New Delhi: Released in January this year, English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You has emerged as the fourth most widely watched video on YouTube in India this year. The dancehall-infused pop song notched up 60% playouts as compared to the biggest Bollywood hit of March on Gaana, an online music streaming service operated by Times Internet Ltd.
Averaged out from July 2016-July 2017, the Sheeran number was also the most streamed song on music streaming platform Hungama, which reports an 8% increase on its international spread in the same period. Meanwhile, Prashan Agarwal, chief operating officer at Gaana, calls international music the fastest growing category over the past one year, the number of streams having gone up from 22 million to nearly 110 million a month.
About 1.7 million unique English songs were heard on Gaana over the past year and big hits besides Shape of You include French electronic music producer DJ Snake’s Let Me Love You at 15 million playouts, Australian singer Sia’s Cheap Thrills (13 million) and American DJ duo The Chainsmokers’ Closer (12 million) playouts. Rival online music service, the New York-based Saavn LLC, remained unavailable for comment for this story.
The most obvious reasons for the breakout of international music in India would be the popularity of international artistes reflected in the sold-out Coldplay and Justin Beiber concerts. But inching close to it is the contribution of wide and cheap Internet data available in the country.
“Our belief is that this entire advent of data services in the latter part of 2016 has actually resulted in a very large amount of international content being consumed, we’ve seen very high percentage growth starting July and August last year on the back of more and more data consumption and that was reflective across all media-video, audio, everything," said Siddhartha Roy, chief executive at Hungama.com, an entertainment portal owned by Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.
For example, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, the mobile offering of the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) launched in September last year, had put out audacious plans for data usage like its 4GB 4G pack for Rs499 a month. The newly launched 4G-capable JioPhone, with unlimited data and optional TV streaming is only one of the few examples of the revolution taking place on the Indian Internet data landscape. Further, according to the FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2017, average data usage per subscriber shot up by 76% in the nine months from December 2015 to September 2016, rising from 137 MB/month, to 240 MB/month.
“Now there are legitimate means of entertainment available so the consumer is not resorting to piracy. You’ve basically worked on creating value based on experience which is a big draw," Roy said.
Linked to cheaper and easily available data and benefiting from it are the multiple music streaming platforms that currently make up 80-90% of all music consumption in India, experts say.
“Like all other languages and genres of music, all the consumption of international music is pretty much happening on streaming platforms like Apple Music, Wynk, Saavn, Gaana and YouTube. Physical sales are obviously done with and we’ve moved to an access model vis-à-vis an ownership one," said Arjun Sankalia, head, international repertoire and special projects, Sony Music India.
The socio-economic progress that people in India have made is yet another factor.
“English would be the second or the third-most widely spoken language in the country. Overall, more people are speaking in or consuming English vis-à-vis 10 years ago," Sankalia said. “There is simultaneous awareness and access. Earlier you needed someone from say, America to come and tell you what was happening, that would be your source of information but you wouldn’t necessarily have access to it. Now because of the Internet and popular talk shows like the Jimmy Kimmel Live, it’s all possible."
International music genres popular in India follow the same trajectory as they do globally—pop music tops the list while hip-hop, dance and R&B (rhythm and blues) are other favourites. And even as Indian music’s own pie grows, international numbers give tough competition.
“Till about 2009-10, when we were looking at caller tunes and ringtones only, it was a 1:20 kind of demand in favour of Indian music. Now with the streaming platforms, we’re looking at 1:3," Sankalia said.