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iTunes at last! But there are the others

Priyanka Joshi  |  New Delhi 

Every time Apple launches a new product, service or software upgrade, consumers can’t help but get hysterical. It happened last week, too, when Apple announced Indian consumers can now buy music, films and even rent videos on iTunes store (just like their counterparts in the US).

Industry data reveal smartphone users are some of the heaviest consumers of music, with 42 per cent claiming to have a collection of between 2,000 and 5,000 songs. So, the biggest glitch, as we see it, is the willingness of consumers to pay for legal and quality content.

Apple iTunes is entering a market already crowded with players like Hungama, Nokia Music store, Flipkart’s digital store called Flyte, and many other free content streaming sites in India which at the moment have big libraries and a better understanding of local flavours. So, it remains to be seen how successful Apple will be in selling content to Indian consumers (specially to the hordes of iPod, iPad, iPhone, Macbook and other web-connected device owners) who till now relied on not-so-legal sites to download (free of cost) content on their hard drives.

Here’s our comparison of existing digital content stores.

In February 2012, e-commerce site Flipkart launched its own digital music store called Flyte with a library of over a million tracks from 150,000 unique albums. The store reportedly crossed 6,00,000 downloads in August.

We figured that Flyte offers music in downloadable MP3 format but without any DRM-like restrictions (like Hungama in one of the subscription packs) which means users can listen to purchased music on any connected computer or mobile device. Flyte offers music content at varying bitrates — between 64kbps and 320 kbps — based on the tracks chosen. The big advantage is that user can choose songs for as low as Rs 6 a track and Rs 25 an album. Here it scores over iTunes.

Like its peers, Flyte, too, allows users to listen to a 30-second sample of the song before adding it to the shopping cart. Another plus for Flyte users is that they can make the payment using online banking, credit or debit cards or Flipkart Wallet (pre-paid like model) to pay for music purchases. Flipkart does not offer Cash on Delivery (COD) for digital music. Also, for some reason Flyte allows to download each song a maximum of four times, including the initial download after purchase.

While browsing the music catalog online, we figured that the international music lists could have been curated better. For instance, in section where English albums and songs are categorised according to era, the page kept redirecting us to an empty ‘Devotional & Spiritual’ page. There’s no reason for us to complain on the sheer variety offered by Flyte, which seemed to cover latest as well as classic albums from Bollywood.

Where is lags in comparison to Hungama and iTunes is that it has no video content for users.

The newest kid on the block, Apple’s store lends an advantage to Apple device owners. All those iPods, iPads, iPhones, Macbooks and iMacs now have a single-click option to rent movies, videos and buy songs and albums, as long as they have a credit card and are comfortable sharing its details with Apple. For now, the company offers no other form of payment for content download.

The music selection on iTunes looks big enough with many classic and latest titles from international artists. At Rs 9 a song for an old Bollywood piece to Rs 15 for the latest number, Apple users may not exactly line up to download legal (good quality) songs yet. Arguably, India fans are getting it real cheap since in the US the minimum price per song on iTunes is $0.99.

Film content, we felt, has not been curated properly yet. For instance, both music and films seem to be categorised under misleading labels. In ‘Browse by Decade’ section for decade 2010s, less than 15 titles were listed or the ‘Thriller’ section showed just four film titles for purchase and rent. That’s kind of limited, we feel. But the sweet deal is that Apple is offering a standard definition film (for rent up to 30 days) for as low as Rs 80 and for Rs 250, the user can also buy the title. For high definition latest film titles, users can rent the same for Rs 120 or buy at Rs 390.

iTunes, internationally has some of the most diverse content as part of its offering and we hope the company will be able to bring its international film and music library for Indian audience, too.

We loved the fact that Apple’s iTunes Match, a service that replaces bad quality songs (with 256 Kbps AACs files) from the user’s music library with tracks from iTunes and makes them available in the cloud. Also, it automatically syncs playlists and purchases between all your devices, saves on storage space by streaming music from iCloud directly (so long as a reliable data connection is available) and is priced at Rs 1,200 for a whole year.

A feature we missed on iTunes was TV shows, which offer some great content to Apple’s US consumers. If only this section — complete with US, British shows or even Indian old tele-serials in high quality — is offered at a reasonable price, it would definitely speed up iTunes’ adoption among the local digital natives.

While iTunes’ content can be also accessed by any web-connected PC, the question remains why would non-Apple device owners pay for the limited selection offered by the company as against the many other free (eg, content from sites that stream content real-time) and other paid resources available on the internet.

Nokia’s music store has been in market for a couple of years now, and has built a solid music catalog of over 4.5 million songs. The biggest advantage the store offers to customers is operator-led billing service for Nokia Music Store for Vodafone India and Idea Cellular subscribers. Credit card usage for digital purchases is just about taking off in India, and Nokia was quick to realise that by allowing users to pay via their monthly post-paid bill or via pre-paid balance will quickly widen Nokia Music Store’s reach. And it did. A library that spans across 16 Indian languages, Nokia has been able to clock 1.4 million song downloads a day.

Also, the Finnish major has figured that giving all-you-can-eat subscriptions to users is a better way to do business than price/song. Subscriptions start at about Rs 50 for 7 days and go up to Rs 250 for 90 days. Taxes and GPRS or 3G data charges are applicable as per usage and customers’ plan. Again, users get to keep all the music downloaded even after the subscription has ended. Since all tracks are DRM free, users can share them across any platform or transfer to devices via Bluetooth, USB, e-Mail, etc.

As far the content is concerned, Nokia has done a great job of curating music into relevant song playlists, charts, etc. There seems to be an exhaustive collection of regional, Bollywood and latest international titles on the store. The store has ample collection of titles from music labels like T-Series, Yashraj Music, Saregama, BIG Music and Venus.

For now, Nokia does not have any movie on its store.

Hungama was probably one the few digital media companies that started a digital store. Last week, the company updated its site that allowed users to stream content, in addition to offering the ability to buy. Today, the store has 2.5 million pieces of content — music tracks, movies, music videos and dialogues, mobile content. allows to download a single track DRM free at Rs 10 and for Rs 99, users get to download 99 DRM free content pieces. Hungama’s unlimited pack (Rs 99), gives DRM protected content and these can’t be transferred to another device. Hungama movies streaming service allows to stream unlimited HD movies for Rs 249 a month (cheaper than Apple) and unlimited standard definition movies for Rs 149 a month.

With the Hungama Music Cloud Service, the company offers users to add their music library to the cloud and access it via their connected devices like PCs, mobile phones, laptops, tablets and TVs (a feature similar to Apple’s). The service is for free (unlike Apple that charges Rs 1,200 a year) and comes with unlimited storage space.

As far as library goes, Hungama has quite a variety. It has digital distribution rights for T-Series, YRF Music, Universal Music, EMI Warner, Ananda Audio, etc for music, and for Bollywood films, the platform sources content from Yash Raj Films, T-Series, Reliance Home Video, Balaji Telefilms, Cineyug, Excel Entertainment, Ultra and Shemaroo, etc. The supply chain covers the length and breadth of local Indian film and music market. You can't rent videos, like Apple iTunes, on Hungama platform.

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First Published: Mon, December 10 2012. 00:00 IST