NEW DELHI, November 24
Despite being a 'with it' concept swathed in cutting-edge technology, the primary question of DTH audio is that will the idea find takers in India?
US-based WorldSpace, for one, is counting on the fact that it will. The corporation - founded in 1990 to provide direct digital audio and multimedia services through satellite to the emerging markets of Asia, Africa, and Latin America - has just sunk $3 million in the country, and is planning to invest another $25 million over the next three years. And though several other players are hopping on to the multimedia-to-household wagon, WorldSpace feels that it can make a difference. By being different.
"Through any other service, you need a middle interface - either a PC or a TV. With one of our receivers, nothing stands between you and the satellite," says M. Sebastian, director, business development, WorldSpace Corporation. The proposition that WorldSpace is trying to put forward is that its service can be accessed anywhere, anytime, with "crystal-clear clarity".
The network consists of three geo-stationary satellites that provide three beams capable of delivering more than 40 channels of crystal-clear audio and multimedia programming directly to portable receivers. These receivers fall in the price range of Rs 4,990 to Rs 11,990.
WorldSpace is naturally looking for the first-mover advantage in a market that it estimates to be around 170 million homes. According to WorldSpace, the service was launched after eight rounds of market surveys, conducted all over India, in both rural and urban areas, targeting around 12,000 homes.
However, to get an edge in the already crowded market of multimedia service providers, the company will have to really differentiate itself to gain acceptance. The big question is, how is WorldSpace going to convince the average Indian listener that it is worth investing in a receiver?
Consider WorldSpace's offerings. The channels that it provides are tailored to suit an international cosmopolitan audience - 24x7, a virtual dance club featuring the latest worldwide dance hits; Ultra Pop, pop music from the biggest international stars; Bob, for the latest rock music; plus a jazz channel, a country music channel, African and African-influenced music and European classical music. Except for perhaps the African music, the rest is a staple fare on FM radio.
The market reality in India is not very encouraging either. In the early 90s, when many music channels hit the FM market, consumer response showed that when it came to music, other than the occasional foray into alternative music, most listeners preferred popular music. So much so that some of All India Radio's (AIR) FM programmes which were devoted to western classical music, floundered.
Then there is the added problem of non-exclusivity. Many of the services that the WorldSpace provides, such as African music or the jazz music channel, can be easily accessed on Internet sites such as MP3.com or napster.com.
The company has launched an aggressive direct marketing initiative to reach out to the consumer - WorldSpace music is being piped directly to 36 shopping complexes in Bangalore. And in a bid to get listeners, WorldSpace has also tied up with broadcasters such as AIR and RM Radio, from Aisanet.
To get an edge over other multimedia providers in the US and Canada, WorldSpace has specialized programmes such as EARZ, a children-only channel, and LETTERS, targeted at an international adult audience, with such unique features as Shakespeare's plays on air.
The fate of the India service will depend on how far the corporation is able to convince the Indian listener that there is a world of music out there, quite different from the fare that he is so addicted to.
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