, the industry will bounce back,” opined Nupur.

Conclusion

In a country like India where less than 1% of the music streaming platforms’ consumers, are paid subscribers, advertising revenue is of paramount importance. If this revenue dries up it will be rough sailing for these platforms. Hopefully, the advertising industry will redraw their strategies soon and the music streaming platforms will manage to cope during the interim period. The shutting down of the film music industry also means an opportunity for independent musicians to showcase their work on these platforms as the industry will be looking for fresh content. The turmoil we are going through in the current situation is without precedent and that makes it all the more imperative for the streaming platforms and the music industry to regroup, redraw and innovate, in order to prevail.

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