New Delhi: In a first, Sony Music India has decided to place the new song from Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Jab Harry Met Sejal behind a paywall on all streaming platforms for the first 24 hours after it releases this Wednesday.
Titled Phurr, the song featuring Khan along with American rapper and record-producer Diplo will be available for a monthly subscription of Rs99 on Android and Rs120 on iOS or as a Rs15 single song purchase on iTunes. The song will not be available on television, radio or YouTube until much later.
“There are 50-60 million people who are listening to music on streaming services every month in India, so there has been a mass migration of people to these platforms," said Shridhar Subramaniam, president India and Middle East, Sony Music Entertainment. “They key thing is, at some point, this whole thing needs to become sustainable, for music services, record companies and for artistes which is possible only if consumers start paying for the music. That’s a transition we, as an industry and consumers will have to make."
As example, Subramaniam quoted international numbers of digital music service Spotify that has 120 million users of which 70 million are paid. Earlier this year, American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift had convinced Spotify to only make her work available to the paid users on their platform.
“The whole trend of people paying for streaming services is now a reality. We need to kickstart the same even in India," Subramaniam said.
What makes the decision easier for the music label is the song in question, starring one of the biggest stars in the country in one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the year. The buzz around the film and music is already substantial and Diplo’s presence only adds to the need to start building a consumer-paid market in the country right now.
“Our strong belief is that as more users get online and with the experience, convenience and comfort of online music streaming, they will be compelled to move their entire music consumption online," said Prashan Agarwal, chief operating officer at Gaana. “Alongside this transition, there will be a set of users who would value superior sound quality, ad-free music, exclusive of music windows and will be willing to pay for this experience. Given that this song is a huge collaboration with Diplo, one of the world’s best record producers, this looked like the right time to experiment."
Other industry players agree.
“I’ve always said that the belief that the Indian consumer does not want to pay for content is unfounded. Give them a value proposition and they are ready to pay," said Vikram Mehra, managing director of the music company Saregama India that also runs music apps Saregama Classical, a classical music offering, and devotional music service Saregama Shakti. The label launched a portable radio-cum-music player Carvaan a couple of months ago.
“Our business has to move to a balance between paid and advertising-led content just like television has embraced the subscription model. This is the way to go," Mehra said.
However, along with the fact that getting consumers to pay for content will encourage piracy, there are other arguments to counter Sony’s move.
“The strategy in itself, can work. But this is a half-hearted attempt, releasing the third or fourth song from a film behind a paywall," said Anurag Bedi, business head and executive vice-president at Zee Music. “We, as an industry, need to make a whole-hearted attempt towards this by doing it for day one or song one."
As of now, Subramaniam expects day one streams, which account for a majority of the total number of streams for any song, to take a hit.
“Say the life of a song is three to six months, the first day of the song actually accounts for 8-10% of the entire stream count. That may get impacted but it will get made up on the revenue side. We are hoping to prove to people that this experiment works," Subramaniam said.