Indian Streamer Gaana Closes for Free Users, Goes Subscription-Only

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MUMBAI — Indian audio-streaming service Gaana has transformed itself into a subscription-only platform — a move the company made in a last-ditch attempt to save itself after extensive talks to be acquired by rival Bharti Airtel fell through.

The Indian streamer, which claims it has 185 million monthly active users, made the move on Friday (Sept. 9). Users attempting to stream a track on the service encounter an audio message telling them that “to continue streaming your favorite music, subscribe to Gaana Plus at only 299 rupees ($3.75 approximately) per year and get one month’s subscription for free. Unlock more than 40 million songs, unlimited downloads, live events, and exclusive content in high-definition sound quality.”

The development, first reported by Reuters, was conveyed to labels and assorted partners — including distributors like Believe and collecting societies like PDL — in an email sent by Sachin Kamble, Gaana’s head of content and partnership. The email, the contents of which Billboard gained access, mentions the streamer’s inability to “bring in fresh investments due to concerns of unit economics of free users” and notes that discussion of an acquisition “has also fallen through.”

Though Kamble does not name Airtel, Billboard confirmed last month from multiple sources that the telecom, which operates the Wynk Music streaming platform, was the company in question.

In a statement sent to Billboard on Friday, a Gaana spokesperson said the email was sent “in the course of private negotiations” and that “Gaana is a strong business that is increasing its focus on subscription business with an intent to be a lasting company for years to come.”

Moving to a subscription-only model will prove a risky proposition in India’s price-sensitive market where less than 1% of the total user base for audio-streaming services are paying customers. For instance, Danish streaming service Moodagent, which launched in India without an ad-supported tier in June 2021, shut down globally after 10 months in the market.

Kamble added in the email that the company is “at a crossroads” and faces the decision to “either wind down or find a way to continue.” He asked for support for the decision to close streaming for paid users and move to a paid-only model. “We will need your support on this or else we will have to shut down completely,” he wrote.

Kamble’s message concludes by saying that the company is “looking into any pending claims” by the email’s industry recipients “in the coming few weeks.”

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