Spotify’s first year in India: 365 days of legal disputes, listenership growth and lingering questions

The top five most streamed acts on Spotify since launch are all Bollywood biggies who occasionally or regularly dabble in pop: Arijit Singh, Tanishk Bagchi, Neha Kakkar, Badshah and Shreya Ghoshal.

Amit Gurbaxani March 01, 2020 09:40:51 IST
Spotify’s first year in India: 365 days of legal disputes, listenership growth and lingering questions

Spotify India turned one on 27 February. I don’t think a week has gone over the last year that the world’s most popular audio streaming service hasn’t been mentioned in the local press. While a fair amount of the coverage has been about its now settled, long-running dispute with Warner/Chappell, a lot of it has been related to the statistics that the platform has regularly shared with music and tech reporters.

For instance, just a couple of days ago Spotify told us that, based on data from the past 12 months, its users in Goa mostly listen to international music, those in Gujarat mainly play Bollywood and those in the Northeast Indian states love K-Pop more than the rest of the country.

Spotifys first year in India 365 days of legal disputes listenership growth and lingering questions

Representational image. Reuters

What Spotify hasn’t shared with us is the number of listeners they have in India. It’s been almost a year since they revealed that they have more than two million users in the country back in April 2019.

Conversations within the industry suggest that while Spotify may have some catching up to do with market leaders such as Gaana and JioSaavn, both of which claim to have monthly active users in the region of over 150 million, it has the highest engagement among all the streaming platforms operating here.

This has been validated by a recent survey, conducted by consultancy firm Kantar and audience measurement and analytics company VTION, of over 9,000 smartphone users in nine Indian cities. As per their findings, though Spotify has a 15 percent share of the audio streaming market, behind Gaana (30 percent) and JioSaavn (24 percent), its users spend more time on the service than those on other DSPs. Spotify’s listeners clock in 86 minutes every day, which is 35 percent more than people do on Gaana (63 minutes) and almost double the time consumed by those on JioSaavn (49 minutes).

Notably, the study pegs the total size of the audio OTT market at just 13 million. Now of course, most platforms will tell you a survey of only smartphone users in just nine cities doesn’t show the real picture. Spotify for instance has been streamed in 2,300 cities since launch, as they highlighted in their blog post to mark their first anniversary. (To identify India’s cities and towns, Spotify uses census data, which lists over 4,000 and as per which, different regions within the same metropolitan area, such as Navi Mumbai and Virar in Mumbai, are counted separately.)

For an estimate of how much Spotify has grown and how its listenership has evolved, I looked to – what else but? – its weekly charts. The first No.1 proper (not counting the first week) was 'Sucker' by Jonas Brothers, which was streamed over 4.6 lakh times during the first week of March 2019. In comparison, the current No.1 'Shayad' from Love Aaj Kal (2020) was played over a million times over the last week.

Listenership seems to have got a boost in June 2019 after which, during most weeks Spotify India’s chart-topping track has crossed a million streams. The first tune to achieve this milestone was 'Senorita' by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, which did it for 11 non-consecutive weeks.

But the song, which was the most streamed track of 2019 and the only non-Indian one in its year-end top ten, seems to have been an outlier. Every single to reach No.1 after it has been a Hindi film or pop smash: 'Pachtaoge' by Arijit Singh, B. Praak and Jaani; 'Ghungroo' by Singh, Shilpa Rao and Vishal-Shekhar from War; 'Filhall' by B. Praak and Jaani; Tanishk Bagchi’s remixes of A. R. Rahman’s 'Muqabla' and Garry Sandhu and Jasmine Sandlas’s 'Illegal Weapon', both from Street Dancer 3D; and the aforementioned 'Shayad'.

And even though the service was largely known only among English music consumers before it officially arrived in India, the top five most streamed acts on Spotify since launch are all Bollywood biggies who occasionally or regularly dabble in pop: Singh, Bagchi, Neha Kakkar, Badshah and Shreya Ghoshal. Quite naturally, as the platform has been adopted by more users across the country, the amount of local content being played on it has increased.

Clearly, the crores the company spent on its award-winning hyper-local outdoor advertising campaign and television commercials have started to pay off in the form of a pan-India presence, even if the total number of users isn’t quite close to those of its biggest rivals. Incumbent No.1 'Shayad' has been streamed over 5.5 million times on the app as compared to the more than 20 million plays it has on JioSaavn and Gaana.

Of course, the audience expansion has also come at the cost of offering the service at some of the lowest prices in the world, and they’re still not the cheapest in the business. A monthly subscription is presently priced at Rs 119, which is on par with JioSaavn, Wynk Music and Resso but more expensive than Gaana, Apple Music and Hungama’s tag of Rs 99.

Moreover, some of Spotify’s challenges remain unresolved. International music fans are still waiting for Warner Music’s catalogue to appear on the platform. Plus, Spotify is yet to sign a deal with Saregama, which owns the rights to many classic Bollywood soundtracks. Until then, we will have to do without hearing the likes of Ed Sheeran’s 'Shape Of You' or the Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge OST on the service.

We’re also hoping to see Spotify implement its international initiatives here like they did in December when they launched a series of original Indian podcasts. It would be great if they worked more closely with Indian independent music artists, something that has helped both JioSaavn and Apple Music distinguish their offerings.

While the kind of deep data Spotify For Artists provides has helped musicians across the board know exactly where their fans are located and which songs they love the most, thus far Spotify’s editorial involvement in the Indian indie scene has been limited to playlists. When will they bring to us a local line of Spotify Singles? Hopefully we’ll have answers to this and the other question marks that surround Spotify by February 2021.

Recently played

This week, I listened to a compilation that musically encapsulates a lot of the emotions many of us have been feeling over the last couple of months and especially during the last week, which has been filled with devastating daily reports of communal violence in Delhi. Revolutions is a “mixtape” of recently released protest songs from around the country, put together by podcaster Mae Thomas for her long-running Indian independent music show Maed In India. It includes such searing tracks as 'Krantikari' by Kolkata hip-hop group Park Circus, 'The Police?' by Delhi-based Assamese singer-rapper Rahul Rajkhowa, and 'Acche Din Blues' by Bihar-born, Mumbai-residing poet-activist Aamir Aziz whose 'Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega' has become one of the main anthems of the ongoing protests against the CAA and NRC, the attacks on students in Jamia, JNU and AMU and the recent atrocities in the capital.

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