At a time when radio industry is still awaiting the auctions for the Phase 3 of FM Radio, here is a company that is making a comeback after a long while and this time around it's back in a new avatar with radio on mobile and internet.
The company in question is WorldSpace Radio, the satellite radio service provider. WorldSpace struggled for a long time to survive in India and then shut down operations in December 2009 as the company filed for bankruptcy in the US.
What's interesting is that this time around fans of WorldSpace can listen to music without a WorldSpace receiver. They can listen to music via digital domains of internet, mobile and DTH platforms. And, all this is being made possible by Saregama India Ltd and Bangalore-based Timbre Media which have entered into a strategic alliance to bring back the legacy of WorldSpace back to radio listeners.
Saregama India has picked up a 10 per cent stake in Timbre Media, a new venture formed by the erstwhile employees of WorldSpace Satellite Radio in mid-2010. Timbre Media then also secured exclusive license to use the WorldSpace brand in India and the Middle East. Following the investment from Saregama, both the companies will revive the magic of WorldSpace brand again and relaunch the same set of music channels dedicated to different genres of Indian music, including Jhankaar, Farishta and Gandharv for distribution via Internet, mobile and DTH platforms.
Given its expertise in music programming for radio channels, Timbre Media is an audio media content factory that is platform agnostic. M. Sebastian, cofounder and CEO, Timbre Media, says: "After the closure of WorldSpace in India, since early 2010 we have established the critical infrastructure needed for high quality services, including new studio facilities in Mumbai and Bangalore. We also have created music content in various genres."
Saregama and Timbre Media plan to use content from Saregama's extensive library as well as from other popular labels to provide unparalleled 24-hour stations of Indian music ranging from old Hindi films, Hindustani classical, Carnatic classical, new Hindi music, ghazals and stations in all major Indian languages.
Radio is also the most unobtrusive channel of all. You just need is a pair of ears to listen in, with just no stress on your eye, or stress on your ability to read a language. It's the lowest common denominator medium and above all radio is free of cost. So with this new tie-up between Saregama India and Timbre Media will consumers pay and take subscription to listen to radio?
A beginning has already been made with Geodesic's Mundu Radio, a mobile radio service, which in addition to native apps has been deployed by operators including Idea. Most handsets have radio and internet radio apps for a cost. However, paid services of internet radio and mobile radio have so far met with limited success in India.
Although, mobile operators and content providers would like you to believe that the launch of 3G has made it possible, the limited spectrum and high cost of data hinder the growth of multimedia on mobile. Try using internet radio apps like TuneIn radio over 3G while driving, and count the number of times it stutters.
According to industry statistics shared by several mobile media experts the IVR-based radio service that is available with several mobile platforms in India is an approximately Rs 800 crore market. Adarsh Gupta-business head of Saregama says: "There is a demand for mobile, internet and DTH-based radio products and therefore there is undoubtedly a potential." Videocon is already providing radio on its DTH platform D2H. It is currently offering over 15 radio channels and is included as part of its DTH packages.
But experts say pricing will be a key issue. Pricing will have to be thought through that people are willing to spend for listening to radio. Probably telcos will have to come out with an unlimited separate data plan for mobile radio and TV services.