Global music streaming platform Spotify has completed three years in India, much of it coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, and the work from home and online classes for students that followed. While the streaming platform does not share user base figures for countries, the latest numbers from Q4 2021 saw a 165% increase in premium subscriber base in the quarter alongside an 18% increase in monthly active users – an important ingredient of that growth was the strong showing in India and Indonesia, something Spotify clearly alluded to.
Here, Spotify has to contend with rivals it is familiar with globally, including Apple Music and Amazon Music, while there also popular Indian platforms including Wynk and JioSaavn. But there is a reason for Spotify’s confidence. The numbers tell their own story. More than 150,000 playlists are created by Spotify users in India, every day.
“This puts India in the top 20 markets for user-created playlists on the platform,” Amarjit Singh Batra, managing director, Spotify India, told Hindustan Times. He spoke about premium subscriptions in India, Spotify HiFi, investments in Artists and Podcasts spaces and the long-term plan for India.
Users access Spotify in India from 7,500 cities and towns. In this scenario, local curation becomes important, something global platforms in particular have begun to recognise over the years. “There are 7x more locally curated playlists on Spotify today, compared to 3 years ago because we have listeners from across the country on the platform,” he said.
Can this momentum persist? “India is definitely one of the fastest growing markets for Spotify. We’ve contributed significantly to the 2021 user and streaming growth, and are actually in the top 10 markets for Spotify when it comes to consumption on the platform” says Batra, before adding, “We are relatively young in India so the growth trajectory does look different from more mature markets where Spotify has been present for much longer.”
But, what are users in India listening to the most? The usual suspects are Bollywood music, pop music including international and local Indian languages as well as remixes. But the younger audiences, the data suggests, are bringing in some variety to this. “Many listeners are looking for fresh sounds and voices. This may be attributable to the fewer film releases during the pandemic and also to independent artists crossing over to composing and singing for films,” Batra pointed out, though he underlined that the top listings on the charts are still dominated by film music.
Is that all the content that’s being consumed?
What has stood out has been the consumption of podcasts on the platform, something Spotify has heavily invested in over the last few years. “For podcasts, the growth has been steady with 1 out of 4 Spotify music listeners in India also consuming podcasts. Most of these listeners are opting to stream podcasts late in the night and early morning, or seeking short-form content as a tool for education and entertainment,” said Batra. In this line of content as well, there is localisation that’s happening.
There is now a portfolio of more than 150 podcasts, including originals and exclusives, across Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Punjabi, English, Gujarati, Malayalam, and Marathi languages.
In terms of devices being used to access music streaming, Spotify’s data suggests that home speakers, laptops and tablets accounted for a significant proportion, but smartphones still remain popular – and now as more people get back to a regular routine, that share should see a further increase.
The conventional logic clings to the belief that Indians don’t like to pay for premium subscriptions, as far as possible. That’s has certainly been a challenge for streaming services, including the video streaming apps. “When we launched in India, we already thought of the pricing strategy differently, right from the free tier,” says Batra. The difference is stark. In India, the monthly Premium subscription prices start at ₹119, while you can also opt for daily and lesser duration plans as well. In most other countries, Spotify Premium prices start at $9.99 (around ₹758) per month.
“Mini has done very well here, and overall, in 2021 alone, we more than doubled our Premium users in India – a sign that streaming is really catching on in the market,” says Batra, referring to the option to sign up for Premium for ₹7 per day.
Asked whether Spotify’s unique proposition of an ad-supported free tier is an easy option for most users, Batra said he hopes this isn’t the case. In fact, there is the aspect of convenience that Spotify is banking on.
“If listeners are spending more time on Spotify, creating playlists, using features that make their experience more enjoyable and seamless, it’s more likely that they will convert to an option that is ad-free, content that is available offline, gives them access to features such as Radio, and so on,” he says.
Spotify bet big on localised content, and one specific area of focus was getting budding artists on board. Spotify said that since the initiative went live, more than 6,000 artists from India have been able to release their content on the platform.
“Since the day of launch, the number of Indian artists on Spotify have increased by 13 times, while podcasts created on Anchor grew 130 times from the start of 2020 till the end of last year,” Batra pointed out.
“We have and will continue to invest in creator education, curation, and promotion,” he added, confirming that programmes such as Radar for independent artists, Equal for women in audio and Sound Up for upcoming podcasters will continue. Spotify’s focus on regional depth will continue to be a focus area to identify new creators.
This has been a question that many have asked, and we put the same to Batra – why the delay in rolling out the Hi-Resolution music option, and is there a risk of giving Apple Music an even bigger advantage in the process? Batra doesn’t have a timeline to share in terms of when the feature will be made available to users, but said that they are in discussions with labels.
“We will continue to discuss HiFi plans with our partners this year and once those discussions are completed, we’ll be able to share more details about HiFi,” he said. It was in the summer of 2021 when Apple announced Hi-Resolution and Dolby Atmos upgrades for Apple Music streaming, at no extra cost – Apple Music subscription is priced ₹99 per month onwards.