Television

WorldSpace launches services in Mumbai

MUMBAI: Here is good news for the discerning music listener in Mumbai fed up of the non-stop Hindi pop being dished out on FM radio stations. WorldSpace Corporation, which claims to be the first global system for satellite, based digital audio and data broadcasting has announced the launch of its services in Mumbai.

The company made a soft launch in the country a couple of years ago and is now looking to penetrate further. A year from now, it expects to have decent coverage in the four major metros.

WorldSpace's president and COO Andy Ras-Work says: "WorldSpace allows the listener to enjoy genre based broadcasting. The advantage is that after hearing Bon Jovi you can be sure that the next track will not come from Britney Spears. Our biggest strength is this consistency in offering. We have 25 Mhz bandwidth licensed across the globe. We cover five billion people. WorldSpace has four key markets - India, China, Europe and South Africa. The next rung of markets comprise the Middle East. The Asiastar satellite has three beams. One of them covers the Indian subcontinent."

WorldSpace India MD K Harish says that as an introductory offer 14 channels are available at a price of Rs 399 for six months. As different offerings come up, prices will keep changing. The challenge for the company was to be audience, linguistic and speciality based. The customer is allowed to choose his schedule. WorldSpace has forged alliances with BPL, Joyeer, AMI and Polytron for satellite receivers. These cost between Rs 5,000-12,000.

Ras-Work pointed out that this are easily portable and can be taken anywhere whether to the kitchen or the beach. Globally 260,000 receivers have been sold so far. In India, the figure thus far is 51,000.

WorldSpace's partners include CNN, BBC, Bloomberg, Radio France Internationale. Ras-Work did not rule out the possibility of tying up with the likes of Aaj Tak and NDTV in the future.

"Right now, I do not have the specifics of who is coming up next. However, we work on the requests of subscribers. If there is a large amount of interest, we approach the broadcasters and service content providers; determine the economic arrangement we can have with them. If it is a win-win situation across the board, then, we take things forward. That is the model we work on," Ras Work says.

Right now, the bulk of the requirements are in the music sphere. For India and Indians residing abroad, WorldSpace has partnered with broadcasters including Radio Indigo in English from the BPL Innovision Group, KL Radio in Tamil from Dinamalar.

Then, there is Farishta, which plays old Hindi tunes, La Jhoom which gives Bollywood buffs the latest sounds emanating from the industry. There is also Gandharv from Prasar Trade. This deals with Indian classical music. The last three are provided from a Singapore based broadcaster. From Asianet there is RM Radio.

For international music lovers, channels include

OrbitRock. This is dedicated to classic rock from the late 1960s and 1970s featuring the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. The Hop plays rock 'n' roll favourites from the likes of Little Richard, Buddy Holly. As its name suggests U Pop allows viewers to sample the latest pop hits from across the globe. Jazz aficionados can check out Riff and soak in the atmosphere created by Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday.

Bas-Work elaborated on the strength of digital

satellite radio thus. "Digital satellite radio has met

with a great deal of success in the US, although there are a large number of FM radio stations. There are enough customers looking for specific music genres. MP3, FM are not enough for them. They want to have a musical experience with a voice that sort of 'walks them through this experience'. They want this 'when and where' they choose. In India, the question being asked was whether people would pay for digital satellite radio or even radio per se. Though the Indian market is different from the US, the same logic over there applies here as well."

WorldSpace also offers multimedia services. However for India, Harish says that the company decided to focus on its core business, which is audio entertainment and information. "Our role in multimedia would be in the data area where we would focus on certain key verticals where we could make a difference. For instance, we have done prototype projects with the marine industry along with the Indian meteorological department. Consumer multimedia is not on our agenda right now because we see that we have a clear competitive differentiator in the audio sphere. So it makes sense for us to finish that off first."

As far as major learnings from the Indian market are concerned, Harish says: "Distribution has to be perfect. The difference between merely being a mass media and mass media that talks directly to the end customer is big. You have to have all the elements in place, which involve having help desks, customer care, call centres amongst others; and at the same time produce content. The back end is very important. We have spent the last two years getting this in place and now we are looking to make the major push."

Harish also said that since the Indian audience is

discerning, many people would aspire for this service.

Music after all, reflects aspects of ones personality

and this would create a critical demand in the

country. Mumbai was chosen first as it is at the

bleeding edge of content demand.

Harish said that initially, the company wanted to find out how customers in the home market, which is Bangalore and the south reacted to the content offering. It was more a case of offering services to those people who bought receivers. Now it has started marketing its content.

WorldSpace's promotional activities are experiential in nature. So the music available on the platform is played in popular hangouts (such as Fire 'n' Ice, Olive, IMAX in Mumbai) as well as in upmarket showrooms like Levis, Nikes. He also added: "It is difficult for us to explain who we are on television and so we are not using that medium at the moment. The wonderful thing is that we have no competition and so we can partner with whoever is appropriate."

As far as future projects are concerned, Ras-Work said that the company was in the process of implementing a XM Satellite radio project for Europe with its European partners. "We are looking at modifying our European satellite in order to launch that service."

This is a car based service and like the service that has been launched in Mumbai it is more subscription based as opposed to relying on advertising. The company is looking at using the African satellite to offer a limited coverage of Europe. "Another source of revenue is social development activities that we have been doing in the US." Ras-Work said.

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