New Delhi: Indian music companies, fighting a losing battle against piracy, are trying to change the rules of engagement by offering Bollywood soundtracks on pen drives and memory chips.
T-Series, a leading label holding the music rights for a bunch of new movies, recently launched the music of Shree Ashtavinayak Cine Vision Ltd’s action thriller Blue on pen drive and micro SD (secure digital) chips .
BIG Music and Home Entertainment, the label owned by the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, has also released the music of its new film Do Knot Disturb on similar formats.
T-Series chairman and managing director Bhushan Kumar says the marketing of film soundtracks on data storage devices is a big step towards combating piracy and illegal downloads of music.
In tune: Saregama chief executive Apurv Nagpal says market demand has forced music companies to launch new formats.
“Digital platforms are being widely used to consume entertainment. India is also seeing a rapid growth in mobile phone and Internet users,” he says.
Kulmeet Makkar, chief executive officer (CEO) of BIG Music and Home Entertainment, adds, “The SD card is suited for the mobile consumer, while the pen drive would, perhaps, find favour with the urban, laptop-wielding consumer.”
US-based flash memory drive manufacturer SanDisk Corp. first developed the SD memory card pre-loaded with music, for which it tied up with Universal Music Group, SonyBMG Music Entertainment and TimeWarner Music. These were available at Best Buy stores in the US. In India, its pre-loaded memory cards cost as much as Rs725 each and the content is not customized to local tastes.
Pricing also threatens to spoil the new initiative by the Indian music industry. Against the Rs525 that a micro SD card costs, shops in the subterranean depths of Delhi’s Palika Bazar offer compact discs (CDs) stuffed with MP3 files of about 15-20 movie soundtracks for as little as Rs50.
Similar fare is available from the pavement vendors who line the sidewalk from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Kala Ghoda in Mumbai.
Every Indian town has similar hubs of pirated goods where vendors scurry for cover during police raids, then resurface sooner or later.
More tech-savvy consumers look online for the free, pirated Torrent Downloads that pop up soon after a soundtrack is released. The Indian music industry loses Rs1,300 crore annually because of piracy, according to Savio D’Souza, secretary general of the Indian Music Industry, an association of 142 music companies. He views the latest initiative of the music industry more as a marketing gimmick than a serious attempt to curb piracy.
Arun Kumar, senior general manager (marketing) at T-Series, defends the hefty price tags on the pen drives. “The 2GB drive offers a lot of extras. For instance, with Blue we gave the consumer music director A.R. Rahman’s last year’s hits, audio-visual clips, ringtones, wallpapers and much else,” he says. Rahman is also the Oscar-winning composer of Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.
RPG group’s Saregama India Ltd, planning to release six titles on memory chips and SDs, offers the music on rewritable disks. Saregama CEO Apurv Nagpal claims that music companies launched new formats because of market demand.
“Phone re-chargers are selling chips with illegal content. The request came from organized traders to legitimize this format. The demand is greater for music video/video content, though,” he adds.
Sanjeev Mahajan, CEO of B.K. Modi’s Spice Televentures’ mobile retail company Hotspot, says, “There is a niche set of consumers that are buying these products right now. It is up to the content providers to popularize it on mobile phones and other portable devices, but the start is promising.”
Last year, Hotspot launched its movie card, which enabled mobile phone users to watch the latest Bollywood movies on a 320x240 pixel screen. Priced at Rs350, the movie card is a 1GB SD card containing a full-length movie along with ringtones, wallpapers and other trivia.
Currently, music producers either tie up with memory storage device manufacturers and co-brand their products or they import the memory devices and sell embedded content. For Blue, T-Series tied up with hardware manufacturer Transcend Information Inc. and embedded its content on the devices.
The new medium won’t cannibalize the older music formats such as CDs, priced at about Rs150 for soundtracks, as the retail prices are higher for the new products, with dealer margins varying between 50-60%. Besides, the new formats use compressed audio, which don’t deliver the same audio quality as a CD.
Others say that pen drives and SD memory chips will hasten the demise of the traditional formats.
“More people are consuming music on digital networks; they are connected and on the move. Cassette and CD sales are slowing between 5% and 15% year-on-year depending on the territory and the genre,” says Big Music’s Makkar.
Kumar of T-Series says the industry will have to adapt to the change. “Every format comes in and makes space for itself. We’ll have to be prepared for what the consumers demand,” he adds.