It's been around 2 years since WorldSpace hit the Indian market. For the uninitiated, WorldSpace is the world's first digital satellite radio network. Started as a single channel free service in its early days, it went on to become a yearly fee based subscription. It won't work with the standard AM/FM Radios and requires a special radio, which is a satellite receiver, and comes at a cost of 1800 onwards.
Being a prospective consumer first and a marketing student later, an obvious question is why I will invest when I have some 5 free FM channels ringing for my ears. The USP according to the company is in 3 Cs: Choice, Clarity and Coverage.
- Choice - over 40 music channels with out ads
- Clarity - very obvious as it's digital, delivering near CD quality sound
- Coverage – delivered almost everywhere.
I am not much impressed. And so are others if you go by the subscription figures. The problems are many. So let's dissect the case –
- Pricing: WorldSpace yearly subscription is at rs. 1800 but doesn't deliver value. It have little over 40 channels but only a mix of 5-7 channels interests an average Indian. So according to me the pricing should be per channel basis but I think its technically difficult to implement(not really sure though)
- Alternate Music? : If you go through the list of channels, apart from 2-3 channels, most of them provide alternative music which has its own set of followers but won't appeal to masses. Niche content will not get subscription figures, a fact which Mid-Day's Go 92.5 learnt the hard way.
- Niche Player: Taking cue from the above point – WorldSpace would like to be a niche player as it doesn't need huge subscription figures to sell to an advertiser. Agreed. But Radio being a mass communication product and the kind of technology used by WorldSpace definitely needs subscription to stop it from bleeding
- Portability: Ice age, Stone Age, Iron Age and now it's an iPod age. Mp3 players and phones are plenty. And with memory space being no constraint, you can carry your world of music where ever you go. WorldSpace, too, works almost anywhere but I would defiantly not move around with a stereo box in my bag.
- Piracy: Almost any thing to do with online – be it music, eBooks, software – is bogged by the piracy bug. With mp3s freely available on the net, one can make his favorite collection to fill in the gigs in ones player and never hear a song which he dislikes. And for those averse to piracy, will be more than happy with downloading legal and cheaper music
- Competition: WorldSpace is in direct competition with FM radio players. We must come to believe that we live in free times. Though there is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is always a free sponsored (read: advertised) lunch. FM Radio players with their ad supported free service are widely accepted and difficult to break. While there's is nothing stopping WorldSpace to shift its revenue model, there are few competitive advantages FM has :
- FM Radio has gained popularity is because of its integration with mobiles and car stereos, who form a huge base of listeners. ( Related to Point 2 )
- According to me, radio is also more about local content than anything else which is out of question for WorldSpace. This holds true specially when we have calamity like the Mumbai floods
All said and done - the technology is surely rocking and ahead of its time. And if issues like content, portability and pricing are tackled, which I am pretty sure they will be, WorldSpace will definitely get a warm welcome in My Space.