Home / Companies / Saavn launches original audio programming, says video next

Bengaluru: Music streaming service provider Saavn LLC on Tuesday launched nine original audio shows on its platform in an attempt to differentiate itself from rivals, open up new revenue streams and lay the foundation for offering video content.

Saavn, which has raised $110 million so far from Tiger Global Management LLC, Steadview Capital Management LLC and others, is looking for a larger share of the digital music market, which is expected to grow from 10.8 billion in 2015 to 20.6 billion by 2020, according to a 2016 report by KPMG and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The New York-based firm is competing with the likes of Times Internet Ltd-backed Gaana, Xiaomi-backed Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, Saregama India Pvt. Ltd and even global entities such as Apple Music and Guvera Ltd.

The shows launched include ‘Qisson ka Kona’ by journalist Neelesh Mishra, true crime series ‘Trial by Error: The Aarushi Files’, and ‘Cyrus Says’ by comedian Cyrus Broacha.

Saavn said it expects to launch original programming in regional languages by the end of the year.

“What this does is bring a whole new set of listeners to the platform; I think it increases the engagement with those already existing, and I think it will be a very different brand environment for Saavn as well," said Rishi Malhotra, chief executive officer, Saavn.

Saavn claims 18 million users, including premium users who pay for content and free, ad-supported service users. This new format opens up two other monetisation opportunities for Saavn. The ad rates for some shows will be priced at a premium, and eventually, some of the original content would be placed behind a paywall, said Malhotra.

The launch of new shows is in preparation for a larger overhaul of the Saavn platform.

“We made a choice to do audio original programming given our audience, given the markets we are dedicated to, but this is a foundation for video. In fact, we are rebuilding our app from the ground up to accommodate the changes," said Malhotra.

The digital content market in India has been tough for companies to crack, given consumers’ disinclination to pay for content, especially music. Saavn does not disclose the number of paying users; Malhotra said there was a behavioural shift among Indian consumers with the rise of alternate digital payment options.

“We’ve been growing our pro user base by 200% last year," said Malhotra.

Creating original content is in line with global trends in the digital music industry, experts said. Spotify AB, the leader in streaming services, launched original video and audio content last year, and last week added $1 billion raised through debt financing to its war chest to offer more content to users.

“2014-15 has seen some heavy competition between Saavn, Gaana and Hungama—all three have been making efforts to grow their footprint through marketing, catalogue expansion and strategic service developments," said Neha Dharia, senior analyst at research firm Ovum Ltd.

“However, in order for a clear market leader to emerge, there is a need to accelerate user growth and this can be done through offering exclusive content that no other service offers. With all three services having strong links with the publishers, getting this edge would be difficult. Creating original content would be another strategy to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Original content can be a crucial component in not only growing user base but also converting free users to paid ones," Dharia added.

Saavn also launched an artist-in-residence programme which would give independent artists access to Saavn’s audience and data and insights on how their tracks are doing on the platform. For Saavn, it would give access to the loyal fan-base of independent musicians.

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