Today's the day that Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) bulls have been longing for. Its Web-streaming program has hit the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) App Store. Now, music fans who never bothered to spring for a portable receiver can take their favorite commercial-free stations on the go. Hungry Howard Stern fans who have been denied the radio celebrity's raucous show can now --
What's that? The Howard 100 and Howard 101 channels are not available on the new application?
"Some select programming, including MLB Play-by-Play, NFL Play-by-Play, SIRIUS NASCAR Radio, and Howard Stern, will not be available on the iPhone and iPod touch," reads this morning's press release. "Listeners will continue to be able to access that programming through the platforms they are currently offered on."
The lack of live sporting events isn't a surprise. Those broadcasts have never been a part of the online streaming that both Sirius and XM have made available to their subscribers -- at no additional cost -- for years. However, Stern is a part of the buffered Internet streams for active Sirius subscribers. How can a premium product not offer satellite radio's biggest draw?
Sirius without Stern is like the Los Angeles Lakers without Kobe Bryant. It's still entertaining and somewhat competitive, but not something that millions of fans will pay a premium to experience.
Even with Stern, the app was going to have an uphill battle. Making active subscribers pay $2.99 a month -- or $12.95 a month for premium Internet-based accounts -- is a gamble. Most of the App Store's favorite music downloads are free radio and music-discovery sites, such as Pandora, imeem, Slacker, CBS's (NYSE: CBS ) Last.fm, Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) AOL Music, and Yahoo!'s (Nasdaq: YHOO ) Y! Music. There is certainly a market out there for folks willing to pay up for Sirius XM's differentiated content, but can the application succeed, given its limitations?
Some potential App Store subscribers may balk on principle. Why pay as much as those whom Sirius XM paid the most to acquire? Sirius XM needs to lower the price of its App Store program -- and quickly, before folks begin whipping out their calculators.
Roughly half of Sirius XM's 18.6 million subscribers have Sirius receivers. If we break down the $500 million that Sirius XM is paying over Stern's five-year contract, that comes out to approximately $10.75 a year per Sirius account. In other words, a Stern-free product should be charging about a buck less every month, at least. The deal with the NFL isn't as costly, but of course App Store subscribers still don't receive it. On the XM end, it's a $650 million deal for 11 years of Major League Baseball.
Sirius XM already offers discounted "family friendly" and "mostly music" plans to conventional subscribers. It's only fair for the company to mark down a limited online offering, and it had better do so before consumers decide to ignore the application, the way they have for the tens of thousands of other App Store programs collecting dust.
I have had a lifetime subscription to Sirius since 2004, and with that I have access to Stern's online streams. Am I really going to pay to hear less content through my iPhone? Sorry, Sirius XM. You have either seriously missed the mark or overestimated your audience.
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