A feeling of pleasant surprise turned to horror this morning after I started up my XM-subscribed car. At first, I was greeted with some of my favorite Sirius music channels, like 1st Wave, on the air. Then I discovered that most of my favorite XM channels were gone.
What the --
"Effective immediately, and for the first time, XM subscribers will hear SIRIUS' dynamic and exclusive music, news, talk, sports and comedy shows and channels, and SIRIUS subscribers will have access to XM's equally diverse and unique content," read the Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) press release.
This normally would seem like a good thing, until you scroll a few lines lower to smack into the reality of the situation.
"With this new programming lineup, subscribers will receive the same number of music and non-music channels on the SIRIUS and XM services as they have in the past."
Obviously, if the number of stations remains the same, every new arrival means an existing station is getting the boot.
It's easy to follow the logic. More content overlap means lower staffing costs. It doesn't have an impact on the royalties that Sirius XM will pay out to the record companies, since that is based on a percentage of total revenue, but it does make it easier to hire fewer DJs and station managers.
Unfortunately, making XM and Sirius more alike is a terrible marketing tool. Wasn't this the same company that was trying to get subscribers to pay $4 more a month for a "Best of Both" program? Sirius XM will still sell the plan (since the overlap doesn't include the premium talk content like Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey), but isn't this programming change an incentive to downgrade to the cheaper plan that costs $6 less a month and lets users cherry-pick 50 stations?
After all, if Sirius XM is cocky enough to think it knows which channels are superior by giving others the boot, two can play that game as it pertains to my eardrums.
Why do this, Sirius XM? This is so terrestrial. I'll be surprised to see the monthly churn of self-pay subscribers hold steady at 1.7% after this move, which is likely to ruffle more than a few feathers.
As free Internet radio apps begin popping up on Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) smartphones with unlimited data plans, why stick around? As music subscription services like RealNetworks' (Nasdaq: RNWK ) Rhapsody and Best Buy's (NYSE: BBY ) Napster grow more portable, does Sirius XM really want to alienate a subscriber base that is already experiencing decelerating growth?
I've been a Sirius subscriber since 2004 and an XM member since 2006. I realize I'm not like most of the 18.9 million subscribers in having dual accounts, but the overlap today makes it less likely that I'll stick with both tomorrow.
I'm sure many listeners will love the changes. The problem is that many won't. With more than $1 billion in debt to pay back next year, does Sirius XM really want to ignite the venom, uproar, and online petitions that accompany forced changes?
I would say "no," but what do I know? I'm not the one trading for a quarter these days.
More news than static on Sirius XM:
Am I wrong? Am I right? What do you think of the channel changes? Post your thoughts below.