“WorldSpace has been the background score at my home for almost a decade. It’s really sad to see it go,” said Udupa, a 26-year-old Bangalore-based product manager at Yahoo! India.
The announcement didn’t come as a total surprise. WorldSpace India’s parent company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US in 2008. The filings did not cover Indian operations and executives said at the time the service would continue uninterrupted. That was not to be.
Consumers who have paid up for services beyond December 2009 stand to lose their money or patiently wait for bankruptcy proceedings in the US to untangle claims. The email to subscribers said their contracts are with WorldSpace Inc, the US company. The mail includes contact details for subscribers, if they wish to be listed as creditors of the company.
“It is possible that the Indian entity was an agent that only forwarded the money and the contractual liability to provide the service was with the US company. It all depends on the arrangement. If that is indeed the case, subscribers will have no option but to stand in line with other creditors,” said Zia Mody, managing partner at law firm AZB & Partners.
WorldSpace is unique in many ways. In a country notorious for its unwillingness to pay for , the service has some 4.5 lakh paying subscribers. These consumers paid on an average around Rs 1,800 for a year’s subscription for music they could never hope to hear on a local . WorldSpace operated 36 channels with a wide range of genres, including regional language music. Channels such as Maestro (western classical), Riff (jazz) and Orbit (classic rock) were hugely popular. There is no other similar service in India.
FM stations in India are all supported by advertising, which means they gain from having the most listeners. This inevitably results in nearly all the channels playing the same music — the latest tracks from new .
For those who cared about what they were listening to, WorldSpace was a huge relief from this uniform, sometimes offensive, soundscape.
The service also provided an easy solution to small businesses such as restaurants, cafes and bars that wanted to play ambient music that was free of advertising, would suit the time of the day and the mood of the customers. This is the secret of many of Goa’s beachside shack-owners who effortlessly display an eclectic taste in . ICICI Bank recently started placing WorldSpace receivers at its ATMs.
Airtel Digital TV, the DTH service from the telecom operator, comes with bundled WorldSpace subscription. A large portion of WorldSpace’s subscriber base comes from this bundling. It’s unclear what will happen to Airtel Digital TV subscribers’ listening options.
“We are yet to receive any communication on this matter from World Space,” a spokesman for Airtel said.