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Verizon's (NYSE: VZ ) wireless unit wants to play a bigger role in automotive infotainment, and it won't be long before you see "Can you stream me now?" ads.
Verizon Wireless' move to acquire Hughes Telematics in a $612 million deal earlier this month is all about machine-to-machine, or M2M, connected car technologies and services. There's money to be made in allowing drivers to do everything from streaming music to getting customized routing based on current traffic trends to finding the cheapest gas stations. Expanding entertainment options while saving drivers time and money is never a bad proposition.
Verizon raised the stakes last week by introducing the 4G Venture Forum for Connected Cars, a consortium of car manufacturers teaming up with Verizon to take 4G LTE to the next level by powering a new breed of automotive applications.
Most of the major carmakers are in. General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , no doubt sensing the disruptive threat to its OnStar telematics empire is understandably not a part of the mission. It will be nervously watching from the sidelines, though.
Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) is another company that can't simply ignore Verizon's moves. The easier somebody makes it for new cars to begin streaming music and podcasts, the harder it gets to promote premium radio. It also can't help that the affluent early adopters who will be wooed by Verizon's eventual offering are probably currently active satellite-radio subscribers.
Sirius XM doesn't have to start worrying just yet. Its coast-to-coast satellite coverage is still superior to Verizon's massive yet incomplete nationwide coverage. We also can't ignore that Sirius XM spent nearly $325 million in programming and content costs last year. That's the kind of investment that may never make sense for free or ad-supported broadcasters. Pandora Media (NYSE: P ) , despite having a larger audience, spent just less than $150 million in content acquisition last year. In other words, content matters, and members of premium services are getting what they pay for.
However, it's clear that Verizon has big plans for streaming entertainment. It expects to team up with Coinstar's (Nasdaq: CSTR ) Redbox for a video service later this year, and it wouldn't be a surprise if this factors into its plans for connected car domination.
The way we pass the time in cars will change dramatically in the coming years. It's a good time to be a driver, but it's also a good time for investors to keep their eye on the road ahead.
Running of the bulls
I remain bullish on Sirius XM's future. It should come as no surprise that I'm promoting the CAPScall initiative for accountability by reiterating my bullish call on Sirius XM for Motley Fool CAPS.
XM Satellite Radio was a Rule Breakers recommendation before the Sirius XM merger. It's now gone from the scorecard, but if you want to discover the newsletter service's next Rule-Breaking multibagger, a free report reveals all.