WorldSpace India rises from ashes

Chris Forrester

Now emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, WorldSpace’s successor company is talking up its prospects for an all-India service. WorldSpace says it will have its own DTH service up and running next year.

WorldSpace’s India service has not been involved in the core company’s bankruptcy. However, WorldSpace India has also to find local investors as partners in order to meet Indian broadcasting regulations. Once that hurdle has been overcome then within 10 months WorldSpace says it will roll out its service.

“Non-availability of terrestrially augmented satellite radio services in India that enable satellite radio service in automobiles is purely due to regulatory hurdles. If that is cleared, by the finalisation of the new Satellite Radio Policy by the Government, we can roll-out the same for the Indian consumers in the next eight to ten months," says WorldSpace MD (India and Middle East) Mathewkutty Sebastian.

Meanwhile, WorldSpace India is earning a little cash from the distribution of some of its channels on the local Airtel DTH pay-TV bouquet.

However, it is far from clear that WorldSpace India will achieve overall success. Despite being available in India for many years as a DTH service it has struggled to achieve – or hold onto significant subscriber numbers. One of the intrinsic problems has been the absence of terrestrial repeaters – and a formal licence to transmit. A formal licence to operate will allow WorldSpace to roll out terrestrial repeaters, initially to India’s main cities.

There’s another problem. There is ready praise for WorldSpace’s audio quality over India, and its music choice. Three or 4 years ago this mattered – and might still matter. But in the past few years the number of FM stations has mushroomed, especially in the main conurbations and amongst some of the nation’s Middle Class. FM radio’s reach grew 4.92% in Q1, with a total reach of 13.8%, or 117m listeners. ‘Ordinary’ AM radio reaches 180m listeners, and a reach of 21.1%.