In the thinly populated world of Bollywood-friendly music streaming services, Saavn’s slick, well-stocked app is quickly becoming a favorite.
Like Spotify, Saavn lets users create, play, and share playlists. Pandora-like, it also hosts radio stations. In app form and on the web, Saavn is prettier than competitors Gaana or Raaga and more legal than hindimirchi or musicindiaonline. Saavn says it has licensed rights to the "most comprehensive catalogue of Bollywood, Indian and regional South Asian music anywhere," from 200 providers in 22 languages.
As Saavn’s newest numbers show, it has seen some promising growth this last year. Saavn now has 9.3 million users worldwide, and adds another 125,000 new users per month—five times as many as this time last year. (That’s a 25% jump in subscriptions overall.) Two million members connect via Facebook, where Saavn content is published every five seconds. Facebook users have made 1 billion Facebook impressions overall. Two million mobile users have downloaded the Saavn app, and every 10 seconds someone somewhere downloads another, all contributing to 1 million daily streams. Considering it is finding new ways to give people free access to the already explosively popular Bollywood music industry (a sampling of which can be heard here), those numbers are likely to get bigger.
Saavn started out as a web streaming service, launching in late 2010. Their first app product was a radio app for Android. "We wanted to start with radio on Android first, to see what kind of appetite was out there," cofounder and CEO Vinod Bhat tells Fast Company. "What we saw completely blew us away." Saavn followed that up with an Android streaming app in July 2011 and an iOS streaming app in August. In December, they launched their Facebook application anchored in Open Graph.
Saavn has two clear strengths. First there’s that massive that trove of legally acquired high-quality streaming content, which Saavn says represents 99% of Bollywood music anywhere. Second, there's Saavn’s custom-designed intelligent search algorithm.
Saavn’s founders spent their first few years as a third-party licenser of Indian music for U.S.-focused music services like iTunes, Rhapsody, AT&T, and others. But where Indian music was concerned, Bhat explained, the services wouldn't account for the variations in spelling that phonetic searches for a Hindi song would invite. "We'd get lots of emails coming to us saying that people couldn't find content that they were looking for," Bhat says. "It told us that search was a very big problem." At Saavn, engineers have created an intelligent algorithm that accounts for phonetic variations. The feature offers up alternative spellings and search results for the song it thinks you're searching for, then learns from the choices you make.
Saavn’s new numbers represent its global reach, but Bhat says the NYC/Silicon Valley-based company's target market is India. The country accounts for 58% of traffic overall, 68% of their Android users, and 27% of their iPhone users.
Saavn has other serious plans and partnerships with device makers and operating systems, in addition to its existing Facebook partnership, which will help grow in the country, and its Chrome and Android apps. There’s apps in the pipeline for Symbian, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile.
Saavn is partnering with device makers like HTC and Huawei to have it pre-installed on devices readied for sale in India. Responding to customer requests, they are also planning to launch a paid subscription service, which will allow subscribers to download tracks onto their phones and listen to content offline.
Bhat says Saavn is keeping focused on cleaning up and uploading all of the content it has access to, and let out the apps it has in the works. But there's still more to come. "It's completely logical for us to roll out things in video music videos, and a movie subscription service," Bhat says, to host streaming videos and even movies. Given Saavn exec's existing connections to India's cable industry (cofounder Paramdeep Singh in his pre-Saavn days would license Hollywood movies to major Indian broadcasters) and connections to Bollywood (as a third-party music licencers)—that claim doesn't seem all that outrageous.