Internet radio, legally or illegally, has been on-air for quite a few years now in the country. Other than the Internet savvy users, who used to scourge the vast expanse of the cyberspace in search of entertainment, not many had heard the term Internet radio until recently. The coming together of MSN India and WorldSpace to launch a subscription based Internet radio service has provided a shot in the arm for this small industry.
Most of the Internet radio stations are run by individuals or a group of music aficionados to spread a particular genre of music. But, since all of these radio stations are visited by listeners looking for free music or entertainment, they do not necessarily contribute to the revenues of the station. Barring a few successful Internet radio stations, no one has had considerable success with advertising generated revenues.
Internationally, with better infrastructure and maturity of the market, many such stations are visible on the radar. However, despite the huge popularity of service providers like Pandora, Last FM, Yahoo! Radio and radio service on Windows Media players, there have been a lot of copyright issues.
Internationally, many of the offline radio players have understood the power of this medium and have live or recorded Internet streaming available. In India, with its numerous music copyright regulations and issues, this phenomenon has not been duplicated. Some radio stations, though, have put up the clippings of their programmes on the Internet for free download.
Sharing his thoughts on the medium in context to India, Dr Shyam, Founder, Shyam Radio, ShyamRadio Plus and Shyam TV, said, “In India, Internet radio is limited to guys and girls sitting in front of their systems all through the day, either for fun or work. In a country like ours with dozens of languages/dialects, Internet radio is a cost effective medium when one can hear it through headphones and local advertisers can reach their targetted audience in an interactive manner.”
Noting that almost all the Internet radio stations currently on-air were illegal, Krishna Prasad, Executive Producer, MSN India, said, “At MSN, we have access to a quality database of copyrighted songs through WorldSpace, which is legal to be streamed online. Moreover, these Internet radio stations have very small library of content.”
“We are confident of roping in a lot of listeners for our service as generally everybody is interested in listening to music and most people spend much of their time online these days,” he continued.
Prasad defended the $9.9 monthly subscription fee citing quality of music available with them. “As we have just started this service, there are only five stations. But with time and increasing listenership, we will be providing more stations, and in turn, more genres of music at the same price,” he added.
Shyam Radio generates revenues through advertising as well as subscriptions for premium services.
Explaining the concept of Internet radio further, Dr Shyam said, “Internet radio is ‘e-radio’ streaming over open Net, which cannot be downloaded. It is not an "on-demand" file serving media. Therefore, copyright laws are not enforceable as far as Internet radio in India is concerned. There is no public spectrum involved. However, I should admit as a practicing advocate that this remains a grey area. Perhaps the proposed Broadcast Bill, 2007, might provide an answer, if enacted into regulatory law.”
He welcomed high profile launches from the likes of MSN saying they carried the message and created awareness about this alternate media. “But ultimately quality, service and satisfaction of listeners will matter the most. The history of Internet radio dates back to 1993 when Carl Malamud created the wor’d’s first Net radio called "Internet Talk Radio". Since that day, this concept has undergone a sea of change and pure Internet radios (Net only) have survived based only on merit,” Dr Shyam informed.
Noting that competition would be beneficial for the consumers, Prasad said, “It has been observed widely that competition has led to the creation of better services and has time and again proved to be beneficial for consumers. At MSN, we would love to see competition as it would help us better our services too.”
Commenting on the future of this medium in the country, Dr Shyam observed, “Based on our experience, we hope that soon there will be a major change in this concept because of the current mobile phone penetration in India, and Internet radio will ride the mobile wave. One can listen to thousands of Internet radio stations through GPRS mobile phones anywhere in the world. This, we would like to christen "DM", Digital Modulation, which will compete in future with present the day FM radio.”