Bollywood films weren’t always the colorful song-and-dance musicals with which we associate them today. India was an early adopter of the silent film, and in 1913, entrepreneurs flocked to build a nationwide network of studios, cinemas, and talent agencies. This network was the first to spread a common cultural identity across a fragmented collection of cultures known today as India. When the talkie arrived in 1931, musically inclined entrepreneurs quickly recognized the film industry’s sprawling network as a nationwide publicity platform for artists. And so the Bollywood musical was born, as a partnership between film studios and musicians. Initially, intermediary companies partnered artists with films based on projected audience preferences. In a win-win deal for both parties, music-lovers hoping to hear the next big hit drove ticket sales for film studios, and musicians received a vehicle through which they could showcase their songs to a nationwide audience.
This model worked. In fact, it worked so well that a music industry beyond it never really developed. Over the next century—while the West sprouted a thriving infrastructure of labels, distributors, A&R networks, and an IP regulatory system—India relied on the same, largely unregulated model: artist-film partnerships.
Today, this model has evolved into a gatekeeping ecosystem in which Bollywood holds the exclusive route to mainstream publicity for artists.
But that’s all changing with streaming. In the past year, major players like Google Play, Apple Music, and Amazon Prime Music all joined local platforms in a dogfight for market leadership in streaming. The advent of streaming brings to India a democratized avenue for content creators to reach international audiences while bypassing the Bollywood juggernaut. The indie revolution has arrived in India, and with it, a threat to the longstanding artist-film partnership model.
In India, the burden rests on these streaming services to lure customers away from a longstanding tradition of receiving their music as the cherry on top of the film, and in convincing them to pay the average monthly subscription rate of rs.99 (roughly $1.50).
Until this happens, India’s film industry will remain a unique case study in how unregulated partnerships can create a gatekeeper monopoly inverse to the old model in the West.