Saregama India, after hitting rock bottom in the latter half of the last decade owing to the onslaught of downloaded songs, has staged a comeback this year by riding on Carvaan, a pre-loaded retro-looking musical device. With this, the decades-old offline music company — which belongs to the RP Sanjiv Goenka (RP-SG) Group and owns the largest repertoire of Indian music — has not only used technology intelligently to get a new lease of life, but also reported the highest ever annual prof in its history. Saregama India — earlier known as HMV, the oldest entertainment company in the country (from the Gramophone Company days) and once synonymous with popular Bollywood songs — in fiscal 2017-18 netted about Rs 30 crore in profit from a revenue of nearly Rs 350 crore. The profit was just Rs 1.5 crore a decade back.
In the last few years, too, its profit margin was languishing at a single-digit level. In 2016-17, Saregama had reported Rs 6.2 crore, while in 2014-15, it became Rs 6.8 crore. Boosted by the huge popularity of the retro-looking device that can store up to 5,000 songs, the company is now hoping to do even better this fiscal. RP-SG Group chairman Sanjiv Goenka told that Carvaan has revolutionised the Indian music industry once again. “This (Carvaan) is the biggest disruption in the music industry now after the arrival of downloads and internet music in the last decade. It is technologically driven but yet easy to use,” he added. When every other marketer is struggling to understand and attract millennials and centennials towards their brands, you often wonder who’s thinking about their seniors and super seniors. They make up 1/3rd of India’s population, a significantly large consumer group. And they have the spending power often found lacking in Gen Z.
In comes Saregama’s Carvaan – a sight for sore eyes (and music to your ears) both literally and figuratively. Designed by Saregama and assembled (by the company) in the Shenzhen metropolis of China, 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 if you wish to.
Launched in May’17, Carvaan is targeted at the 40 plus audience. How Carvaan came into being is a long story – one with several pivotal characters and plot twists. It started with several rounds of ground-research in late 2014/early 2015, shortly after Vikram Mehra joined Saregama as its MD, after his stint at Tata Sky as the chief commercial officer. Simultaneously, Mehra had a conversation with Kawal Shoor and Navin Talreja (who were on their way to set up their independent agency – The Womb) about making Saregama relevant for the younger crowd. Shoor and Talreja presented several ideas, one of them was making a feature film that would bring the youth closer to brand Saregama. Little did they know that very soon they would be pivoting their strategic minds to bringing Saregama closer to the older crowd.
One of the strongest triggers for the pivot, as Mehra recalls, was an incident from one of his research-visits: “A lady in Kanpur, who for some reason decided to call me “beta” said that the days of ‘Vividh Bharati’ used to be great. We didn’t know which song would be next but it kept playing on. Things are very complicated now.” She was right, of course. Cassettes and CDs are obsolete these days, and the older crowd still avoids complicated apps fearing a press of a button will unleash something they don’t understand and can’t control.
This made Mehra keep the ‘younger crowd issue’ on a back burner and do something to bridge the gap between the older crowd and Saregama’s existing vast library, in a profitable way. “In the realm of confidentiality, we bounced off a few ideas we were thinking for Saregama with our other clients,” recalls Talreja. In one of these chats, Darshan Patel, founder of Vini Cosmetics and a client of The Womb’s, suggested coming out with a product that has film music classified on the basis of artist’s name. Further discussions between Mehra and The Womb kept evolving the product. By end of 2015, the blueprint for Saregama Carvaan was ready.
Saregama released a portable digital audio player with 5,000 Hindi songs, Saregama Carvaan. Now, the company has gone ahead and launched a premium variant of the same, which has built on all the consumer feedback they have collected since the launch of the original Carvaan. The Saregama Carvaan Premium is accompanied with a companion app available for both iOS and Android. The companion app lets users connect their smartphones to the Carvaan Premium and choose the song they want to hear.
It also lets them create playlists which are then programmed onto the device. The new companion app is an addition to how the user can control the music system, instead of using the jog dials on the device. The original Carvaan came with over 80 stations dedicated to singers, lyricists, and music composers. In addition to the 80+ stations, the Carvaan Premium also comes with over 50 new stations dedicated to actors and actresses like Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. Additionally, Carvaan Premium also comes with support for AM Radio and a 3.5mm audio input jack.
Carvaan Mini 2.0
Saregama has launched the successor of the Carvaan Mini in India. The Saregama Carvaan Mini 2.0 is an upscaled version with more Hindi songs added to the list, and a new AM/ FM radio mode. The Carvaan Mini 2.0 has been made available exclusively on Flipkart for its Indian customers, and has been priced at Rs. 2,490. The Bluetooth speaker is available in six colour options namely – Sapphire Green, Sunset Red, Regal Blue, Moonlight Black, Skyline Blue, and Mint Green colour options.
The Saregama Carvaan Mini 2.0 integrates 351 Hindi songs, which means 100 new songs have been added to the mix. The pre-loaded songs on Mini 2.0 are evergreen hits from legends like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mohd. Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh. This wireless speaker supports Bluetooth v4.1, and has one USB port for connectivity. It sports an ABS plastic chassis, and takes four hours to fully charge. It offers 2-3 hours of playtime when fully charged.
The Saregama Carvaan Mini 2.0 has three buttons on its left, one to switch on Bluetooth, one for AM/ FM radio mode, and one for the preloaded Saregama music. On its right is the AUX output for attaching your smartphone and listening to music if you wish to, or another speaker. The dimensions are at 110x80x40mm. It retains other design elements from its predecessor. To recall, the original Carvaan Mini was launched last year in September for the same price.
