International

Warner Music Makes a Play for India’s Regional Music Market

Jay Mehta
Courtesy Photo

Jay Mehta

Label enters into distribution deal with Punjabi music conglomerate Sky Digital.

MUMBAI - The most-watched music video in the world last week, per YouTube’s Global Top Music Videos chart, was “52 Gaj Ka Daman” by Renuka Panwar, a song in the Indian regional language of Haryanvi. The song’s 54.2 million views doubled those of Disney star Olivia Rodrigo’s Spotify record-breaking track, “Drivers License,” which had 27.2 million views.

Panwar’s YouTube success is a testament to both the popularity of regional language music in India and its over-indexing on YouTube, for which the country is the largest market. This week, Warner Music, seeking to capitalize on such opportunities, announced an exclusive deal with Sky Digital India, the distributor of Desi Records, a local label in the north Indian state of Haryana that released “52 Gaj Ka Daman.”

Under terms of the agreement, Warner Music India will distribute Sky Digital’s repertoire within the country, and throughout the world via its independent artist and label services division ADA.

The partnership with Sky Digital is part of Warner Music’s mandate of “taking the Indian sound global,” Jay Mehta, Warner Music India managing director, tells Billboard. The tie-up follows a similar distribution deal with Bollywood label Tips Music and a licensing agreement with Punjabi music aggregator Ziiki Media, which were announced in October and May 2020, respectively.

In addition to running an in-house label whose roster includes such Punjabi singing stars as Sunanda Sharma, Sky Digital currently serves as the aggregator for over 40 Punjabi music labels as well as several Hindi, Haryanvi and Bhojpuri ones. Sky Digital also manages a suite of regional music YouTube channels in those languages that collectively have over 15 million subscribers.

Among the recent big Punjabi hits distributed by Sky Digital are “Vail” by Mankirt Aulakh and “Bambiha Bole” by Sidhu Moosewala and Amrit Maan, both of which hit No.1 on YouTube’s India Top Music Videos chart last year. Still, Sky Digital’s share of the national audio streaming market is estimated to be only around 1%. That’s because many regional music language labels only release content on YouTube.

The deal “gives us a window to now bring all of these labels, which were only on YouTube, to the entire streaming world,” Mehta says.

Punjabi music accounts for almost 14% of all consumption on audio streaming services in India, making it “by far the biggest regional language,” he says. It also has a significant audience abroad, and according to Mehta, is the regional language with “the largest consumption” in the Indian diaspora. “I was looking at the Sky Digital analytics,” he says, and “50% is outside India.”

While Haryanvi and Bhojpuri make up around 5% of total plays combined, they are two of the fastest growing languages in terms of year-on-year growth in listenership.