“With physical sales dropping in double digits and online download sales declining year over year, music streaming is going to be the future,” Snehal Shinde, VP – Emerging Markets at Rdio said to Lighthouse Insights on how the online music streaming industry in India will evolve in 2015. This was in December last year when Rdio, the San Francisco based online music steaming service was to be launched in India but as they say good things happen at the right time.
Rdio, with a vast library of 32 million songs, both international and Indian, was launched in mid January 2015 and in another weeks time it had expanded to 24 new additional markets in the Caribbean and Central America region to take its streaming service to 85 countries worldwide. None of them have the user base that India offers but it clearly shows that Rdio is beefing up its presence in emerging markets which are ubiquitous to mobile. “For Rdio the future lies in international expansion and that is in the developing and emerging markets,” informed Snehal in an exclusive interaction with Lighthouse Insights.
The India launch also saw Rdio setting up its second biggest office after San Francisco in the heart of Pune, giving me an opportunity to visit the new office and interact with Snehal once again. I first met with the soft spoken and humble man last year when the transition from Dhingana to Rdio was still happening.
Snehal along with his twin brother Swapnil founded Dhingana – an online music streaming site in 2007. Dhingana, a Marathi word meaning joy and zeal was built out of love for Bollywood and provided a variety of Indian music to listeners worldwide. It offered a library of over 1 million free on-demand songs, in over 42 Indian languages and genres. By Dec 2013, Dhingana had over 10 million active unique users with pretty much zero marketing efforts.
Last year Dhingana was acquired by Rdio but not before rumors that the startup had closed down. One of the major reason that was cited was of record label T-Series not finding an incentive to continue the alliance with the startup. Back then Snehal had shared that the team was super excited about the exit. “The reason we took down Dhingana first since getting the Rdio brand in India and integration would have been delayed by a year and half. Our aim was to get Rdio as fast as possible in India so we had to take down Dhingana which created a lot of rumors in the market.”
Times have changed now, today the expertise of Dhingana is being used in Rdio which was one of the primary reasons for the acquisition. “Dhingana brought the know how of emerging market which is now being used to make the product better in India and other growing markets. This is why it also took us time to launch Rdio as we wanted to perfect the product in India and then replicate the perfection across other emerging markets,” added Snehal while discussing how things have moved post acquisition with Rdio.
Rdio’s CEO Anthony Bay also stressed upon the expertise of Dhingana as its subsequent reason for acquisition to TechCrunch. “We’ve got a lot of respect for the music streaming companies that compete locally in India, that’s one reason that we entered by acquiring someone. We’ve brought that experience and DNA from Dhingana into Rdio’s India offering.”
According to the company, the international-domestic hybrid service, is available on any device, features the largest catalog ever to be available in India with over 32 million songs in 43 languages from global, regional and local labels. Users can choose from hundreds of curated stations, including those curated by some of the top labels in India, or create their own personalized stations.
Rdio offers a programmed, free internet radio experience that can be upgraded to a full on-demand subscription service with access to any song, album, playlist or station, online or offline, without ads for $1.99 USD or 120 Rupees a month. Rdio music is available on mobile, web, connected home audio, TV and automobiles.
Talking about the Rdio experiences Snehal shared about the biggest problem with emerging markets being fractured internet infrastructure. “While it is a challenge, Rdio is bringing the technology advantage to the table. Today we are providing much better quality of music at lower bandwidth which the competitors are struggling to provide right now.”
The other interesting product feature I was told about (and which I have also enjoyed while consuming music from Rdio) is the lean back or one click experience that is a must for music consumption on the go. “As a user you just choose a particular radio station and continue listening to non-stop music from it. We wanted to perfect all these product experiences before we launch here and these can now be expanded to emerging markets.”
Apart from making the product better, Rdio has also taken time to work around with record labels in the country. I was informed that Rdio today has all the exclusive rights for record labels like any other player in the market such as Gaana and Saavn. The launch delay has also been due to the different business model that Rdio is working on.
“Our competitors are giving everything for free and then they run ads to make the business profitable which isn’t the right way. The only way to succeed in this market is to give a limited product for free, engage him and then push the user to become a premium user. We are not giving everything for free on Rdio to the user. We are giving radio stations for free and once you become a paid subscriber you get unlimited music for free. These things needed to be cleared with labels so that we have multi-year agreements and we focus on the product.”
In fact, T-Series the biggest record label in the country which had raised flags during its alliance with Dhingana on its business model has confirmed its alliance with Rdio. “The Indian music consumer is warming up to the music streaming services already very popular globally, and we are excited to partner with Rdio for their new internet music streaming service and are happy to offer our library of India’s top Bollywood catalog along with curated stations to make the listening experience effortless.” said Neeraj Kalyan, President of T-Series.
But then other existing players like Saavn, Gaana also provide freemium models, how is it different from Rdio?
“Our freemium model only provides you unlimited radio stations whether they are curated or personalized or created by celebrities. Besides the ads that we are running are only premium audio video display ads. You won’t see performance ads on Rdio, basically it is a premium product for the brand advertisers also. This is the main difference with our competitors.”
Predominantly a mobile fist company outside India, Rdio is keeping its focus on mobile in emerging markets and specially in India – one of the fastest smartphone growing market in Asia. On the technology front the mobile app is also getting local flavors such as if the consumer has his default language set to Hindi then the Rdio app will be in Hindi and everything from menus, to push notifications will be in Hindi. Going further Rdio plans to bring this regional depth for other local languages like Marathi, Telugu, Punjabi, among others.
Beside the mobile app also provides a radio first experience which brings all curated stations on the landing screen thereby making music consumption smoother on the go.
While being present on all web and mobile platforms, Rdio still believes that it has to be where the user is and hence it follows the connected device approach. This is the reason why Rdio supports Chromecast and has partnered with car entertainment devices like Pioneer’s AppRadioLive and Harman Aha Radio, and Volvo’s in-dash systems in India. “We want to make sure we are everywhere so that irrespective of which device the user is using, as long as it is connected to the internet you can still have the one click music approach.
With the product being launched, Rdio is now focusing on beefing up its marketing and sales initiatives. The company has opened up a sales office in Delhi and in the next ninety days the complete content library update will also be over. “Right now we are starting our marketing efforts but it is commendable the amount of investments the established players have made in educating the market about online streaming which is helping us and hopefully in the near future we become the default streaming apps for listeners.”
Priced at Rs 119 per month for an unlimited subscription, Rdio is offering aggressive pricing compared to Gaana at Rs 120 per month and Saavn at Rs 220 per month. The company also intends to forge alliances with operators to have carrier billing since Snehal knows it is a must for Rdio to crack the paid market. However it will face stiff competition from existing players as they currently allow free streaming on their respective apps, although it has paid tiers for customers who want an ad-free experience and intend to cache songs on their mobile devices for offline listening. Besides operators like Airtel with Wynk and Vodafone joining the streaming business makes it more competitive.
India has been a price sensitive market, a highly tough market to crack the paid media services, but Snehal believes that its compelling services and content will get consumer attention. “From a product perspective, UX and content perspective, Rdio is a much superior product and as we continue to make it more localized it is going to turn into a very interesting product.”