Go­ing against the grain can pay off hand­somely as Saregama In­dia - and its manag­ing direc­tor - have proved.

The Brand Reporter - - FRONT PAGE - By Anir­ban Roy Choudhury

Go­ing against the grain can pay off hand­somely as Saregama In­dia - and its manag­ing direc­tor - have proved.

In an era of Net­flix, Gaana and YouTube, where key­words like chord cut­ting, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence rule the roost, and where mar­keters are fran­ti­cally rush­ing about try­ing to find the next best thing for the Mil­len­ni­als, here is one com­pany that is walk­ing a dif­fer­ent path. The fact that new tech­nolo­gies come and wipe out older ones has not af­fected it one bit as it went back in time and un­leashed a por­ta­ble dig­i­tal music player (‘dig­i­tal’ be­ing the con­ces­sion to tech­nol­ogy) that is tak­ing the older gen­er­a­tion by storm.

In May, last year, Saregama In­dia launched Car­vaan, a music player for the older gen­er­a­tion with 5,000 pre­loaded songs from the past. In just five months it be­came the talk­ing point be­tween gen­er­a­tions. In Car­vaan, the young found a per­fect gift for the older gen­er­a­tion. The in­clu­sion of Blue­tooth and USB port meant that the for­mer too looked at it with in­ter­est. The most in­ter­est­ing point of in­ter­est in Car­vaan is this: the songs play in shuf­fle mode with no op­tion of the lis­tener be­ing able to search and se­lect the song they want. Avail­able in two vari­ants (at `5,990 and `6,390), the prod­uct of­fers a lean-back-and-lis­ten ex­pe­ri­ence to the con­sumer com­pared to a more hands-on role that the con­sumer is used to in this dig­i­tal age.

that) There is a bunch of peo­ple say ‘music should run in the back­ground’.

Go­ing retro - the player has three but­tons clas­si­fied by artiste, mood, a col­lec­tion of 50 years of Bi­naca Geet Mala, Ameen Sayani’s highly pop­u­lar show of the 60s and 70s - paid off. Saregama (for­merly HMV) sold 95,000 units of the Car­vaan be­tween launch day and Septem­ber 2017 - in value terms roughly `57 crore). It hopes to sell 100,000 units ev­ery quar­ter in this fi­nan­cial year – which means that its Oc­to­ber-De­cem­ber sales could touch `60 crore. Ex­trap­o­lat­ing this es­ti­mate would mean that Saregama’s sales from Car­vaan alone would be close to its topline of `182 crore three years ago.

afaqs! Re­porter spoke to Vikram Mehra, manag­ing direc­tor, who feels that the mar­ket for a por­ta­ble player like Car­vaan is 25 mil­lion In­dian homes (in value that works out to `15,000 crore, if each house­hold bought a Car­vaan). In this free­wheel­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Anir­ban Roy Choudhury, Mehra, a for­mer STAR In­dia and TATA Sky man, talks about go­ing against the flow with an an­ti­in­ter­net hard­ware in­ven­tion, why they de­cided to in­vest in a phys­i­cal prod­uct and how the tar­get au­di­ence (both old and young) re­sponded. Edited Ex­cerpts:

What made you con­duct the re­search that led to the launch of Car­vaan?

In the first quar­ter of 2015 - just af­ter I joined - we con­ducted a mas­sive qual­i­ta­tive re­search across 23 cities to find out the music con­sump­tion be­hav­iour of the In­dian con­sumer across states.

Why we did the re­search is be­cause we were sad­dled with the per­cep­tion that ‘no­body wants to con­sume music, no­body wants to pay for music and music con­sump­tion is not hap­pen­ing.’ Now, com­ing from the en­ter­tain­ment world of Tata Sky and be­fore that Star (In­dia), I found it dif­fi­cult to believe that be­cause what I saw from Tata Sky and Star is that music is the back­bone of ev­ery fam­ily in In­dia.

So, what were the find­ings?

The stan­dard feed­back that came from peo­ple who are 35-40 plus was that ‘we love Asha, Kishore, Rafi, Lata type of music and that for us is the real music, but our prob­lem is you Mr. HMV you have just kept it with you and you are not putting it out in the mar­ket’.

But your music is there in all the ma­jor stream­ing plat­forms…

Many peo­ple be­gan telling me that they were scared of apps and the like. They were ap­pre­hen­sive about what would hap­pen if they pressed a but­ton. All apps are de­signed for the younger, tech-savvy gen­er­a­tion. Older peo­ple were say­ing, ‘what if I press some­thing and I get charged, what if some­thing gets for­warded un­in­ten­tion­ally, or if an ad pops up what do I do with it’.

