'India continues to love K-Pop': Spotify India MD

With insights from Spotify's annual audio trends round-up, Wrapped, Amarjit Singh Batra, MD, Spotify India, speaks to Forbes India about how the country has been crucial to Spotify's global growth, and expansion plans for India

Published: Dec 3, 2020 06:50:10 PM IST
Updated: Dec 7, 2020 11:03:06 AM IST

amarjit batra_spotify_mk010_bgAmarjit Singh, MD, Spotify India
Image: Madhu Kapparath

The Covid-19 lockdown gave a boost to the audio streaming industry, as people stayed indoors with time on their hands. Swedish audio streaming platform Spotify, which launched in India in February 2019, recorded a 29% year-on-year (YoY) growth in its global monthly active users (MAUs) in Q3 2020, reaching 320 million. The company attributed much of its growth to its success in India.  

With the success of podcasts on the platform, Spotify has signed a deal with Chernin Entertainment to create television, movies, and digital-video programming based on Spotify’s original podcast series. The deal also enables them to look at Chernin’s dozens of entertainment projects in development for potential podcasts.

As Spotify releases their annual global campaign ‘Wrapped’, which reviews the audio trends throughout the year, Forbes India speaks to Amarjit Singh Batra, MD, Spotify India to know about their plans for India, and where it figures in the company’s global strategy.

Q. Spotify has clocked 320 million monthly active users in Q3 2020, which is said to be driven by its success in the Indian market. What are some of the factors for this?

Since we launched in India, it has been one of the key markets that has contributed to the growth of Spotify. We’ve been extremely localised in our strategy and built a strong local team. There are three key areas we’ve focused on to make Spotify relevant for India.

The first is to have product features designed for India, such as languages, relevant recommendations and playlist, and more, which directly impact user experience. We’ve also launched 25 Spotify original podcasts in India. Next, our marketing campaigns seem to have struck a chord with users, and third, we have a vibrant artist and creator community in India, and we have conducted various masterclasses with labels, artists and their managers on using Spotify to their advantage.

Q. With the deal with Chernin Entertainment, can we expect video production for some Indian podcast series as well?

It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing local podcasts being adapted for TV series, movies, or other digital video formats. India is still finding its place in the podcast space, and based on the data we see, there are certain genres that do better than the others, such as those related to society and culture (often self-help podcasts), education, business and technology.

From a Spotify perspective, we are absolutely open to such conversations in India as we continue to create a stronger line-up of Spotify Originals. Globally, we are focused on an ‘audio-first’ approach, and that is also where we will continue to invest locally—to identify podcasts that our listeners want, and if there’s potential to convert them into a TV series or a movie, why not.

Q. What’s the future of podcasting in India?

Podcasting is still relatively young in India, but there is definitely high potential for growth given the immersive and intimate nature of the medium. The popularity of this new-age form of audio storytelling can be attributed to three reasons. One, listeners want to be told a story and podcasting perhaps one of the finest mediums for that. Two, listeners want to learn something new, and podcasts offer insights, whether that means learning a new language, or understanding how technology works. And most importantly, listeners want companionship, and audio is able to break beyond barriers of video.

Spotify and industry trends show that podcasts will only grow, and this will be led not by a company, but the booming creator community in India. India’s diversity in culture will present a tremendous opportunity for regional creators to explore this format, adding more depth and richness to audio content. In fact, a few of the top podcasts this year are in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

Q. What measures has Spotify taken to further the interests of the Indian creator community?

Since our launch in India, we have been committed to identifying and nurturing the thriving community of independent artists in the country. 

Along with masterclasses, we also offer ‘Spotify for Artists (S4A)’ that provides access to deep analytics to understand the artist’s audience, music performance, and their discoverability on the platform. Today, 10,000 artists from India have claimed their S4A profile.

Another initiative is RADAR India, which is about marketing artists who have strong potential. The artists get social media support, in-app banners, and access to playlists in other markets. The programme is designed for building the discovery and reach of emerging talent, and artists such as Mali, When Chai Met Toast and Hanita Bhambri are a few beneficiaries of this initiative.

Q. How has the pandemic affected Spotify’s operations in India?

According to IMI, the audio streaming industry maintained relatively steady growth with over 200 million listeners tuning into music streaming services. At Spotify too, our operations and business strategy remain on track, and our global Q3 financial results reiterated that.

However, with a shift in daily routines, what changed was what users listen to and when. While pre-pandemic, listening was usually associated with commute hours, now audio is a break from screen time throughout the day. Users are tuning into music and podcasts to keep them company during workouts, cooking and even sleeping.

Q. What have you learned about Indian listener preferences through Spotify Wrapped, 2020?

Our Wrapped audio trends for India this year spoke deeply of India’s evolving taste in audio. India continues to love K-Pop, and this has been consistent since the day we launched. Approximately 50 percent of the most-streamed were Bollywood tracks, and the rest were a mix of international and non-film tracks. When it comes to genres, Desi Hip Hop was most streamed in the first three months of the year, and then listeners moved onto Desi Pop for the remaining year. Our local listeners also consumed unique genres on the platform such as Brostep, Indie Poptimism, Deep Big Room and more.

In terms of podcasts, Indians show a strong preference for content in the ‘Society and Culture’ genre, with motivational shows such as TED Talks DailyThe Ranveer Show, and On Purpose with Jay Shetty being a few of the most-streamed podcasts on Spotify this year. Additionally, the talk-show formats, such as Maha Bharat with Dhruv Rathee and The Michelle Obama Podcast have also been heavily streamed. Our local users are more likely to listen to podcasts at night, followed by late evening and early morning.

Q. What are the expansion plans for Spotify in India?

We are still relatively young in India, and have a long-term strategy for the market. In the near future, we are looking at continued localisationwhich includes more marketing campaigns that reach audiences beyond our core markets in India, with cultural nuances that matter to them. Moreover, we want to go deeper into the market for creators and partners. India is a vast country, and there is so much talent to cover. To successfully expand in the market, we have to continue to build our network through masterclasses for artists and workshops for podcast creators. This also applies to our brand partners that use Spotify to reach out to targeted audiences. We definitely see potential for more regional brands to work with Spotify. 

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