The Nashville native talks strategy in the world's second most populous nation, where only 1% of consumers pay for subscriptions.
In the early 2000s, during the heyday of the cable TV business, Rishi Malhotra was a young vice president at HBO, charged with figuring out how to sell on-demand programming. Over several years, he turned HBO On Demand into a $100 million business. "One of the things I learned from HBO was that really premium, unique content helps build a brand," he says, "and it's something people will pay for."
In 2008, Malhotra decided to take his skills to Saavn, a business-to-business company that distributed Indian music to platforms such as iTunes and Amazon. By 2010, Saavn had transitioned into a streaming service, and in 2018, it was renamed JioSaavn after Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries acquired the company and merged it with JioMusic, the streaming service run by telecom Reliance Jio. Now, says Malhotra, JioSaavn has between 100 million and 200 million monthly active users.
Malhotra took over as Saavn's CEO in 2014, just before mobile data rates plummeted, making India one of the most competitive streaming markets in the world. Since 2019, local champions JioSaavn, Gaana and Wynk Music have competed with startups like Hungama, as well as global titans Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music and YouTube Music, for a share of the Indian market and its population of 1.3 billion. In 2018, India's recording business generated $156 million in revenue, according to global music industry organization IFPI — a 24.5% increase from 2017 — and streaming accounted for 70% of that total.