Indian Streaming Service Saavn Raises $100 Million

(Victorgrigas via Wikimedia)

Indian streaming company Saavn announced Tuesday (July 7) the closing of $100-million in Series C funding, a strong signal of the market for legal music services in the world's second-most populous country. The round was led by Tiger Global Management, Bertelsmann India Investments and three other previous investors, and a number of new investors including private equity investor Quilvest.

"It's an exciting time for music right now," Rishi Malhotra, CEO & co-founder of Saavn, tells Billboard. "I think we're a part of it."

The company plans to use the capital for product development, customer acquisition, development of its proprietary advertising technology, additions to its sales force, and new content deals.

Fueled by the popularity of Android phones in India, where IDC says smartphone ownership will exceed that of the United States in 2017, Saavn now has 14 million monthly users, up from 11 million at the end of March. The company claims to be adding 1 million users per month and expects to reach 20 million monthly users by the end of the year. Malhotra says 90 percent of Saavn's usage comes from mobile.

What sets Saavn apart from many other streaming services is its focus on the local market. India's diverse population of 1.25 billion includes well over 100 languages. Saavn's catalog accordingly has content from 900 labels and covers 11 languages.

"Saavn continues to innovate consumer products designed for India’s growing mobile user base," Lee Fixel, a partner at Tiger Global Management, said in a statement. Tiger Global's portfolio includes many Indian technology companies such as Ola, an app for booking taxis, and e-commerce company Flipkart.

Also notable is the rise of English-language music on the service. Malhotra says Saavn usage was 90 percent Hindi a year ago. Now Hindi accounts for 65 percent, while English has grown to 15 percent and Punjabi to 5 percent. He attributes the growth in English to the nature of young listeners. "Millennials are listening to what the world is listening to."