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Advertising is core revenue model but we're exploring premium offerings: Dhingana's Swapnil Shinde

24 Aug, 2012

Music streaming as a business is gaining traction with the spread of broadband and a bunch of players, including a few startups and some from deep-pocketed established business houses. Dhingana was among the early entrants, set up in February 2007 by twin brothers Snehal and Swapnil Shinde. Currently streaming close to 100 million minutes of music a month, a third of the company's 20-member team sits at its headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. Dhingana also claims to have 10.5 million active visitors, with each of them spending an average of 30-35 minutes per session listening to its collection of over 3,50,000 songs across 35 Indian languages. Techcircle.in caught up with co-founder and COO Swapnil Shinde who spoke about the company's expansion plans, key focus areas, music piracy threat, marketing strategies and more. Here are the excerpts.

Last year, Dhingana raised funds from Helion Venture Partners and Inventus Capital. How have you utilised the money?

We had three priorities set right after the fundraising. We wanted to create a world class product – so we have kind of re-launched our product across various platforms like the web, Android, iOS and more, to take the user experience to the next level.

Apart from that, we wanted to bring on board one of the best teams who would help us build the biggest Indian music streaming service. So we are now hiring people from companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Zynga, Amazon and more.

The third priority was to get the biggest content chunk for our users. Currently, we have the biggest inventory spanning 35 Indian languages and have direct licensing relationships with 300 music labels across the country. We are also trying to add 200 more labels in the next few months.

By when do we expect another round of funding?

We are always keen to raise more money as that would help us develop our products. But right now, we are well-positioned to go ahead with our aggressive expansion plans. We may look at another round of fundraising sometime next year.

In an earlier interview with Techcircle.in, you said that the mobile space would be the focus this year. How are you going forward with that?

We have re-launched our application across all platforms like the web, Android and iOS. We came up with a BlackBerry app last November and we are also there on the Symbian platform. In fact, Dhingana is the only company who offers you music streaming apps across all major mobile platforms, along with a strong focus on social music discovery and personalised recommendations. For instance, when you listen to our music on iPhone or Android, it just requires one click to switch to personalised radio mode. We use advanced algorithms like clustering collaborative filtering and data mining to personalise the music experience for you and that's definitely a plus.

What are the upcoming trends in online music streaming business?

Quite a few changes are there from the content perspective. For instance, it's traditionally believed that movie songs are mostly consumed, especially Bollywood music. As for some of our competitors, around 75 per cent of the total music consumption is essentially Bollywood music. But at Dhingana, only 40 per cent of the music consumption is Bollywood and the rest would include other genres like old hits, ghazalsbhajans and other devotional songs. Plus, people will listen to music in other languages – Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Sanskrit and more.

Some of your competitors also offer international music. Do you intend to add that as well?

It's not our priority right now. Till date, we have worked with 500 music labels. But we really should go for another 400-500 Indian music labels, rather than featuring international music.

How do you read the competition in this space?

Our biggest competitor in India is music piracy but unfortunately, you can't always pinpoint it and take action. If you look at the overall music market today, the digital music market's top line is somewhere around Rs 2,000 crore. But out of that, nearly Rs 400-450 crore of business is lost due to piracy.

So how would you combat it? Will free streaming help kill piracy?

People mostly love pirated stuff because it's easy to use and it's free (or extremely cheap). We are very well-positioned to fight piracy and help our partners monetise their content while keeping the music free for consumers. Typically, if you want to access pirated music, you will have to download it from a site that stores pirated content. And you may have to do it again and again if you want to listen to the latest albums/tracks. Compare that to Dhingana where you not only get the latest music for free but also get one of the biggest databases available for online streaming. Plus, you can enjoy it across different devices. In addition, Dhingana has created a social environment where people can see what their friends are listening to, other than creating playlists and sharing those with their friends. With so many pluses, people need not download pirated stuff and that's one way of fighting piracy.

What has been your marketing strategy till now and how are you leveraging social media??

Till date, we didn't have a separate budget for marketing. We have deep integration with Facebook and other social media platforms, and that has really worked wonders for us.

We have our Facebook fan page with more than three lakh subscribers. So we make sure that they are actively engaged on a daily basis.

We understand the business model in free music streaming revolves around ads. What kind of revenue you are targeting by the end of this year?

Dhingana is not focusing on revenue figures right now. Growing our product is our top priority.

Advertising is one of the core revenue models right now. But we would consider exploring other channels by the end of this year or early next year. There could be certain premium offerings in the future.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)