As expected, Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI) and XM (Nasdaq: XMSR) agreed to extend their long-standing merger agreement yesterday afternoon. No one thought that either satellite radio provider would walk away from the deal. Pushing out the nuptials deadline is as logical as Tuesday's move to postpone their annual shareholder meetings.

I'll tell you what I like, though. Instead of extending the agreement out to the summer or beyond, the terms call for the deal to be pushed out in rolling two-week periods, perpetually.

This doesn't mean that either company is getting cold feet. It's actually a great way for XM and Sirius to pop their heads out every two weeks, leaving the rest of the market to wonder why the FCC is taking so long to push the deal through. It's the equivalent of tapping the snooze bar on an alarm clock, giving a groggy FCC biweekly reminders to wake up.

It has now been more than 14 months since the merger was announced. It's been five weeks since the union received the Justice Department's blessing. The FCC remains the only regulatory roadblock.

Approval appears likely, and rivals are no doubt drooling over the delays. It buys them time before facing a more formidable opponent.

Since XM and Sirius have had to play it humble to win regulator approval, they have pared back their marketing budgets. When is the last time you saw a satellite radio ad on television? XM used to be all over the boob tube. Instead, alternative music consumption providers are hitting the airwaves.

  • Ford (NYSE: F) ads that used to pitch Sirius receivers as a feature have turned into Ford Focus spots promoting the vast MP3 storage of in-dash hard drives.
  • AT&T (NYSE: T) has gone from promoting its 25-channel deal for cell-phone subscribers to its deal with Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) that promotes mobile iPods with its iPhone handsets.
  • TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO) has been setting its home theater box apart from the competition by promoting it as a digital music device too, complete with Internet radio playback functionality and TV ads promoting its recent partnership with RealNetworks' (Nasdaq: RNWK) Rhapsody.

There was a time when delaying the deal worked to satellite radio's advantage. Every passing quarter made it abundantly clear that XM and Sirius would never be a monopoly, given the emerging digital music technologies that have evolved around them.

Now it's getting to the point that XM and Sirius are going to be behind the premium music niche it championed. Forget terrestrial radio. The real challengers are now the plethora of ear candy appliances that provide commercial-free tunes and newsy podcasts, often without the monthly subscriptions.

I like the snooze bar tactic. However, these past 14 months have given everyone else a head start in a race that XM and Sirius need to compete in. If a snooze bar tap or two doesn't turn the trick, I suggest bringing in a gong to really wake up the regulators.

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