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Deepak Varma

Managing Director | 11 Nov 2005

Our vision is to create a world of entertainment and information in crystal clear sound. When you tune in to WorldSpace, there would never be an instance when you are listening to soothing melodies from Kishore Kumar and suddenly Britney Spears follows. Globally, satellite radio has worked very well. We have two companies from the US – XM Radio and Sirius – with whom we have tie-ups. Between these two players today, there are over six million subscribers. The international digital satellite multimedia has been globalised and is available to you now.

For Deepak Varma, MD, WorldSpace, this job couldn’t have been more perfect – he gets a chance to work towards his ‘musical passion’. In fact, you can certainly dub him as a man of many and varied interests. Varma has been a national shooting champion, a boxer, has indulged in para sailing and loves music.

His formidable experience includes stints with several leading companies. After gaining an MBA degree, Varma began his career at Proctor and Gamble in its sales team. Over the next few years, he handled diverse portfolios such as training, marketing and sales among others in RPG Ricoh, Modi Xerox and BPL Mobile.

During his eight years at BPL Mobile, Varma dabbled in various roles. He joined the company as the COO for Tamil Nadu and Kerala circles and later moved on to become the CEO of BPL Net and BPL Broadband. Next, he stepped into the role of President and CEO of BPL Mobile – Mumbai and finally served as Executive VP and COO of BPL Mobile nationally.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Malini Menon, Varma speaks about WorldSpace’s vision and future plans for India.

Q. WorldSpace has been available in India for quite sometime now. What is the re-launch that you are talking about?

WorldSpace as a service has been available across India for the last two years. What’s the difference? Well, we came to India with the objective of providing satellite services, variety in content, but due to some reasons could not roll out as effectively. Service was available through BPL, which has been one of our manufacturers for WorldSpace. We are talking about an effective rollout this year. With this re-launch, there will be over 150 outlets selling the product and services in Delhi alone. There is a concerted effort to provide good customer service and at the same time educate the customers about the WorldSpace experience and benefits of the product through the communication exercise

Q. What is your expansion plan?

Initially, we had test-marketed our services in Bangalore followed by Chennai and Hyderabad. Now we have launched our services in Delhi and NCR, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad, and are planning to roll out in Chandigarh, Kolkata and Kochi by the end of this year. The idea is to cover a population of 90 million and then next year, the strategy is to reach out to towns of one million plus. What we mean by this rollout is that you can take the receiver to any part of India and get the same kind of music. We plan to strengthen our distribution by being present almost everywhere within India, provide good back up service and roll out an effective promotional message – “King of radio is here”.

Q. How much investment have you made in the promotional campaign?

O&M is the agency, which is handling the creative for WorldSpace. The paid up capital for the Indian operations is around $25 million and the ad spends is around $10 million for this calendar year.

Q. When do you see WorldSpace making profits for itself?

As of now, WorldSpace aims to expand its base and presence across the country. The effort is primarily to educate the consumers of the product and services through a huge communication drive. Hence, more than sales what we are looking at is penetration of the brand.

Q. What leverage do you have over others with your product offering?

We have been used to conventional radio for years now. The services that we are offering are completely different. In a normal radio format, you know for sure what you are going to hear at 10 am or 8 pm. I recollect during my younger days when a specific music programme was set at a specific time to meet everybody’s demands. The classic example of this is the Binaca Geet Mala, which was presented by Ameen Sayaani. Also, for jawans there were programmes lined up on Sunday. In fact, at times you were forced to listen to the music that you were offered. With WorldSpace, we are creating options for listeners. They can listen to anything from pop to rock to classics in English music, tune in to the news channels or listen to traditional Carnatic, classical music and more. You have simultaneous choices here.

Q. How many subscribers do you have right now? Do you think people are comfortable with the paid service?

Currently, we have 60,000 subscribers and we plan to expand this base with the promotional exercise. Most people believe that in India people are not ready to pay. But don’t you see a change in the attitude now? People are ready to pay for the television programmes, for good movies, why wouldn’t they pay for good uninterrupted music? We are giving good music with minimal RJ talk and no advertisements. I am sure there are people who are ready to undergo this experience and once they like it, they will be more than willing to pay for it. Moreover, earlier in India there was a license fee that had to be paid for listening to radio. People used to pay that fee willing then. With the high disposable income available now, do you think they wouldn’t do so now?

Q. Don’t you think the psychograhics of south and north India are different? South is more inclined to international music and, therefore, have more takers for WorldSpace there than in the North?

I don’t think so. Everybody loves music and we are providing 40 channels, which not only caters to listeners who want to hear English music, but also to those who like Bollywood, old Hindi songs, Carnatic, Punjabi, Bangla music. Listeners don’t have to wait for their favourite music as is the case in a conventional radio format. Hence, the selling proposition in North India is the same, if you want good music, uninterrupted music without ads in high quality sound, you can feel this experience with WorldSpace. Also, we have access to news. You can be updated with news from NDTV (Hindi and English), BBC, CNN, and Bloomberg among others.

Q. How much will a subscriber have to shell out for this service?

With the WorldSpace connection, a subscriber will have to shell out Rs 3,790 for the sets and Rs 1,800 per annum for the subscription. However, now we have a special festival scheme going on under which the Worldspace receiver set as well as a three-month subscription is available for just about Rs 2,000. WorldSpace has OEM tie-up for the sets with BPL in India. There are also OEM tie-ups with Japan, Germany and Indonesia.

Q. What is WorldSpace’s vision and can you tell us more about the emerging global scenario in satellite radio?

Our vision is to create a world of entertainment and information in crystal clear sound. When you tune in to WorldSpace, there would never be an instance when you are listening to soothing melodies from Kishore Kumar and suddenly Britney Spears follows. Globally, satellite radio has worked very well. We have two companies from the US – XM Radio and Sirius – with whom we have tie-ups. Between these two players today, there are over six million subscribers. The international digital satellite multimedia has been globalised and is available to you now.

Q. If the government considers the TRAI recommendations that 100 per cent FDI should be allowed in satellite radio, would there be a difference in WorldSpace’s operations?

No. It would not make any difference to our operations.

Q. Can you elaborate on the promotional; strategy adopted by WorldSpace?

We will be coming up with a television commercial, this apart, there will be hoardings all over the cities where we are launching. This is for brand recall as well as for creating curiosity among listeners. However, sound is not like any other product and it is essential to undergo the experience, which is the reason why we have started the experiential lounges. We already have two lounges in Bangalore, two in Chennai, two in Hyderabad and now plan to start three lounges in Delhi and another three in Mumbai. Other than advertising and lounges, the modes of communication would be in the form of 1,000 retail outlets all over the country, including 150 in Delhi, to be set up by the end of this year.

Q. Can you tell us more about WorldSpace globally looking at IPO?

That’s right. Globally, WorldSpace is preparing a Nasdaq IPO. This should happen within this quarter itself.

Q. How does WorldSpace operate and what channels are you providing as of now?

The company’s two geostationary satellites – AfriStar and AsiaStar – enables it to deliver more than 100 digital quality audio channels per satellite as well as multimedia content directly to WorldSpace satellite radios in a broad service area that includes Asia, Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East. At present, the 40 radio stations across genres include jazz to classical to old Hindi film music to Rock to news and current affairs. It also offers two Indian classical stations – Shruti (Carnatic) and Gandharv (Hindustani) –as well as regional Indian stations that include Tara (Bengali), KL Radio (Tamil), Sparsha (Kannada), RM Radio (Malayalam) and Spandana (Telugu) on its network.

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