Saavn, India’s Spotify, dances to a different tune

“Almost everybody does iOS first and Android second,” remarked Rishi Malhotra when I met him in San Francisco recently. But Saavn, the Indian music service whose President and COO Malhotra is, took a different route and started with Android(s GOOG). An iPhone (s AAPL) app did come next, but Saavn doesn’t stop there: The company is now working on clients for BlackBerry (s RIMM), Symbian (s NOK) and the feature-phone platform J2ME. BlackBerry alone could get the company two million new users, he told me.
Saavn has been hailed as India’s Spotify: A streaming music service that offers access to Bollywood music and Indian classics, with a total catalog of more than a million tunes. Much like Spotify, Saavn has been heavily profiting from Facebook’s Open Graph; the company has signed up more than two million Facebook users since partnering with the social network in December. But in many aspects, Saavn’s story is very different from Spotify’s – and its unique take on mobile is just one example.
Check out my video interview with Malhotra, or continue reading below:

Bollywood for Brazil

Saavn started out as a B2B company, licensing Indian music and movies to services like Hulu and iTunes. The company went on to launch its own music service in 2010, and has since been shifting to focus on to concentrate on the service. Saavn offers users a chance to play entire Bollywood albums for free.
The service is ad-supported, and Saavn has been spending much of last year on growing its user base and building out its product. This year, it will focus on revenue, Malhotra told me. It has started to sign up some major advertisers and will introduce a subscription level this quarter. Paying users will get music without ads as well as offline playback capabilities.
Does that sound a lot like Spotify again? Then consider this: Saavn owns the worldwide rights to the music it is offering, and the service has been clocking users from more than 200 countries. India is most prominent, but there’s also a big community of Facebook users from Brazil who seem to like Bollywood music.

No movies – yet

The biggest difference to Spotify may however be the music itself. Bollywood tunes follow different rules, which require different features: Just as important as the singers are the actors and the movie they’re from, so Saavn is considering all of this additional metadata when searching for songs.
Speaking of movies: Much has been made out of Saavn’s connections to the motion picture industry, both in India and in the U.S., where the company is based. After all, Saavn has already been distributing movies to Hulu. So why not start its own movie service? Malhotra admitted that the company has been considering this, but said that it will fully concentrate on music for the next 12 to 18 months. He also said that much of its product would work for video as well, and added: “In India, the music is the marketing for the movie.” Which may make a successful music service the perfect promotion for an online video venture.