Thursday, July 31, 2008

Samara - The Great Houdini

Allow me a little space to comment here.

Worldspace is an amazing company. Every 6 months there seems to be a different business plan. Now, of course, Worldspace isn't Worldspace any longer, it has been rebranded in the middle of July as Please explain. Why on earth was that necessary?

In the meantime, listeners in Europe are being told that Southern Europe is, in fact, the future target area for this system (rather than Africa or South Asia) and that by the end of the year the current Afrispace satellite will really be targeting Italy.

Just to confuse us, Worldspace satellite receiver owners in Northern Europe and Africa, there is a list of stations that we can receive (temporarily) free of charge while they re-position the old Afrispace satellite and re-vamp the software.

We're offered just one receiver in Europe to pick up 16 radio stations- nearly all of which can be listened to on the Internet ( and their rivals have at least 10,000 stations each). That's an expensive radio (one-year subscription + radio for US$249.88) for the number of possible channels you can receive - all in English.

Ah, but wait, I hear you cry, Internet wifi radio isn't portable outside the house. But neither is any Worldspace receiver despite the claims in the early days. My Worldspace receiver has a small satellite dish which has to be pointed accurately at a 7 degree angle towards the geostationary satellite. Does my obsolete-but-functioning Worldspace radio (or the ONLY one we see on the newly designed website or perhaps the one in India) work in the car? Er, no. There are two Worldspace compatible radios left on the market. Can you use them indoors? Yes, providing you can put a small satellite dish on the window and see the Worldspace satellite directly. No buildings or trees in the way.

Noah A. Samara has been the head of Worldspace since it started - and it has always amazed me how he can bring financing out of the hat to keep the system limping along. He knows more tricks than the great Houdini. But how long can the fantasy remain in orbit? There are few new programmes, no metadata or EPG (sorry - an evergreen listing doesn't count any longer as an electronic programme guide) as we're seeing elsewhere in the world. It is all like an early 1990's time-warp.

To cap it all, Worldspace is recruiting. As the website says - "Good Luck".


Jay said...

The Worldspace folks had called me (I am a customer), probably to inform me of the changes. But couldnt take the call as I was driving. As you have pointed out, one major disadvantage is that "the current generation of WS is not mobile", as they say. Probably WS could have been a success here in India, but they came in a bit late, when the state opened up the FM band to private sector. Else they would have been a huge success here. They still have moderate success, I guess, as my impression of listener base goes. But that consists more of specific music genre buffs and people in remote areas where private FM has still not reached.

Jonathan Marks said...

I agree with you entirely Jay. Things will get more difficult as FM spreads - assuming Worldspace lasts that long.

Anonymous said...

If you work really cheap you can be on the air at worldspace. Hard to imagine Noah's get some cash from the merger of XM into Sirius. As he was in on the early days of XM, as this sat radio thing was his from day one. But now the banks have em and they will squeeze him dry. Good thing he got a sweetheart deal to move from DC to Montgomery County MD. (Silver Spring where BBC and Discovery are).

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