Digital audio streaming service Saavn is ready to expand to the next level. Recently, the company raised $100 million in investments and it is not letting the grass grow under its feet. For example, Vinod Bhat, Co-founder and President of Saavn, informed us that the company will be building on its existing partnership with Facebook forward by collaborating with the social network on developing a next version of personalization, music sharing and discovery capabilities set to be launched some time in 2016.
With a fresh round of investment behind it, we asked Bhat and VP (Product) Gavin Byrne where the money would be put to use. "We are working on new targeting parameters and solutions that we can bring to brands. The ability to target groups of people within our network through our proprietary tool is a big area for us," said Byrne.
Bhat also said that investments would be made in licensing new content as well as creating content in-house as well as creating branded content in partnership with brands.
The company has already branched out into sports with a new partnership with Mumbai City Football Club for the current season of the ISL, which will see Saavn provide audio commentary and match news through its platform, though exact details about the partnership were not revealed.
Speaking about Saavn's plans for improving its advertising offering, which contributes 80 per cent to overall revenue, Bhat said though the company was looking at video as a medium with full length movies and other video content, there were no immediate plans to introduce this. "If you take audio as a category, the work is not yet down. We do have music video rights and movie rights. It would be very easy to become like a Netflix but the market is saturated with video products so we have to be very thoughtful about what we bring to the market," he said.
On the related issue of allowing advertisers to pay for subscriptions for audiences, something Bhat has alluded to in earlier interviews, he said, "It is on the cards but it is also a very complex issue. We do not want to have, just because an advertiser is sponsoring subscription, to see ads from the brand everywhere. We have done a couple of sponsored paid subscriptions with AT&T, Western Union, etc. where they have either paid for it or bundled it with some other service. That's the extent we have gone to today."
Saavn currently sees 18 million MAU (Monthly Active Users) globally with around 14.4 million MAUs in India. The platform also boasts, says Bhat, an average session time of 44 minutes per user. Though currently majority of revenues stem from the ad platform, Bhat told us that he expects paid subscription to be the top revenue contributor in the long term.
Saavn has also initiated an on-ground event called Audio On to educate the Indian ecosystem about the various opportunities available on the audio platform for brand building and advertising; a property that it promises to make an annual event.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done as Byrne points out. He gave the example of the concept of audio ad networks, similar to digital ad networks but for audio ads. He said that globally there are only 2-3 such networks with none present in India. On the positive side, he pointed out that the IAB released the first ever standard for digital audio ads last year in the form of the Digital Audio Ad Serving Template 1.0 (DAAST), which would make it easier for brands, digital agencies and platforms to use this medium.
"There is a huge opportunity for audio ad networks to come into India though there are none now. Because we have adopted the DAAST standards we are able to work with these networks in the US," he informed us.
As this option is not available in India, Saavn is working on a direct selling model with advertisers in India.
Saavn has also recently tied up with PayTM to make payments easier for users wanting to upgrade to the paid subscription service, viz., Saavn Pro. Bhat told us that another partnership with Ola Money has also gone live with more in the pipeline. “We are right now concentrating on PayTM since it is the largest with 110 million users. As we see more traction we will start working with more wallets. The problem it is solving for us is that of the millions of people we have with us on trials, 80 per cent don’t move to the paid version due to problems they have while paying via cards,” he said.