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What Howard Stern's New Contract Can Tell Us About the Future of Sirius XM Holdings

By John-Erik Koslosky - Jan 5, 2016 at 7:23PM

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The King o All Media's radio show will call Sirius XM home for another 12 years. But what will happen in video and interactive may prove to be bigger news for the company.


For Howard Stern fans, the announcement that his show will be returning to Sirius XM (SIRI -0.64%) satellite radio for another five years was reason enough to celebrate. But for investors in the company stock, the announcement also delivered a bit of intrigue – and perhaps a glimpse of what we can expect from the company in the years to come. And while brief and free from many details, it showed a company that is moving beyond the simple delivery of audio programming, and embracing video and interactive media.

We should be learning some of those details soon, and possibly as early as Jan. 6, when CFO David Frear is set to speak at the Citi 2016 Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference.

In a nutshell, the new contract will keep Stern's live radio show on Sirius for another five years. (Stern will be reaching his 67th birthday at its expiration, so he'll be able to take full advantage of his Social security benefits.) It also gives Sirius the rights to Stern's archive of shows for an additional seven years after that, making it unlikely the uber-popular satirist and celebrity interviewer will take his talents anywhere else if he can't shake the drive to continue working past retirement age.

Those were likely the details most important to Stern's loyal listeners, who can count on the self-proclaimed King of All Media to continue to entertain them during their morning and afternoon commutes. It's also surely welcome news for investors; a Stern departure would have cost the company $240 million in lost annual revenue, according to a Bloomberg analysis.That would be about a 5.7% hit to the top line, based on 2014 revenue.

But it's the rest of what the new contract reportedly involves that should most interest long-term investors in the company.

A 'virtual world' for fans
Neither Sirius or Stern have spoken in detail about what the video or interactive components will involve. But Stern gushed on air when talking about what lies ahead, saying that he thinks Sirius will be able to create a "virtual world" for his fans in the years to come. Stern agent Don Buchwald called the deal a "cutting-edge and truly unique broadcasting agreement."

It would be far from Stern's first endeavor into video. The shock jock had a weekly late-night cable variety show that went up against Saturday Night Live in the New York market for a few years back in the early 1990s. There was a long-running E! network broadcast that offered a glimpse of the more video-worthy highlights from the radio studio. With the move to satellite radio, Stern started his own pay-per-view channel, on which he aired uncensored show segments and original content produced for Howard TV. Stern shut down that channel in 2013.

But this portends to be something different for Stern – and almost entirely new for Sirius, but it's also not something totally unforeseen. Sirius executives have on a few occasions touched on the topic of the satellite service's ability to do more than deliver audio.

CEO Jim Meyer has talked up the company's potential in both video and interactive media, noting that rise of autonomous cars could make in-car video viewing a desirable service. But Meyer has also cautioned not to make too much of the service's ability to video, saying in September that "I don't think you will see us deciding ... to compete with Netflix or something like that, or something like that."

No longer just delivering content
Sirius has already been developing its interactive abilities with its SXM 17 platform, and it should be unveiling more about its plans for the platform at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. Some of that discussion is likely to be about telematics and how the company can utilize user data. But it may also touch on programming possibilities.

"The bottom-line is that we are taking significant steps now to ensure that our technology remains relevant and to maximize the long-term value of our network, our technology, and our spectrum," Meyer said in October.

Sirius investors will want to stay tuned for what the company has to say about SXM 17 and the Stern deal over the coming days and weeks, especially on the matter of video and interactive media. The details may offer a clearer view of what's to come for the satellite service – or at least a better look at the possibilities that exist -- and provide insight into whether it's still just a satellite radio service or an entertainment provider that's evolving into something more.

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