Vikram Mehra Managing Director SAREGAMA, talks about the journey behind the global success of ‘Carvaan’ and how this disrupt took the Digital Music Industry by storm. Today, its new premium variant ‘Carvaan Premium’ is yet again ready to make waves. Read on to explore more in his intriguing conversation with Priyaankaa Mathur

Tell us about the idea behind ‘Carvaan’

I’ll begin with a small piece of a story how Carvaan came into being, “I joined SAREGAMA in 2014 end and it was when the physical CDs were finished and digital was progressing. It was a time when the industry was dealing with the notion that consumers doesn’t want to pay for music, because the times had changed. This kept bothering me,as I believed that why won’t a consumer pay if he’s given a value for money, who are these consumers after all, they are people like us. So we conducted a qualitative study to find the music consumption behaviour across 23 different cities in India to find what kind of music are they listening to and what are the issues that they are facing right now?

The moment we went out of the 4 metros, a very dramatic picture revealed, that the people who loved SAREGAMA music and were dedicated listeners of all the great legends Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar, told us that we were not sharing our music with them, although we were present on all the digital platforms like Gaana, Saavan etc. We further probed and found another fact that the consumers between 35-40 and beyond faced a fear of technology, as they were not comfortable with the new apps on the phones and were worried if money would be deducted at the press of a button on their mobile phones, most of them thus used it for free apps like Facebook, WhatsApp or for calling only.”

“There came another interesting insight by a lady who told me that, radio was the best thing they used to have, that brought to them their favourite songs all day as it played in the Indian households and the entire family listened to it while doing their daily chores. So for me it was a turning point, as I tried finding out a way where we could package digital with the convenience of physical. After a dedicated research we came out with ‘Carvaan’ that was indeed a marriage of the digital with the physical which was more like a heavy duty portable digital player, similar to an older generation transistor, that operated with just pressing of a button with built in speakers loaded with 5000 Hindi songs, that could also be tuned in to FM Radio, and most importantly without any operational complications, Ideal for people who just wanted to sit back and relax.

‘Carvaan’ a disrupt that created waves in the industry, was that a strategic decision to enter the disrupt product category?

Carvaan is a huge rage in the disruptive category. It was the time when the industry was only talking about digital, we created ‘Carvaan’ a physical entity at that time, that became the biggest disruption in the music industry, also because it was not to target the under 30, gen Y or Z millennials, but their seniors and super seniors, a significantly large consumer group, that have the spending power often found lacking in Gen Z. As a Brand, SAREGAMA chose to cater to that segment. I think brands are missing the trick, as they are going after the youngsters who are big in numbers but don’t have money in the pockets!

What was the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was to convince our tech savvy youngsters in the company to create a product for an elder generation, which needs to have the latest technology but will be very simple on the periphery. So it was a gradual evolution of discussions that led to the design that was decided that Carvaan will take the shape of a transistor radio. There were also countless arguments with the Womb co-founders on which features should or shouldn’t be added to the product. The idea to add FM came from my former boss Harit Nagpal who said if there’s one thing everyone wants to listen to but doesn’t have a physical form today is a transistor that is only limited to our car’s accessories. Also, the number of pre-loaded songs were debated, so came the bluetooth feature. We overcame it because we were very clear about out TG, that was 40 plus audience and created the right product for them.

SAREGAMA came up with a range of digital products from Carvaan, Carvaan Mini, and now Carvaan Premium, so how has the consumer demands helped bring about this evolution?

Carvaan is a portable digital music player that brings back the look, feel, and charm of a transistor radio. Along with 5000 old Hindi songs from Saregama’s library classified on the basis of artists and moods, the player also contains original volumes of Binaca Geetmala covering 50 years of Hindi cinema music, hosted by radio’s favourite host Ameen Sayani. The other features include an inbuilt FM, Bluetooth connectivity, and a USB port to both charge the digital player and to plug in more songs from a pen drive.

Caravan Premium is a much evolved model and the new features were added based on the consumer feedback collected over the last few months. The most notable addition is a companion App (iOS and Android) that allows users to choose the song they want to hear or create their own playlist on Carvaan’s premium variant, so if someone wants a monsoon playlist, or listen to all Gulzar songs they can create it now.

This fulfills one of the long-standing consumer demands of choosing the songs they want to listen. You select your song on the app through Bluetooth, as long as carvaan is in the range you can play the song from the app on your phone, the system is smart enough to connect, the consumer can just sit and listen and doesn’t need to do the Bluetooth connectivity. Carvaan Premium now has an additional benefit of AM Radio besides FM Radio. This is basis feedback received from our consumers staying in non FM cities who want Carvaan to double up as a home radio.

