Sunnyvale to Bangalore, Dhingana rides India’s music cloud

Shinde brothers

Time was, Indian online media meant shoehorning digital content in to low-end Nokia phones, struggling with slow landline broadband pipes or just dialling on-demand phone lines.

But, just as western digital music services like Spotify and Rdio are rolling out to new countries around the world, a similar Indian service, working over HTML5 and latest smartphones, shows India is growing a cloud-centric digital media market of its own.

Dhingana claims 10.5 million active monthly users for its mostly Hindi Bollywood movie soundtracks, boasts of serving over 100 million minutes of music per month and says its mobile apps for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and, yes, Nokia are downloaded 10,000 times each day.

The service may trade on an offering highly targeted for local tastes, but Dhingana is headquartered in Silicon Valley’s Sunnyvale. Founding brothers Snehal and Swapnil Shinde are product refugees from nearby Yahoo.

“There are two religions in India,” CEO Snehal (pictured, left) tells paidContent. “Bollywood and cricket.

“Unlike in the U.S., where these are two separate businesses, 99 percent of music in India is part of the movies. Hence, the opportunity in India is fivefold compared to the U.S..”

Whilst it may not sound like it, Dhingana, which means a joyous frenzy, certainly looks and feels every inch the modern online music service built in the valley…

Its in-web player remains on-screen as listeners move from page to page, while users can create and share playlists and can rate tracks. Feeding listeners’ habits out through Facebook’s graph  has seen users of the social network listen for double the time.

It could be Rdio, Deezer, Mog, or We7. But Dhingana has the local tunes and the existing market exposure – something western rivals should remember as they weigh whether to extend their current globalisation efforts to India. Dhingana’s 10.5 million active users compares with the 10 million Spotify last disclosed (though this is likely higher now).

Google already launched its first Google Music service, similarly focusing on Bollywood tunes, in India 2010, before doing so in the west in 2011. Other local operators include Nokia, 7digital and Saavn.

Despite the highly local repertoire, only 60 percent of Dhingana’s users are in India. Most of the remaining 40 percent are in America. Dhingana has global rights to stream Bollywood tracks from over 300 labels – rare simplicity in a music business fraught with fractured, territorial licensing.

So what are Dhingana’s prospects?

“The business model is similar to that of Pandora and Spotify,” Snehal Shinde tells paidContent.

“We expect 90 percent of our revenues from branded and premium advertising – banner, rich media, audio and video – and 10 percent via subscriptions.”

(In fact, the majority of Spotify’s revenue is subscriptions, not ads).

The 12-person outfit, which has offices in Pune, India, took a first funding round in February 2011 from Helion and Inventus. Breakeven is targeted for 2014, Shinde has previoulsy said (via MediaNama).

“We will start ramping up our revenue efforts starting Q3 of 2012,” Shinde tells paidContent, without detailing.

“On the content side, we plan to go even deeper into each language and continue to have the biggest legal Indian music content.”

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