WorldSpace, Inc., officially renamed “1WorldSpace,” discontinued its satellite radio services for subscribers in India yesterday, after a last-minute email notice to subscribers and employees in India. According to the Economic Times, the estimated 4.5 hundred thousand subscribers (though many other reports indicate much lower numbers, at around 170,000) who will lose their service will not be reimbursed for prepaid services by the company. They have been instructed to claim themselves as creditors of WorldSpace, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in the United States last October, and wait until “sometime early next year” for a response.
According to its website, this service termination occurred because “the potential buyer of much of WorldSpace’s global assets has decided not to buy the WorldSpace assets relating to and supporting WorldSpace’s subscription business in India.” Although the company’s website claims to provide service to around the world including Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, India still constitutes its biggest market at around 95% of its subscriber base. Immediately after its notice to subscribers, a Facebook advocacy group for WorldSpace popped up with over 500 members so far.
The question to be asked now is why this “potential buyer,” which is likely Liberty Media, the same U.S. media giant that recently saved Sirius XM from bankruptcy with a $530 million investment and ownership deal, decided to forgo the purchase?
Could the decision be related to recent policy drafting in India that sought to cap Foreign Direct Investment in satellite radio (which had been operating without any restrictions since World Space’s inception nearly a decade ago)? In an article by DNA India (cached link) entitled “Satellite Radio Policy to be Shelved,” a policy capping Foreign Direct Investment in satellite radio to 74% is described to have been tabled in light of WorldSpace’s service termination in India.
WorldSpace was India’s sole satellite radio broadcaster. Without it, there is no need to ratify any restrictive policy that potentially would have caused problems for the U.S. based company (that uplinks from Singapore) or— better yet—its new American investor, Liberty Media. There’s also the question of WorldSpace’s European properties. According to The Register, WorldSpace has already purchased, “the rights to the upper (12.5MHz wide) block in Switzerland Germany and Italy” and has “a footprint that covers the UK.”
WorldSpace offered 36 multi-genre channels of non-commercial music for subscribers who “cared about what they were listening to.” It was a break from the “uniform, sometimes offensive, soundscape,” of new Bollywood hits and came with Satellite TV subscriptions. It was also a favorite by restaurants and banks wanting to provide commercial-free music to customers.
I don’t know what going to happen to satellite radio in India after this. But the overwhelming reaction of Indian subscribers suggests that even in a country famous for its very unique, colorful, and vibrant Bollywood industry hits, stations like Jhankar, Spandana, Farishta, and Voyager—among many others—will surely be missed.
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