Exclusive: After well over a year building it, Indiatimes*, the Internet and Mobile business of the Times of India group, has launched Gaana.com, it’s online music streaming site. Gaana means music in Hindi. At the time of doing this story, the site has 21,764 albums across the obvious genres – Bollywood and Hindi Films (4983), Bengali (4339), Tamil (1858), Telugu (1659), Malayalam (1352) and Marathi (1177), Punjabi (1082), but also some regional Indian music as well. What’s notable about the site is the focus on discovery of music, and that this is probably the first major full site deployment in HTML5 in India.
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Gaana.com has three skins to choose from, and even though it’s not the same, there’s a very strong iTunes influence when it comes to the design; however, no application needs to be downloaded. Indiatimes CEO Rishi Khiani informs MediaNama that only the music player is currently in Flash, and they’ll launch an HTML5 player shortly, and a mobile application.
Gaana.com is among the several music streaming several in India: Rediff, In.com, Saregama, Saavn, and one we’d missed earlier – ibibo Music (which means that ibibo has probably reached some kind of a deal with T-Series, after an earlier dispute). Hungama.com also has a music download service online and mobile, with DRM protected music. Google has a music search in partnership with several sites, and Guruji.com also allows users to access music from several sites via search. The most popular site, it is believed, is a pirated music site called Songs.pk.
Plans and Monetization
Indiatimes plans to add a lot more content to the site, Khiani told MediaNama, and currently almost entire focus is on user acquisition. In terms of monetization:
– Caller Ringback Tones: A part of the plan it to allow users to set specific songs as RingBack Tones, which is where Indiatimes 58888’s telecom operator partnerships will come in. Remember that Indiatimes’ mobile business 58888 had inked some content deals last year. As we’d mentioned earlier, finding caller ringback tones on telecom operator voice portals is particularly tedious. Online and mobile web enabling of CRBT search could help ease some pain.
– Branded Skins: Khiani says that like the three themes mentioned, they will also roll out sponsored skins for Gaana.com. At present they’ve got seven client branded themes, ready when Gaana.com launches (it’s currently in Alpha).
– AdJingles: Given that online streaming of Indian music has become popular in the country – legit or otherwise – there’s an opportunity for it to take a radio route – allow audio ads in between songs. This is where a relationship with group company Radio Mirchi might come in handy. We’d also mentioned earlier, the opportunity in creating an Online Audio Ad Network, helping monetize legitimate music streams across sites.
Frankly, given the number of sites competing in the market, Gaana.com will have to focus on user retention. For that, they appear to have done quite a bit to encourage discovery of music, and the application like interface allows for a fairly seamless switch between genres. If I have one issue with the navigation, it is that I couldn’t find a back button, and at times, had to perform the search all over again.
Search: The search interface displays songs according to albums, songs and artists, allowing the user to discover more content from the same segment.
Segments: Where the advantage of having an application like interface comes in, is allowing a more visual interface to music, when searching for albums or artists. Google and Guruji tried much the same, using album covers and artist photographs to allow better discovery. In addition, Gaana allows users to browse through genres, artists, playlists, Popular music and New Releases
Being Social: Gaana allows a public people search, among its users. It shows the most active users, as well as those who have recently joined. Note that Rediff Songbuzz also has the same feature. In addition, Gaana lists recent activity, again allowing discovery of people and music. For example, it appears that Times of India group Managing Director Vineet Jain was recently listening to Rihanna’s ‘What’s My Name’.
Additionally, you can view recent activity and recent comments that users may be leaving.
Users can create multiple playlists, but the real power is in making playlists public: this is where Indiatimes, much like Rediff Music, is being social. Users can view popular playlists and favorite them.
What About Personalization?
Not sure if this is in the site or not, but there’s scope for doing exactly what Last.fm does – which is track a users listening pattern, and on the basis of the listening pattern of other users with similar preferences, recommend songs and artists. This, of course, depends on Gaana being able to determine and compare listening patterns.
We like the service, and and the interface, but from a business perspective, we wonder if this is a segment that Indiatimes should really be looking at entering. As we’ve noted above, there are more than enough competitors in this space, doing fairly similar things, and those who got into the game much before Gaana.com. The plans for making money, through themes, AdJingles etc are fine, but can that really cover the cost of licensing music for live streaming, particularly in such a competitive environment? What’s the point in being a leader in a segment where everyone is losing money?
Also, getting users might be difficult, even with the Times Group’s media reach: Gaana will have to try and pull users away from services they’re already used to. This is where a great product becomes useful, but the same product will look very different once advertising is served in the current pages. Indiatimes will have to choose ad placements carefully.
P.s: I’d like to see music from Indian bands being streamed by these sites. Vishal Dadlani’s music Bollywood music is available, but no Pentagram.
Disclosure: Indiatimes is an advertiser with MediaNama