Sirius, XM Radio continue to grow, compete

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    Sirius, XM Radio continue to grow, compete
    By ELLIOT SMILOWITZ

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- This month's two biggest news stories have provided XM Satellite Radio a chance to show off its programming versatility.

    XM has joined forces with the American Red Cross to launch Red Cross Radio, a 24-hour, nationwide XM channel to provide information and help for Hurricane Katrina victims, volunteers and Red Cross workers.

    Additionally, XM will offer comprehensive coverage of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' Senate confirmation hearing, which begins Monday.

    David Butler, spokesman for XM Radio, said Roberts' confirmation hearing "demonstrates the unique ability of satellite radio to cover a big news event from many angles."

    Butler said C-SPAN Radio will provide live coverage of the hearing, while other stations like CNN Radio, Fox News Radio and Air America will provide news and commentary.

    Butler said XM will provide comprehensive coverage of the event to subscribers "in ways and places that you couldn't get it before."

    Scott Fish of satellite radio news Web site TopSatelliteRadio.com said he thinks satellite radio has the potential to be even more pervasive in news coverage than current news sources.

    "As they grow in subscribers and develop a profile of their customer base," Fish said, "they will be able to cover all the stories they believe their customers will care about."

    Industry expert Michael Saffran said satellite radio is better positioned to put together in-depth coverage of such a news event.

    "A terrestrial station could change formats for a period of time, but it's not quite the same" as putting up stations dedicated to the news event, Saffran said.

    Ryan Saghir, satellite-radio expert and blogger at Orbitcast.com, echoed Saffran's statement.

    "It has everything to do with formats," Saghir said. "Terrestrial radio has pigeon-holed itself into set timeslots with far too many commercial interruptions."

    Saghir offered as an example XM's coverage of the summer's Live 8 music festival. "You would never hear that on terrestrial," he said.

    Fish said that Red Cross Radio was a good venture for XM to take part in.

    "XM has made the conscious decision to broadcast community-touching content and services," Fish said.

    Saghir concurred, saying he thought XM made "a logical and smart decision."

    "The good PR is always a consideration in business," Saghir said, "bit I think XM looked at the situation and asked themselves what they could do as a company to help out."

    While XM is making a splash this month, competitor Sirius Satellite Radio is gearing up for the long-awaited satellite debut of the Howard Stern Show, set to take place just after New Year's. Stern and Sirius agreed to a multimillion-dollar deal last October.

    Saffran said the Stern deal will help Sirius but may not be as big a landmark as some think.

    "I don't know if his move marks a pendulum shift," Saffran said. "There's a much larger majority who like Stern but are not sure they want to pay for radio yet."

    Fish said Stern's success on Sirius will have a huge impact on the company's future.

    "My views on Stern are very strong," Fish said. "He either has to be financially important for Sirius, or investors will view his contract as a mistake."

    Saghir said he thinks Stern's real impact came last fall when the announcement was made.

    "People who didn't know what satellite radio was suddenly perked up and realized that this emerging medium has matured," he said. "Sirius got a big boost in brand recognition from that."

    XM responded last year to Sirius's Stern signing by inking the Opie and Anthony Show, a similarly crude radio show that previously aired on terrestrial radio in New York and Boston.

    More recently, XM inked The Ron and Fez Show, another popular New York terrestrial radio show, and will begin broadcasting it Monday on the same channel as the Opie and Anthony Show.

    Another top draw for both XM and Sirius is sports programming. This year XM began a contract to broadcast all Major League Baseball games. They also have agreements in place with some college football and basketball conferences and will begin broadcasting NASCAR events in 2007.

    Sirius, meanwhile, boasts deals with the NFL, the NBA and English Premier League Soccer and recently inked a deal with the National Hockey League.

    Butler referred to Major League Baseball as "the crown jewel of sports radio."

    Fish said this type of programming is a big part of creating a large satellite-radio market.

    "Building a subscriber base in this industry is highly dependent on specialty content," Fish said.

    According to Butler, an XM survey of new subscribers who signed up in May and June of 2005 found that 23 percent of them reported signing up because of the Major League Baseball coverage.

    Saghir said XM's deal with MLB is the most significant of the sports-league agreements.

    "The MLB deal was huge because it's by far the best sport for radio," he said. "When you're not able to dedicate all your senses to the sport, like when driving or doing work, satellite radio gives you the action without the distraction."

    Saffran disagreed, saying Sirius's NFL deal was bigger.

    "Football has replaced baseball as the national pastime," he said. "There are more fans and more dedicated fans."

    The competition between the two companies goes beyond programming for men, though. Last week Sirius announced a deal with popular women's magazine Cosmopolitan to create Cosmopolitan Radio.

    Just days later XM announced plans to create a talk and lifestyle channel targeting women called Take Five, featuring popular TV talk shows The Ellen Degeneres Show and The Tyra Banks Show.

    Butler denied the two announcements had anything to do with each other.

    "Take Five was in the works for several months prior to the announcement," he said.

    Saffran said he expects these stations to help address the disparity in satellite-radio user demographics, which skew heavily toward males, but doubts it would have a huge impact.

    Saghir said he thinks it's a good decision on the part of both companies.

    "XM and Sirius both know what they're doing," he said. "Appealing to the female audience can never be a bad thing."

    Meanwhile, speculation is running on the Internet that mega-popular talk-show host Oprah Winfrey could soon come to terms with either XM or Sirius.

    Butler said observers should take the speculation with a grain of salt.

    "As with any other fast-growing industry, there will be a lot of rumors," he said.

    Saffran said that unlike the already-announced deals, an agreement with Oprah would cause a splash.

    "Oprah, because of name recognition, would have a greater impact," Saffran said. "She would be a bigger draw."

    Saghir altogether shrugged off the question of which is better.

    "Both XM and Sirius have their own approach, their own style and their own programming strategy," he said.

    "The more important question is, which is better between terrestrial radio and satellite radio," he continued, "and hands down, everyone who has experienced it will say satellite radio wins."
    Copyright 2005 by United Press International


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