Af­ter the in­ter­ac­tions we un­der­stood that every­body who grew up in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s were still look­ing for a lean­back lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. When de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy, we as­sume that every­body wants a lean-for­ward, more in­volved ex­pe­ri­ence - yes, there is a bunch of peo­ple that loves this, es­pe­cially the younger peo­ple.

The other bunch of peo­ple say that ‘music is some­thing that we should run in the back­ground and please don’t ask me to in­ter­vene af­ter ev­ery two min­utes, I just want to turn it on and keep on play­ing it out there’. This is what we caught on to…

So, how did a de­vice that looks like a tran­sis­tor ra­dio turn out to be the solution of the prob­lem?

No­body came and told us that they wanted a par­tic­u­lar phys­i­cal struc­ture. The in­sight was they want a lean-back ex­pe­ri­ence. So, we started fig­ur­ing out what was avail­able. Com­pact discs were on their way out and even if I make them there are no CD play­ers to play them.

Our first at­tempt to test the wa­ters with older peo­ple was a prod­uct called ‘music card’. It went with the ba­sic phi­los­o­phy that since USB ports are avail­able ev­ery­where, a USB port-based drive would be eas­ier to play. The music card has done rea­son­ably okay, but it did not solve the prob­lem. Peo­ple started us­ing it in cars. An­other prob­lem was that it was the tech-savvy crowd work­ing in the pri­vate sec­tor in cities like Mumbai, Delhi or Cal­cutta that was us­ing it more.

Why did it not work the way you wanted it to?

The music card will play only if you take the card, put it in the USB slot some­where on the TV and then use the re­mote con­trol to change the mode of the TV. Older peo­ple were not com­fort­able do­ing that.

We re­alised that the prod­uct served a need but only for those who are more aware of tech. It was not serv­ing the per­son sit­ting in Bareilly, Jaisalmer, Jodh­pur or Luc­know. That was gen­e­sis of the Car­vaan.

Car­vaan is of­ten crit­i­cised for the lack of op­tions it pro­vides. For in­stance, it does not al­low me to lis­ten to a par­tic­u­lar song at a par­tic­u­lar time…

That the songs will play in a ran­dom or­der is a con­scious call that we took. We did not want to give the choice of go­ing in a lin­ear fash­ion be­cause we re­alised that, in the old ra­dio days, you never knew which song would come on next. Hence you end up get­ting ex­posed to songs that you might have for­got­ten. Re­mem­ber that line in For­est Gump? ‘My mom al­ways said life was like a box of choco­lates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ That is the ex­pe­ri­ence we wanted to of­fer with the player.

Car­vaan is not for those who say ‘Now I want to lis­ten to Lag Jaa Gale and Mere Sap­non Ki Rani’. Saregama’s con­tent is avail­able on ev­ery ma­jor stream­ing plat­form. There are apps for those who want to lis­ten to a par­tic­u­lar song at a par­tic­u­lar time.

Your ad­ver­tise­ments po­si­tion Car­vaan as a gift­ing de­vice. Was that de­lib­er­ate?

The joint fam­ily con­cept is break­ing in our coun­try and it has been break­ing at a fast pace over last decade. The com­mon phe­nom­e­non is that while the par­ents are stay­ing some­where, their chil­dren are work­ing in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune or Ban­ga­lore away from home.

When you stay away from your par­ents, you may want to gift them some­thing on an an­niver­sary, a birth­day or on Di­wali. The size of the non-wed­ding gift­ing mar­ket in In­dia (for­mal and in­for­mal) is about $20 bil­lion, which is mas­sive.

When you are gift­ing your par­ents you never gift sweets - you gift a watch, a phone, a shawl or a shirt. There came the sec­ond con­sumer in­sight. ‘I want to gift my par­ents some­thing and I am bored of gift­ing the tra­di­tional im­per­sonal gifts. I want to gift them some­thing per­sonal. What is it that I can gift?’ The an­swer to that ques­tion is Car­vaan.

But if your prod­uct is for the older gen­er­a­tion why do you have Blue­tooth and USB fea­tures in the de­vice?

The 60-year-old should not wait till his son or daugh­ter gifts some­thing. Our un­der­stand­ing is that peo­ple who are a lit­tle older, es­pe­cially those who have re­tired, stop spend­ing on them­selves. They worry about how they will man­age the rest of their life.

