Indian Music Culture Thriving in the Streaming Age, Shows Nielsen Report: Exclusive

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New Delhi, India.

In a market where CDs and digital downloads failed to take off, the world's second biggest smartphone market is primed for streaming.

With a population of over 1.2 billion, there's a reason India has been called a "sleeping giant" in the global music landscape. Now, per Nielsen's India Music 360 2018 report, which comprises 1,570 interviews among "online consumers" from 16-45 years old, we can see definitively how the country's music consumption behaviors stack up. The picture it paints is one of a tech-savvy listenership that is growing quickly as physical media becomes a thing of the past.

People in India consume on average 20 hours of music per week, either as a primary or background activity. As the study says, that pales in comparison to the United States' 32 hour weekly average, but is 25 percent higher than the 16 hours Nielsen noted in its 2016 study of China. In India, the majority of those 20 hours come through streaming, with music videos leading the way at 21.6 percent of overall consumption, while audio streaming follows at 16.9 percent.

The Nielsen study lists YouTube as the most popular streaming service in the country. That's consistent with international trends, as YouTube hosts 46 percent of global music streaming (excluding China) and accounts for more listening than every other audio streaming platform put together, according to the IFPI.

As Head of Sony Music India Shridhar Subramaniam told Forbes last year, the country was never a major buyer of CDs or digital downloads. However, India's status as the world's second biggest smartphone market makes it particularly primed for streaming's growth. As of now, according to Nielsen's report, streaming accounts for a whopping 76 percent of music discovery in India.

When it comes to the advent of smart speakers and voice assistants, tech-savvy Indians are mostly a younger demographic that consumes music at a higher rate than the rest of the country. Among those surveyed by Nielsen, 51 percent of people who reported owning smart speakers were millennials and as a group averaged 23 hours of music consumption per week. And as local Indian startups vie with global tech brands for consumers in the voice assistant space, it seems voice technology is becoming more broadly ubiquitous in India, just as it is in the States

Indian music fans have also found a symbiotic relationship between online listening and social media. There, 77 percent of weekly social media users rely on different platforms for music content, with 69 percent using musical.ly, 62 percent choosing on Facebook and 51 percent opting for Instagram. In the U.S., the statistic was presented slightly differently, with 55 percent of all listeners saying they use social media to stay up to date on their favorite artists.

The actual music consumed is predominantly Indian in origin, with the top four genres being Bollywood, "other Indian film music," Indian pop and Indian regional folk. (Western pop slots in at No. 5.) Films clearly dominate the local mainstream culture, as 95 percent of Indian audiences listen to Bollywood music and 88 percent listen to "other Indian film music."

Bollywood's popularity on the survey might have as much to do with its distribution and marketing as it does the music itself, as those within the Indian music industry will often reject the term as a proper descriptor. During  this summer's "India Beyond Bollywood" panel at Cannes discussing Bollywood's role in the domestic music business over the last decade, Times Music COO Mandar Thakur argued the "first thing to realize" in this conversation is that "is that Bollywood is not a genre of music."

Rather, as Outdustry managing director Ed Peto put it, Bollywood often refers to a wider entertainment ecosystem, centered around musical films, that "ultimately packages and sells [music] down the pipeline to the end touchpoint, which is the cinema screen."

Still, the popularity of local genres makes sense given that Indian streaming platforms are well represented among international competitors. While YouTube is the most popular, according to Nielsen's report, local companies Jio Music, Gaana, Saavn, Wynk Music and Hungama are all among the top 12 services, while focusing heavily or primarily on Hindi and Indian tunes. The YouTube channel T-Series, which uploads Bollywood content and is on the verge of having the most subscribers on the platform, also makes an appearance at No. 7. 

Another unique finding in the study was that the majority of Indian fans prefer smaller shows, with 47 percent saying they preferred intimate venues and 41 percent opting for free community music events compared to 36 percent voting for big concerts. Results in the States were more split, but concerts led the pack at 33 percent, while small sessions were chose 24 percent of the time and festivals had 18 percent.