WorldSpace may go mute in India

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R. Ravikumar

Chennai, Dec. 17

Signals indicate that the troubled digital satellite radio broadcasting company WorldSpace Inc may fold up its India operations too.

Though the company's Asia operations head, Mr M. Sebastian, is not available for comment, sources close to the development say he has already put in his papers, and employees are believed to be in rounds of internal discussions to figure the way out of the quagmire.

“We are clue-less, but keeping our fingers crossed,” said a highly placed official, who did not want to be named.

WorldSpace is present in over 130 countries globally, and has already been in the process of closing down its operations in most other countries. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in a US court in December last year. The $2.1-billion debt laden company sought bankruptcy protection so as to be able to raise fresh funds to repay its debts.

Early this year, Mr Sebastian told Business Line that the company was exploring various possibilities to continue its services worldwide, and as its India operation was though not cash-positive could manage on its own, “we will continue its services in India”. Hiving off its AsiaStar operations into a separate business unit and finding a suitable buyer for that is an option the company was pursuing seriously, he had said then.

However, according to India sources, the US-based multi-billion-dollar media company Liberty Media has already bought out WorldSpace's liabilities from its creditors. The two companies are now in the process of finalising an asset purchasing agreement, and some judicial formalities are still pending. According to the sources, it all now depends on whether the new owner wants to continue the company's India business.

With over 4.5 lakh subscribers (more than 50 per cent of this is through AirTel DTH), India accounts for over 95 per cent of the broadcaster's world-wide subscriber base.

Recently, a leading private sector bank signed a pact with WorldSpace to provide its services in all its ATM kiosks.

Related Stories:
Airtel boosts WorldSpace subscriber base
WorldSpace India has to wait longer for audio streaming on Web site
WorldSpace files for bankruptcy in US

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 18, 2009)
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