XM/Sirius

You want satellite radio to be successful.  And when it becomes so, you’re going to bitch.

I love a good argument.  I like debating the merits of different media, different TV shows and music.  Hell, that was the domain of the fan, passionate discussion.  But if you’re still arguing about talent, about quality, I’m wondering if you got the memo that no one’s paying attention, that no one cares.  Today’s landscape is so scattered, so overwhelming, so incomprehensible, that at best listeners are into a certain kind of music, a few acts, a great number of people have just tuned out.

Don’t pay attention to the mainstream media.  It’s written for those paying attention to television, to Top Forty radio, and the true music fan gave up on those decades ago.  There’s writing for niches, but the hoi polloi just walk on by, they don’t care, they’ve been burned by indie rock, world music and all the hypes of years gone by.  We can’t break acts, we can’t sell tonnage, whether it be tracks or tickets, because no one knows what to listen to, no one knows what to buy.  He who creates the first filter, the trustworthy arbiter of quality, is going to reign in the twenty first century.  Satellite radio is poised to become that filter.

Let’s just limit our discussion to the car.  That’s where radio is king.  Sure, people listen at home, but the real money, the main activity, is in the automobile, where you’re a captive audience.

Now radio has been threatened not so much by the CD or the iPod, but by the cell phone.  A great number of people are not listening to music in the car at all.  They’ll only stop talking and start listening when what’s coming out of the speakers is more interesting than the blather coming out of their hand-set.  As for the CD…that’s passe.  As for the iPod, it never plays anything you don’t know.  And you want to hear what you don’t know, you want to be exposed to new things, it’s human nature.

Don’t tell me about Net radio.  If it ever makes it to the automobile, it’s far away.  There has to be wireless infrastructure and the auto manufacturers must agree to install/sell it.  Good theoretically, but a nonstarter practically.

But satellite radio.  It’s in all new cars.  Has been in most for years.  The key is to get people to tune in, to pay for it.

It’s not like nobody’s listening.  There are almost twenty million subscribers between the two services.  But if you pony up, you find out you’re in the wilderness, not a member of any club, not one of any size, and that freaks you out and you abandon your subscription.  But what if you needed your subscription?

This merger might be the best thing to happen to Howard Stern.  He might get his national platform back.

Sirius is run by a radio/business maverick.  Focused on the bottom line.  Mel Karmazin doesn’t care what comes out of the speakers, he just wants to get paid.  He wants his stations/service to make money.  This is scary if you’re into quality programming.  Karmazin might have championed and protected Howard Stern and KROQ, but he also added a plethora of advertising units.  Mel Karmazin is not your friend.

And the service he lords over has a huge reception problem.  Dropouts are constant.  The buffer is too short, the satellites keep moving.  But when it works, the sound is good, better than XM if you’ve got a quality set-up.

But what comes out of the speakers is jive.  It’s everything you hate about terrestrial, minus the commercials.  Two-fer Tuesdays.  Lame cheerleading.  News you read online the day before.  It’s positively eighties, made for an audience that doesn’t exist.

But at least you hear voices on Sirius.  Frequently on XM not only do you feel like you’re the only person listening, you don’t think the deejay is tuned in either.  For he comes on infrequently, if at all.  The XM brass saved money in the wrong sphere.  The product is the essence of your success.  In this case, the programming.

And as tight as Sirius is programmed, that’s how loose XM can be.  You might hear a track once a year, which is just too damn weird.  There’s no consistency, no club.  In an era when social networking is king, there’s no social network on XM whatsoever.

But XM comes in loud and clear almost everywhere, albeit compressed.

So maybe the merged company moves the signal to XM’s satellites.  But I’m afraid Sirius’ programming philosophy will win out, especially with Lee Abrams having jumped to the Tribune Company.  And that’s why you’ll be pissed.  The repetition and the jive jocks.  But if everybody is listening, you’ll be able to break records.

A Leona Lewis gets all the ink because you can break that kind of act.  Try breaking the new Genesis.  Who would play them, where would the music be exposed?  But if everybody is tuned into the same satellite stations, you achieve critical mass.

Satellite radio could still win.  If it cooked up a business model with a lower economic threshold, where people could sign up for less than $12.95 a month, or could get an advertiser-supported service free.  Satellite radio is poised, because it has the infrastructure.  It’s ready.

A merger is bad for the purveyors of talent.  Now, there’s only one place to sell your wares if you want a national footprint.  If satellite radio takes off, you run into the Clear Channel problem, where a behemoth has too much power.  No one at the Justice Department seems to listen to radio, they couldn’t foresee the pitfalls.  But a radio service with critical mass, that most people in America tune into, that would be good not only for the service itself, but the makers and purveyors of music.

Satellite radio has a chance.  Root for it.

3 Responses to XM/Sirius »»


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  1. Pingback by » Why Satellite Radio Won’t Succeed | 2008/03/31 at 15:45:34

    […] e even listening to radio anymore, let alone satellite radio? Even XM fanatic Bob Leftsetz questions satellite’s viability: But if you pony up, […]

  2. comment_type != "trackback" && $comment->comment_type != "pingback" && !ereg("", $comment->comment_content) && !ereg("", $comment->comment_content)) { ?>
  3. Pingback by Scholars and Rogues » TunesDay: talent v. hype… | 2008/04/01 at 08:45:24

    […] (and its merger) might open the way for talent discovery to again be a part of radio, read this. So who knows what the hell radio will do – or be – i […]

  4. comment_type != "trackback" && $comment->comment_type != "pingback" && !ereg("", $comment->comment_content) && !ereg("", $comment->comment_content)) { ?>
  5. Pingback by newsong notes » Blog Archive » Re: the Merger | 2008/07/20 at 17:53:36

    […] ne even listening to radio anymore, let alone satellite radio? Even XM fanatic Bob Lefsetz questions satellite’s viability: … if you pony […]


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Trackbacks & Pingbacks »»

  1. Pingback by » Why Satellite Radio Won’t Succeed | 2008/03/31 at 15:45:34

    […] e even listening to radio anymore, let alone satellite radio? Even XM fanatic Bob Leftsetz questions satellite’s viability: But if you pony up, […]

  2. comment_type == "trackback" || $comment->comment_type == "pingback" || ereg("", $comment->comment_content) || ereg("", $comment->comment_content)) { ?>

    Trackbacks & Pingbacks »»

    1. Pingback by Scholars and Rogues » TunesDay: talent v. hype… | 2008/04/01 at 08:45:24

      […] (and its merger) might open the way for talent discovery to again be a part of radio, read this. So who knows what the hell radio will do – or be – i […]

    2. comment_type == "trackback" || $comment->comment_type == "pingback" || ereg("", $comment->comment_content) || ereg("", $comment->comment_content)) { ?>

      Trackbacks & Pingbacks »»

      1. Pingback by newsong notes » Blog Archive » Re: the Merger | 2008/07/20 at 17:53:36

        […] ne even listening to radio anymore, let alone satellite radio? Even XM fanatic Bob Lefsetz questions satellite’s viability: … if you pony […]

      This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.

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