They have a prob­lem in in­dulging them­selves with a gift meant just for them. If you tell them that the prod­uct is for them alone, they will be like ‘ac­cha hai yaar’ but I can do with­out it. How­ever, if I start giv­ing them an emo­tional rea­son which is rel­e­vant to their chil­dren or grand­chil­dren - it will work. That’s why we have Blue­tooth and USB func­tion­al­i­ties added in the de­vice.

Tell us about your re­gional ex­pan­sion, you have al­ready an­nounced the Tamil ver­sion. What’s next?

We launched with Hindi and then fol­lowed it with Tamil ver­sion, which is priced the same as the Hindi one and has the same number of songs.

(‘music Our first at­tempt to test the wa­ters with older peo­ple was a prod­uct called card’. (Car­vaan is not for those who say ‘Now I want to lis­ten to or

How­ever, the Tamil ver­sion of the player has been mod­i­fied slightly - in place of the Ameen Sayani but­ton is one for Car­natic Music. There is also a but­ton ded­i­cated to de­vo­tional music (Hindu, Chris­tian and Is­lam). We will launch a Ben­gali ver­sion in the next quar­ter and Marathi in the quar­ter af­ter that.

How do you de­cide on the mar­kets? Is it a de­ci­sion based on the con­tent you have? Do you have enough to do more re­gional ver­sions?

Con­sider Ben­gali. We are sit­ting on the big­gest cat­a­logue of Rabindra Sangeet (songs writ­ten and com­posed by Rabindranath Tagore), we have a huge cat­a­logue of Nazrul Geeti (songs writ­ten and com­posed by Nazrul Is­lam). We are putting all of that in the Ben­gali ver­sion.

In Marathi we have a lot of La­vani music (a genre that is very pop­u­lar in Ma­ha­rash­tra). Then we have Asha

Lata and we will put all of that. We will launch in other mar­kets too. What de­cides a new launch is the mar­riage be­tween the de­mand and size of the mar­ket and the cat­a­logue we have. Just now, we are ex­plor­ing Pun­jabi, Tel­ugu and many other op­tions.

What ex­plains the launch of Car­vaan Mini. Is that also based on a con­sumer in­sight?

The Mini ver­sion is not a con­sumer in­sight but a dealer in­sight. The deal­ers came to us and said that there was a large Blue­tooth speaker sale hap­pen­ing in the 25-40-year age group.

They want some­thing which can travel with them and they are also in­ter­ested in lis­ten­ing to the most pop­u­lar songs of that era. We launched two minis – le­gends and MS Sub­bu­lak­shmi. The mini that is do­ing very well is the MS one and we have all the MS songs recorded so far in the Tamil Mini ver­sion.

Isn’t the price a lit­tle steep at `2,290 for 251 pre-loaded songs? How do you jus­tify that?

The Mini is a great Blue­tooth speaker, which will com­pete on sound qual­ity and fea­tures. The songs are there to add value and the fu­ture ver­sions will have FM ra­dio in it too. A good Blue­tooth speaker in the mar­ket costs around `2,0002,500 - that is why we priced it at `2,290.

You have shared your pro­jec­tion of 100,000 units per quar­ter. How are you placed on that?

The tar­get mar­ket that we have de­fined for our­selves is the SEC A, B, up­per strata of C and R1. This is 23-25 mil­lion homes - peo­ple who love their older music and we are sit­ting on that bank. Suc­cess de­pends on our abil­ity to mar­ket the prod­uct to that cus­tomer. Apart from that, we have In­di­ans out­side the coun­try. We have launched in the US we are get­ting into Canada and the UK in this quar­ter it­self.

You rate con­sumer in­sights very highly. Is that what keeps you go­ing?

We start think­ing that we can run mar­ket­ing sit­ting out here in our glass of­fices. I firmly believe if you want to un­der­stand what cus­tomer wants, you have to go out of your of­fices and go to the cus­tomers’ homes and not just one or two. It needs to be a reg­u­lar process be­cause as we climb up the social lad­der and get fancier po­si­tions as cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives, we start be­liev­ing the world is what we know and that the world is peo­ple like us. That might not be a true rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how things func­tion and that is why since 2005 I make sure that ev­ery month I visit 25 cus­tomer homes. I plan to con­tinue that process.

Ever since 2005 I have made sure that I visit 25 cus­tomer homes ev­ery month.

Car­vaan is set to come up with Ben­gali and Marathi ver­sion af­ter Hindi and Tamil

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