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The country’s oldest music label Saregama India Ltd is sharpening its focus on regional music and films, with the smartphone boom and cheap data plans in smaller towns boosting media consumption far beyond Bollywood. The company is aiming to capture 30% share of India’s music market by acquiring film and non-film music, following the success of its albums for Gangubai Kathiawadi and Bellbottom.

Saregama is focusing on Punjabi, Gujarati, Haryanvi, Tamil and Telugu music to strengthen its regional catalogue. Alongside, its film and web content division, Yoodlee, is venturing into Malayalam and Punjabi cinema, after backing Marathi hit Zombivli earlier this year.

“Hindi is still the dominant language of music consumption, but our focus is increasingly shifting to regional content, even as far as film and web show programming at Yoodlee goes. Increase in the number of smartphones and the use of cheap data packs are led by small Indian towns, not metros, and while Bollywood remains high-profile, people are equally keen to consume regional content," Vikram Mehra, managing director, Saregama India, said in an interview.

For film music, Saregama is looking at Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Bengali as major focus areas, though Mehra admitted the challenge with the category is that it remains centred around big stars and the cost of acquisitions and marketing are higher. The company that re-entered the film albums business in 2016 after a break has got music rights to Hindi films such as Karan Johar’s Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s next venture, war drama Pippa, Maddock Films’ next starring Vicky Kaushal, director Shankar’s Hindi remake of his Tamil hit Anniyan featuring Ranveer Singh, Mahesh Babu’s Sarkaru Vaari Paata and Chiranjeevi’s Godfather that will also feature Salman Khan.

Though Saregama landed a hit with Badshah’s Paani Paani during the covid pandemic, it is looking at Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Haryanvi, Bengali, Tamil and Bhojpuri music as it collaborates with new-age artistes such as Arvind Akela Kallu, Khesari Lal Yadav, Akshara Singh, Kajal Maheriya and Rakesh Barot.

In films, Yoodlee has strengthened its focus on regional narratives, with Malayalam projects Padavettu and Anweshippin Kandethum starring Nivin Pauly and Tovino Thomas respectively, besides backing Tamil-Malayalam bilingual romantic drama Abhiyum Anuvum and another Tamil film, Super Senior Heroes. Sustained recovery from the impact of the pandemic lifted the company’s March quarter revenues by 46% from a year earlier to 180.2 crore, led by the TV and films segments.

A media and entertainment industry expert said challenges for music companies like Saregama boil down to Indian consumers’ tendency to access music for free. “However, OTT platforms have generated a windfall of opportunities," the person said.

Mehra said that while digital music revenues were hit in the initial phase of the pandemic as work commutes came to a halt, people got used to the new normal beginning June 2020, with those listening to music only on the phone earlier now taking to other devices such as speakers. “A new user base has also emerged, those in their 50s and 60s, especially in small towns, who found phones complicated earlier. They were introduced to technology and are sampling content now," he said. The company’s older catalogue featuring Kishore Kumar, Jagjit Singh and Amitabh Bachchan was discovered and sampled during the lockdown. As the company battles the biggest challenge prevalent in the music industry, to help audiences move to subscriptions, Mehra is hopeful. “Piracy is falling at a steep pace and it is inevitable that in 18-24 months, the health of streaming platforms and music labels will improve," he said..

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