The other big consumer feedback was to have stations based on heroes and heroines on which the song was picturized. Carvaan’s premium variant now offers 50+ new stations dedicated to artists like Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Sharmila Tagore, Rishi Kapoor etc. This is in addition to the existing 80+ stations dedicated to the singers, lyricists and music composers. Like in the flagship Carvaan, each of the stations can be selected by turning a jog-dial. Carvaan Premium’s music collection also includes the entire Ameen Sayani’s Geetmala countdown collection spanning 50 years.

There were those youngsters who don’t relate to the yester era, but only to the top songs like ‘O Meri Zohrajabi’ that was also part of the film DDLJ, so Carvaan mini is for that generation and it’s not about the entire catalogue of say Kishore Kumar, but it is only about his hit songs in that particular era with a great Bluetooth connectivity setting in it, and its doing very well in this segment.

You are marketing Carvaan as a gift for parents this Diwali, where do you see this trend coming from?

In US you have this thanksgiving wherein children visit their parents with a bottle of wine. While In India we find a trend of joint families turning into nuclear families, where children work in different cities and visit their parents during Diwali and carry a gift but can’t carry a wine. So they are looking at various options for gifting. Moreover an average 60 years old doesn’t spend much on themselves, So the idea of gifting emerged as we thought of coming up with something that is more emotional and is very personal. So this is a perfect product for the parents as they have been listening to the music from a younger age, Carvaan helps them connect back to their yesteryear and the memories related to their era, we told kids to give that moment back to your parents.

So what’s the net market size you target for Carvaan?

The market sizing is 25 million homes in India that SAREGAMA is targeting assuming per home only one set.  The beauty of 1.3 billion Indians is that they are spread across the world. We have launched in US, Malaysia and Canada, and are reaching UAE, wherever the Indians are we are going to reach them. It’s enthralling to see how many Indians carry Carvaan with them, at the international airport!

What are the revenues that you are targeting?

Carvaan Premium is available at a price point of Rs.7390 while the existing base variant of Carvaan continues to be available in the market at 5990 / 6390, while Carvaan Mini is 2490. So we are giving different price points to the customers and they can buy whatever they are comfortable at. We are targeting selling 750,000 units for Carvaan and all its variants this year, that we can tell so far.

Could you tell more about producing films for Yoodlee?

As part of another research, we found that the older generation was happy with Bollywood and its entertainment, while the younger generation wanted to experience the true life stories and real life, so the whole part of Pirated Hollywood movies were watched by the youngsters. So we probed why this change of choices is happening. Reason being by the time a person reached 35-40 he has been slapped by most of the realities of life, so for them, entertainment is to watch a light comedy or a romantic film. But, today’s youngsters want to have a slice of the reality. So it’s again the power of consumer insight.

Yoodlee is telling you realistic stories that people come across on a daily basis that shake you from within, it has powerful narrations without big stars coming in. It’s all about high concept entertainment. We are coming up with a line-up of 8 -9 films and our 3 films are already on Netflix. There’s a movie called ‘Hamid’ that is soon releasing on various platforms, that has a very intriguing story, a must to watch!

You have a huge repertoire on the online space, how do you see consumers converting from free viewers to paid customers. 

For the online space, we are largely B2B and we license our content through our partners. My inherent belief is that in the next 2-3 years people will be ready to pay for a subscription. With Netflix and Amazon coming in we are seeing an overall shift

SAREGAMA is showcasing regional film content in a big way, could you elaborate on that?

We see a huge success in Tamil Film Music that is very rich and the consumption is huge. We are acquiring a lot of Tamil Film music that is a part of Gaana, Savan, Wink and across digital platforms. We are even thinking of launching a Tamil Carvaan, or make Tamil Serials, web series and Tamil films. Regional film music is very big in their specific regions especially Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali languages.

SAREGAMA happens to be the custodian of Classical Music Genres, So how is the response to your classical music App and Tamil Carvaan Which has Carnatic Music?

We are the owners of the largest Hindustani Classical and Carnatic Music content. Our download to pay ratio is the highest. There are typically two markets where our classical app works its Tamilnadu and California. If you go to Tamil Carvaan one of the three buttons that is of Carnatak Music has M.S Subhalaxmi’s entire catalog and carnatak devotional content, that is selling in Tamilnadu a lot.

How is SAREGAMA promoting Classical Artists, and could you elaborate on the role of record labels in bringing forth new talents and genres?

We at SAREGAMA do not promote artists, but if an artist has a good classical repertoire, we do a record with them under a commercial agreement, since we are not in Artist Management. We are recording classical artists constantly.

There are many music labels like SONY MUSIC and others who do sign up with artists and promote them across genres, there is a lot of scope for everybody in the Industry.

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