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Does Sirius XM (Nasdaq: SIRI ) really need Howard Stern? If Stern leaves satellite radio, what's his most likely destination? And how far should Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin go to keep Stern? I recently asked Sirius Buzz writer Spencer Osborne. Sirius Buzz covers satellite radio news but is not affiliated with Sirius XM. Spencer owns shares of Sirius XM.
Mac Greer: Howard Stern recently said that he's "pretty sure" he's leaving satellite radio. And there's lot of speculation that Stern may start his own Internet radio show. You say that the main reason Howard Stern will stay at Sirius XM is his ego. Aren't there other ways that he can feed his ego --- like building out an Internet radio show?
Spencer Osborne: Building an Internet radio show would boost his ego, but not as much as becoming the dominant force in audio entertainment. Stern also does not put up his own money for projects like this. Part of his ego is the money he makes, and the fact that people are willing to pay him as much as they do. Can another competitor pay him enough money to satisfy his pride? Will an Internet radio option become big enough in the amount of time he wants to dedicate to his career? The technologies Stern speaks of are still a ways off. Stern wants to go out on top. At this point, his best chance for that is with satellite.
Greer: The New York Daily News did some basic number crunching and estimated that Stern could bring in $60 million a year with a subscription-based Internet radio show that costs $5 a month and has a million subscribers. What do you think the economics look like if Stern starts his own Internet show?
Osborne: People need to be willing to pay $5 per month on top of the cell phone bill and on top of the data charges. For those that already pay these fees, the $5 per month will be inconsequential. For those that don't, the price of a smart phone is $200 with a two-year commitment and a cell bill over $100 per month. Bandwidth is always an issue. Bandwidth costs money. Those costs need to be borne out of the subscription price or saddled on the consumer. Stern would suffer a big audience drop if he went this route.
Greer: You've written that Howard Stern is a draw for Sirius XM but not as big as he likes to think. What would it mean for Sirius XM's bottom line if Howard Stern leaves to start his own Internet radio show?
Osborne: Stern away from satellite would impact subscriber numbers, but not in a huge way. It would be a blip on the radar and impact one quarter in terms of sub growth. Sirius XM would save on a substantial contract, but would lose ad revenue as well as some from XM who enjoy the "Best of Sirius" package. Ad revenue is not big now, but his show is the biggest contributor to that category. The biggest cost would be in having the cache of being the platform that has Howard, and trying to keep the Howard fans as subs even if Howard himself goes elsewhere.
Greer: Is it possible that Howard leaving ultimately make Sirius XM stronger in that the company could prove that it can be successful without Stern?
Osborne: The costs to carry Stern are big. No doubt about it. Saving that money makes the financials look that much better. However, Sirius XM can survive without him and in reality, the numbers already demonstrate this. Even with Stern, Sirius never caught up with XM in terms of sub numbers. The company is already proving success.
Greer: Howard recently said that retirement was not an option but that he would end up somewhere. If he doesn't stay at Sirius XM, what are the top three potential destinations?
Osborne: No. 1 is Pandora /Slacker. There is rumor that Pandora may try to go public later this year. If that happens, they will be able to raise a substantial amount of cash with which to lure Stern away. I think Pandora would rather pay in stock, but Stern will likely want the largest components of the deal to be cash. He got a ton of stock from Sirius, and that did not pan out so well for him. I am sure Slacker would love to have Stern, but the finances simply may not be there.
No. 2 is Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , via their new music and entertainment platform that is in development. Google wants to hop into music, but could take it a step further. Stern would be a draw to the service, and Google has deep enough pockets.
No. 3 is a television deal with a side career of radio podcasts. I see this as unlikely, but possible.
Greer: Any dark-horse suitors or companies that could emerge as Howard's next stop?
Osborne: Radioio. It is a relatively unheard of Internet radio company that Bubba the Love Sponge (a shock jock on the Howard channels) has spoken of going to. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of IOWorld (OTC: IWDM.pk). They have over 1 million listeners and a pretty good platform and service.
Greer: If Howard leaves Sirius XM, is there another big name out there that you see filling the void?
Osborne: I think that the company would pull talent from within. Jay Thomas, Ron & Fez, and Opie and Anthony all have good shows. Jason Ellis is another who is entertaining.
Greer: If you're Sirius XM CEO Mel Karmazin, how much are you offering Stern to stay?
Osborne: I would offer Stern $50 million to $60 million guaranteed. He wants to work fewer days, pay him less. To allow Stern to save face and earn more, give him a revenue share on advertising and a revenue share on the Internet radio feed.
You've heard what Spencer thinks. What do you think about Howard Stern's future on satellite radio? Does Sirius XM really need Stern? Post your thoughts below.