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Song downloads on mobile a hit?

By Priyanka Joshi in New Delhi
May 30, 2006 14:11 IST
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With full song downloads available, Hutch and Airtel look forward to a boom in value-added services...or are they being over-optimistic?

If you are carrying a multimedia mobile - say, a Nokia 6600 or anything fancier - you need to know this: Airtel and Hutch are rubbing their palms in anticipation of your turning into an all-out song download junkie.

The big news now is that it's "full song" downloads being offered by rival services kicked off by the two operators, and that could make all the difference. Especially to those who see half clips and half tones as compromises all too weak to bother with.

Both Airtel and Hutch are offering the service through WAP portals, which can be accessed easily at retail outlets (of which Airtel has a lakh). Handset players are pushing things along, convinced that the "iPod" market opportunity is theirs for the asking - if only the sound quality and download library can be matched.

The new handsets are quite good, and Airtel, with 75 million music downloads logged since 2004, claims a library of 18,000 songs (just around 200 for full download, though).

The later entrant Hutch has an equivalent full-song library, and hopes to close in on Airtel on the others by year-end. Ask Naveen Chopra, chief marketing officer, Hutch, about Hutch's USP, and "our service would speak for itself" is what you hear.

The service premiers with the music of Krissh, in association with Hungama Mobile and Filmkraft, and is compatible with some nine popular Nokia handsets "that are being used by more than 5 lakh Hutch customers". The price, however, is a steep Rs 20 per song. Ditto Airtel.

So: is it really as big an opportunity as Hutch and Airtel think?

After all, the serious music fan is into Internet MP3-format music downloads, which offer speed at lower cost and with wider choice. Of course, mobile music is good for impulse purchases - especially of the referral kind (a friend wants you to hear it straightaway).

But the "sharing" of music peer-to-peer makes the music industry fearful of Napsterisation (illegal sharing, that is), an issue that has scared music labels across the world off mobile operators. Why should India be any different?

Hutch has an answer. "A user has to install a dedicated music player on his handset before he can listen to songs," says Chopra, "This way we ensure that the user is firmly rooted and is on a legal platform while downloading songs."

The songs, he adds, cannot be shared wirelessly unless the user confirms a few technical checkpoints that are unique to every mobile user. (Pssst: Bluetooth hacks have a different story to tell).

At the end, it would have to be ease-of-use that gives mobile music marketers an edge over the alternatives. And, perhaps, the power of package pricing ("take this, get downloads free").

Don't be surprised if you hear someone humming "All I ever wanted... all I ever needed, is ... in my cell phone" down the corridor.

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Priyanka Joshi in New Delhi
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