Executive Turntable

Gaana's CEO Is Leaving the Indian Audio-Streaming Service

Prashan Agarwal
Courtesy of Times Internet

Prashan Agarwal

Prashan Agarwal’s five-year stint leading the company has come to an end, he confirmed Wednesday.

MUMBAI — Prashan Agarwal, the CEO of Gaana, is leaving the Indian audio-streaming service.

He announced his departure early Wednesday (March 3) on LinkedIn, saying he was "stepping down" from his role as CEO of Gaana, which is jointly owned by the Times Group and Tencent.  The news, which was leaking out since Monday, had surprised many in the Indian music industry. Neither Agarwal nor Gaana has said where he might move to next, or who would replace him.

Agarwal thanked his colleagues, music industry partners and investors for putting "so much trust and empowerment in enabling me to deliver."

Under Agarwal, who joined as COO in 2016 and was promoted to CEO in 2018, Gaana has grown into one of India’s leading audio-streaming services. Gaana’s customer base has increased exponentially each year, from about 25 million MAUs in late 2016 to over 185 million MAUs in August 2020, the platform has said.

Gaana amassed much of this audience in less-populated cities -- tier-II, tier-III and tier-IV cities -- which the platform has keenly targeted with a combination of tiered pricing, regional Indian language content and user-friendly features such as voice-based search.

Agarwal and his team have also been quick to cater to changing consumption patterns by launching a string of original projects, such as Gaana Originals, a series of exclusive Hindi and Punjabi “non-film” or commercial pop singles the service has been releasing since 2017. Gaana also started staging the multi-city Punjabi music festival Crossblade in 2018, and in mid-2020, following the ban on TikTok in India, it unveiled HotShots, a short video platform.

However, revenues have not kept pace with the rise in MAUs. While the number of paid subscriptions grew 2 1/2 times in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, they accounted for a little over a third of the total income. At the end of the 2020 fiscal year, Gaana’s losses had risen more than 82% from the previous financial year to Rs352 crore ($48 million). Last August, Gaana received fresh rounds of funding from existing investors, the Times Group’s digital arm Times Internet and Tencent, which now owns almost 35% of the company.

Gaana’s main competitors in India’s crowded audio-streaming market are JioSaavn, which is owned by telecom behemoth Reliance Jio and also claims over 150 million MAUs, and Spotify, which is fast gaining traction since its launch in India in February 2019.

Prior to his half-decade stint with Gaana, Agarwal co-founded property website PropTiger and held leadership roles at jobs portal Naukri and GE Infrastructure.