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TMCNet:  Vinodh Bhat: 'Mobile set to grow explosively'

[December 06, 2012]

Vinodh Bhat: 'Mobile set to grow explosively'

Q&A, Dec 06, 2012 (Mint - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Vinodh Bhat, Cofounder and CEO Saavn.com Internet radio -- streaming music instead of downloading it -- remains relatively small in India because of the high cost of data and easy access to pirated versions. Both these trends are starting to see a change, though, and free, legal streaming is growing in popularity, particularly as mobile Internet usage becomes popular.


Started as a video-on-demand distribution service, Saavn relaunched in 2010 as a free Internet radio service. It's one of the few major players in the industry, and in November, it announced the launch of Saavn English.

Saavn has its roots in the US, but the three founders (Neal Shenoy, Paramdeep Singh and Vinodh Bhat) are all Indian, and this led to the starting of a Mumbai office to ensure smooth content licensing. We spoke to Bhat, CEO of Saavn.com, on how the industry has evolved in the last year, and why technology is still a major selling point for Internet firms. Edited excerpts -- How has Saavn grown since its launch in India, and how has the product evolved in this time The focus has always been on the product, on content licensing and distribution. We've managed to build up a lot of content -- aside from Bollywood, we have songs in six languages now (Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and English). We're working on expanding that and will roll out more languages too, but we're going to sort and organize the data a lot before we put it in front of the users because the experience has to be perfect. Our focus is now on revenue generation and gaining more users, but we're fully ad-supported and we will remain that way, even as we continue to operate on a revenue-sharing model with the labels.

In India, bandwidth remains a big concern -- instead of paying for bandwidth to listen to the same song again and again, people would rather pay once and download it. Do you think this is affecting the growth of Internet radio in India India does have some infrastructure problems, but I believe that things are starting to improve rapidly. But aside from that, there's two types of downloading -- there's piracy, which I think we are all against, and then there are a lot of DRM (digital rights management)-based solutions which will work on only one kind of system. Saavn is free and you can use it on your PC and then pick it up on your phone and you have a huge catalogue of songs at your fingertips.

But what about data speeds Because apart from cost, data is pretty slow here as well...

That's actually Saavn's biggest USP. We've got our office in India for content, and we have an office in Silicon Valley for technology. We're not a music company, we're a technology company that is distributing music.

We do something called adaptive streaming. We can detect the speed of your connection, and serve up a file of the appropriate quality -- we've got six versions each song that we have. You can switch from high quality, let's say you're on your home Wi-Fi, to low quality once you've gotten into the car, without missing a beat; it's all real time, live switching of files so the user doesn't even notice. We make it effortless.

How many users has Saavn got now, and can you give some details on the kind of behaviour you see from users We've got an audience of 10 million monthly active unique users around the world, and two-thirds of them are from India. We are available on both, the Web and mobile, through the site and applications for the iPhone, Android, and Java and all mobile platforms. Today, with the Windows Store for Windows 8 PCs, that's another great opportunity, and Microsoft's app store adds value to us as a company, to improve on the design side of the user's experience for PC users as well.

In terms of usage, we still see the majority of users come in from the Web -- around 80% of our users are coming on the website. We obviously have to put a lot of tech effort into guaranteeing a good experience for Web users, but the area I think we're going to see a lot more activity on is mobile.

Mobile users are much more engaged, and listen to more songs in a session than a Web user. A Web user might not listen to a song from start to finish, but mobile users are more likely to do so. While the usage varies a lot between users, on average, mobile users are listening to around 6 hours of music per month, which is a lot. The heaviest users are certainly on mobile, and all Internet companies in India need to keep an eye on the mobile space because that's an area where India is really set to explode.

___ (c)2012 the Mint (New Delhi) Visit the Mint (New Delhi) at www.livemint.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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