Carvaan Tamil has a collection of over 5,000 preloaded songs, including various tracks from Tamil films as well as devotional and some popular Bollywood songs. There are also vocals and instrumental music by legends such as Dr. M. Balamurlikrishna, N. Ramani, and E. Gayatri. The songs are touted to be handpicked using data analytics run on billions of records of music consumption of users across various various platforms and categories on the basis of singers, lyricists, and music composers. You can pick each of the categories available on the speaker by turning its jog-dial. The Carvaan Tamil also comes with FM radio and USB in addition to Bluetooth connectivity. The speaker includes a battery pack that can last up to five hours.
After launching the Tamil language variant, Saregama is now leveraging their rich repertoire of Bengali music, with the launch of Carvaan Bengali. The digital audio player with in-built speakers, and a host of features like Bluetooth, USB and FM radio, comes with 5000 pre-loaded songs: 4000 from legendary artists from Bengal, cutting across different genres, and 1000 of the most evergreen melodies of Hindi music. The Bengali collection has among other songs, a huge catalogue of authentic Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Geeti. With the launch of this variant, Carvaan Bengali is all set to enter the local Bengali households – and talk to the quintessential Bhadralok Bengali customer, who is well versed with Bengali music across genres. The songs are curated through extensive Big Data analytics that run nearly 17 billion data points that are generated annually every month across all Saregama platforms. Featuring Rabindra sangeet from stalwarts of the genre like Suchitra Mitra, Sagar Sen, Shraboni Sen and Sumitra Sen, and songs of icons like Hemanta Mukherjee, Manna Dey, Arti Mukherjee, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, R. D Burman, Shyamal Mitra, Bhupen Hazarika, Nachiketa Chakrobarty and such like are included. These are then categorized into artists, moods and a special category called Tagore, which the listeners can shuffle between, simply by turning a jog- dial.
Also Carvaan is available in Hindi versions. Saregama’s most awarded and innovative product Carvaan – the digital audio player with 5000 songs inside – was launched successfully last year and has witnessed immense popularity since then. The retro looking device brought back a wave of nostalgia with the people and formed an immediate connect with them. It is also helping introduce the rich heritage of our music to the younger generation.
Saregama has also launched the Marathi version of Carvaan. Tapping into its rich Marathi catalogue, Saregama has put some of the greatest retro Marathi film and non-film music in Carvaan. Carvaan Marathi comes with in-built speakers and 5000 pre-loaded Marathi and Hindi songs, across different genres. The collection features a huge catalogue of evergreen Marathi and Hindi songs from legendary artistes like Lata Mangeshkar, Suresh Wadkar, Master Dinanath Mangeshkar, Sudhir Phadke, Asha Bhosle, Arun Date, Usha Mangeshkar, Suman Kalyanpur, Kishore Kumar, Mohd. Rafi and others. What’s more, there are dedicated stations for Natya Sangeet, Geet Ramayan, Vithu Mauli, Pranay Geet, Bhav Geet, Lok Geet, Happy, Romance and many more. With the launch of this variant, Carvaan Marathi is set to tap into a culturally rich fabric of the Marathi ethos and be a Maharashtrian household’s favourite. It also contains some of the greatest Hindi film songs and the entire Ameen Sayani’s Geetmala recording of 50 years.
It was settled then, that Carvaan will take the shape of a transistor radio. Who came up with the idea of making the product look like a radio is not clear though. Mehra feels there wasn’t a “Eureka” moment as such but a gradual evolution of discussions that led to the design. However, Mehra and The Womb co-founders remember the countless arguments that followed – arguments on which features should or shouldn’t be added to the product. “The idea to add FM came from my former boss Harit Nagpal,” says Mehra. “I met him at Piyush Pandey’s book launch. He said if there’s one thing everyone wants to listen to but doesn’t have in a physical form anymore so it is limited to their car’s accessories – it’s a transistor. Throw that in as well.” The number of pre-loaded songs was debated, so was the bluetooth feature.
“Adding more songs would have had a huge cost implication on us,” says Mehra. The inbuilt memory would have had to be expanded to accommodate them, decisions would have to be made on whether to add more songs from the same artists or include more artists altogether. All this would have further complicated a product they aimed at keeping SIMPLE right from the word ‘play’. The way Shoor likes to put it: “Carvaan is an experience product, but it is supposed to be a convenience product as well.”
Mehra credits his father for the addition of Geetmala. “It was a stray comment from him where he kept nudging me to do something new. Kishore et al is fine, but in our time it was Ameen Sayani who used to be a hit, he’d tell me. And I thought to myself, we have all the rights, why not add the original Geetmala as well.” Carvaan went through interface-testing before it was launched in the market. Younger employees of Saregama would often suggest adding more tech to the product. “But that was a reality check for us – the product was not meant for the younger generation. If the older generation wanted tech, they would have gone to the likes of Gaana and Saavn,” adds Mehra.
Why add a Bluetooth feature then? Mehra explains: “The way we see it – right now the buyer and user of Carvaan are two different segments in that a lot of centennials and millennials are buying it for their parents and older relatives. At some juncture, the user and buyer will merge. That’s why we’re expanding offline retail in smaller towns to be able to reach out to the user directly.” Mehra banks on the insight that as people retire, their intention to spend money on them comes down. They can drop the idea of buying things that can be considered as pure indulgence for them. Adding a Bluetooth feature ensures there’s something in it for their younger generation too. None of these decisions were taken in isolation, of course. Mehra says, “There was nothing that wasn’t bounced off of these guys (The Womb). With most creative agencies, the conversation is about ‘how’ to sell. With them, it was also about ‘what’ to sell right from the beginning,” he adds.