Laws and regulation may prevent global giants like Amazon from jumping into India’s e-commerce market, but there’s no sign of hurdles affecting the country’s growing mobile content market, and in particular music streaming sites. Dhingana, one of the top Bollywood and Indian music specialists, is a case in point, and it’s shifting gears after hiring Rohit Bhatia, an ex Ericsson and Bharti executive, as its new CEO.
Dhingana is one of a number of Spotify-like streaming services for India music. It boasts more than 500,000 tracks and is available as an ad-supported free version or subscription-based option. There are apps for almost all mobile platforms — including iOS, Android, J2ME– and a Web-based version provides access for all others. Dhingana says it has more than 15 million monthly active users.
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The incoming Bhatia takes the helm from co-founder Snehal Shinde — who founded the company with his twin brother Swapnil in 2007 — in a move that will allow the Shinde brothers to focus on product innovation.
“The goal was to bring in a strong and successful entrepreneur who gets mobile and monetization, and has a proven record of running and executing at major companies,” Snehal said. “We didn’t know if we could find anyone with all those qualities, so we’re delighted to bring Rohit on board.”
Bhatia, whose past experience includes taking Swedish mobile money firm Seamless public as its CEO, believes Dhingana has huge potential. The new CEO, who will be based in India, is aiming to make the service better known than Spotify — which is yet to launch locally in India, but is well known — and other “industry peers” in its homeland, while building it into the world’s most popular option for Indian and Bollywood music.
He is certainly ambitious with his goals and, in an interview this week, he told me that he is aiming to get the service to a point where users are listening for 2 hours each day. That’s roughly 60 hours per month, and some way ahead of Spotify, which logs an average of 15-20 hours per month per user.
“I’d like Dhingana users to wake up and go to bed with Dhingana music, using it all through the day,” he said, going on to explain that the company’s mobile focus gives it an edge. That’s particularly key in India, where data suggests mobile Internet usage has already passed that of PCs.
“A lot of people in India, and other emerging markets, will have their first experience with the Internet via mobile. In that respect, we’re seeing history repeat itself, expect that while the Internet spread via PCs in the West, it is mobile in emerging markets. That’s hugely important, since users simply can’t spend 60 hours per month listening to music via their PC.”
Bhatia ruled out the potential to offer movies and video content — Bollywood music is heavily tied to the movie industry — since video is less ‘portable’ than music, which can be consumed at any time and any place.
Given his background working in the operator space, Bhatia said he will be talking to India’s mobile giants with a view to increasing Dhingana’s alignment and relationships. However, like other India-content-focused startups — including music rivals Gaana and Saavn, and movie site Spuul — the global market is also a key audience.
Dhingana will continue to offer a free service to its users, Bhatia confirms, as part of its three-pronged approach to monetization: its ad-based business, subscription-based services (which are particularly popular with the Indian diaspora) and domestic carrier billing.
Saavn launched its ‘Pro’ version this week, while Times Internet-owned Gaana finally launched on mobile last month. Both are increasing the competition in the space but, when asked about his rivals, Bhatia declined to comment specifically, preferring to highlight other factors.
“In India, I see competition but no direct competitor,” he said. “Piracy is our biggest competitor here. There’s also competition with radio. People spend a lot of time in traffic in India, so they may go to traditional options rather than our service.”
Snehal Shinde was more expressive and told me that, despite the moves of its rivals — in particular Gaana’s long-awaited move to mobile — Dhingana is alone in offering a Web-based service for any Internet-enabled device. That, he says, shows the “mobile first” focus it has had since its beginning.
Dhingana raised an investment round of $7 million last year, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, but Shinde said it is “too early” to say if and when it will raise again. He explains that, as and when the company does raise again, Bhatia’s location doesn’t necessarily mean that it will seek investors from India. The key is finding backers “that add value” irrespective of their geography.
Headline image via scubabrett22 / Flickr