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Get ready for the second leg of the satellite-radio revolution. Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) CEO Mel Karmazin is once again promoting the Sirius XM 2.0 platform, even though its release is more than a year away.
"Our next generation of satellite radios [is] expected to offer significantly more choices for the consumer and contain functionality that does not exist today in our radios," Karmazin said during last month's quarterly conference call, before explaining that the big changeover won't result in a significant cost increase. He also promised that the new receivers would hit the market in time for next year's holiday season.
Karmazin briefly brought up the new platform during Wednesday's Bank of America Media, Communications, & Entertainment Conference, where he once again reiterated the time frame for the release.
In the tech world, companies tend to announce an enhanced model as close as possible to the new gadget's actual availability. Just ask Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , whose swiped iPhone 4 prototype had the Cupertino giant calling the cops.
But protecting secrets isn't the only reason companies hold back. Many of them figure that hyping a new and improved model can stop sales of the current model dead in its tracks. This, however, isn't a problem for Sirius XM. Although it suffered a net reduction of 448,304 retail accounts through the first six months of this year, it's managed to grow its user base to a whopping 19.5 million subscribers and has more than made up for the retail shortfall through the number of cars that roll off the lot with preinstalled Sirius or XM receivers. Someone may avoid buying a portable satellite-radio receiver now that could be obsolete by next year, but a car buyer isn't going to think much about that.
What's so special about 2.0? Well, Sirius XM isn't saying much beyond promising broader content and greater functionality. However, a patent XM filed two summers ago clearly hints at what consumers may be getting.
The patent details a method for subscribers to generate playlists culled from content across several channels. A "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" button lets listeners cherry-pick the content they like and dismiss what they don't. This sounds a lot like TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) , doesn't it? Relying on a bank of data points to dish out recommendations is also a play out of the Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) playbook.
So Sirius XM wants to be the TiVo -- and the Netflix -- of premium radio. But the patent isn't just about music. If it were, Sirius XM would just become a more expensive Pandora clone without the smartphone buffering. No, the patent method also applies to news, sports, comedy, and talk shows.
Get it? Imagine a playlist where your favorite songs are mixed in with news that's relevant to you, along with scores from your teams and standup routines from your favorite comedians.
Now, we don't know whether this is what Sirius XM will offer, but if it's even remotely close to what reality brings, I can't help admitting that I described what I thought would be a potential satellite-radio killer a little more than two years ago.
"Cars with Wi-Fi-tethered storage retrieve customized content overnight," I wrote at the time, predicting that hard drives and connectivity would become more widely available. "An odd assortment of companies -- from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) to your local newspaper to local terrestrial-radio stations -- populate your hard drive with news that matters to you. Content providers compete for your eardrums, so you can handpick things like Local Band Song of the Day, your favorite sport team's scores, entertainment news on only the celebrities you care about, and stock-specific quotes and news."
How cool is it that the Sirius XM killer I described may turn out to be Sirius XM itself?
Well played, satellite radio. Well played.