| 23 Feb 2024
OnMobile president and COO Sanjay Uppal - With music streaming gaining ground, digital music consumption might undergo shifts

Having made its debut on the Indian Stock Exchanges (BSE and NSE) in February 2008, Bangalore based VAS provider OnMobile is aggressively viewing the radio space. The company is currently in talks with network operators to roll out its mobile radio service M-Radio Gold. OnMobile also entered into strategic alliance with commercial radio operator Big FM recently to launch Big Mobile Radio.

Almost a decade since its inception, OnMobile plans to double the number of countries it operates in, from the present 22, in the next 18 months. OnMobile president and COO Sanjay Uppal talks about the  company's partnership with Reliance Media World's Big FM, music consumption in the Indian subcontinent and social networking paving the path for VAS industry, in conversation with's Anita Iyer.

OnMobile recently tied up with commercial FM station- Big FM to launch, Big Mobile Radio. Is the service already on?

The partnership between OnMobile and Big FM is in place but we are in talks with all mobile operators to launch the mobile radio service. We aren't live with any operator yet, but test broadcasts are already on. Big Mobile radio is not operational currently with any operator but we plan to roll out soon.

Isn't pricing the key? What would be the convincing pointers for consumers as we have MP3 phones and rampant piracy?

With mobile radio, we are adding one more exciting feature to listen to regional or local radio. Mobile radio removes geographical boundaries and listeners can tune into radio stations of a particular city without being physicallly present there. It is going to provide an impetus to radio listenership 

Pricing is a key as you rightly said, and we are not going to charge anything more than the cost of streaming music.

So, the revenue model in your case is mainly going to be subscription plus streaming with no advertising?

In the first instance, we are making it advertising free unlike what it is in the commercial radio space. It would be a subscription and usage oriented model, we will experiment with both models and see what gets us more users.

What would be the revenue share model among different players in the value chain?

In streaming music on the mobile, the revenue is shared among the telecom operator, technology provider (OnMobile), content aggregator and the producers of the content. In Big Mobile Radio, our programming partner Big FM will be a participant in the revenue share as they are providing content with RJ content, music etc.

Can you dissect the percentages among each player involved?

The telecom operator will retain the bulk of the share and it would be difficult to reveal percentages because of confidentiality. Also, the operator relationship for Big Mobile radio is not consummated yet as most of the discussions are tentative from the revenue share perspective. They would follow the normal norms in the VAS space and the deal ensures that each player gets a fair portion from the deal.

Much of the discussion at Ficci Frames 2010 revolved around convergence of radio with mobile? How do you see that happening in India?

Commercial FM players entering into the mobile radio space is the beginning of a revolution in music streaming in India. Our model with Big FM is an advertisement free model, which is a big draw. Second is exclusivity of content. Over a period of time, we will be able to get content which cannot be found anywhere. It would be similar to satellite radio, which runs ad free high quality streaming service. In the future, our content producers can produce specific content tailored for mobile users. It is going to be the next revolution in the streaming markets in the emerging markets and with mobile, the reach is going to be enormous 

Is India a mature market for mobile radio?

In the Indian subcontinent- Bangladesh and Pakistan, CRBT is the number one VAS service on mobile for the operators. Mobile radio figures in the top four services launched by the operators in the emerging markets. We with our product, M-Radio are playing with many options like creating playlists of frequently played songs, music search, sharing of playlists in the social group etc.

As CRBT holds the top position in the VAS service, how much space does it occupy in the overall VAS segment? Also, where does mobile radio figure?

If you take out the P2P portion, CRBT would be a quarter or a third of the total VAS segment. As for mobile radio, it might differ depending on operators, varying from 10 to 20 per cent. However, it should figure between second and fourth spot in most operators in Indian subcontinents 

Is the devotional music genre still a key driver in the CRBT space?

Around 250 million CRBTs are downloaded on a yearly basis and devotional is certainly one of the key drivers followed by Indian film music. Film music sells most in south, Bollywood on a nationwide basis as well as outside India.

Can you talk about your product M-Radio Gold slated to launch soon?

M-Radio Gold is a handset-independent voice product that can be promoted to 100 per cent of the telecom base of the operator. M-radio along with its music applications will stand out for two reasons- one is the concept of sharing music and secondly, music search. The social aspect is key, where you can make your playlist and share it with your social networking contacts. On the music search front, songs of varied choices are available without opting for full track downloads or physical possession.

You have been talking about social networking playing an important role in mobile music. Would we see OnMobile tying up with any social networking site?

OnMobile has come up with a technology called â€?Social Networking Gateway' that allows us to talk to all of the mobile addresses you talk to frequently. Our motive was not to force people to go to established social networking sites but create social networking with your mobile contacts 

Is bandwidth an issue and how do you foresee advent of 3G changing things in India?

The bandwidth available with 3G will make a huge difference on the music streaming front. It will enable higher quality audio plus faster interactions for sharing playlists. We are currently waiting to deploy these services, when 3G comes along, we will have more multimedia focus.

The VAS industry recorded revenues of Rs 60 billion in FY 2008-09. How does OnMobile plan to explore this space?

OnMobile will be focusing on three things in 2010-11 and beyond, first being the social aspect- social networking, social music. Second is search and discovery and the third area is music and entertainment, it goes beyond mobile music and CRBT.

Could you shed some light on new trends in music consumption?

Music has gone through different consumption models on the physical front from vinyl, records, cassettes, CDs into digital forms. From digital it moved on to streaming and the next big thing is social music. These are four phases of music and in each phase, the mode of consumption in the previous phase tends to take a setback.

With music streaming coming in, digital music consumption patterns might undergo change and the consumption might shift to the streaming front. When you make content available to consumers at a favourable price, it takes away the pie from the piracy market  With social music and streaming, we might see convergence of consumers who usually pirate music coming on mobile platform.

Getting full track downloads over the phone without 3G is a hurdle, so we are looking at other mechanisms to load songs on your phone without getting over the air. This is something we are looking at in the coming year.

As you just spoke, do you think digital music might face a setback with music streaming?

Digital music could be affected by streaming music. It could have an impact on the digital purchase market just like digital market had an affect on physical purchase market and so on. With every new phase coming in, there is an impact on the previous phase but it grows the overall market because it makes music more widely available in an easy fashion 

The VAS space was explored with ringtones, then CRBTs and music on IVRS. What's next in this space?

What's next is high quality digital quality music, the social aspect of music and music search on the horizon.

Do you think music on IVR has given new life to the music industry?

Both the CRBT and IVR have made music more widely available. CRBT for example, the number of songs downloaded is 250 million annually and active CRBT users are 50 million. Imagine, so many consumers are tuned into music because of CRBT. This is just a beginning, the social aspect, music search and sharing would expand the usage even more  

Is it very difficult to get a transparent reporting system with all technical advancements?

This has been a lingering issue but it is getting solved rapidly again with technology. In the past, by the time we collected reports from operators and gave them back to the content providers, there was scope for some discrepancies as it  goes through several hops 

We are coming up with a content management system that will dis-intermediate all the steps in the middle, so that the operators, solution providers, content aggregators and content providers will be able to see at one glance the music consumed and latest music trends. We have been working on this for over a year and will be launching in 2010-2011. Lack of transparency is an issue and with disintermediation and right technology, the industry stands to benefit 

What's next on the cards for OnMobile?

Apart from three areas mentioned earlier, geographical expansion is on the cards for OnMobile. In the next 18 months we are going to double our presence in the number of countries we are in.

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