February 25, 2009

Another chance for satellite radio?

Liberty Media, which is based in the Denver suburb of Englewood, has struck a deal to keep Sirius XM satellite radio afloat. Sirius XM stock has tanked and the company has been on the verge of bankruptcy. John Malone’s Liberty Media has agreed to prop up the ailing satellite radio company with a $530 million loan in exchange for 40 percent of the company and seats on the Sirius XM Board.

While we’ve opined often on the inherent value of good local radio service, we’ve always enjoyed and appreciated eavesdropping on other radio services such as the BBC, Voice of America, C-SPAN Radio, and others. As a fan of Big Band music, tunes from the early ‘50s, Bluegrass, and others, we found XM satellite radio a good source for targeted musical formats and a wide array of pretty good news and information programming.

But since we first subscribed to XM in 2004, their rates have increased and their service has remained stagnant. And while opposed to the Sirius-XM merger, their talk about "a la carte" choices caused me to wax hopeful. After all, they were touting something that many cable TV and satellite radio listeners have desired for years. The idea of paying ONLY for the channels you want is a delicious concept! And Sirius boss Mel Karmazin only whetted our appetites just prior to the merger by issuing the following statement:

XM and SIRIUS to Offer A La Carte Programming
Companies' FCC Filing to Detail Array of New Offerings Priced From $6.99 to $16.99 SIRIUS CEO Mel Karmazin to Discuss at National Press Club Address Today

NEW YORK and WASHINGTON, July 23, 2007 /PRNewswire--
SIRIUS Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI) and XM Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR) announced today that the merged company will offer American consumers for the first time the opportunity to choose programming on an a la carte basis. This unprecedented offering will provide subscribers with more choices and lower prices and pave the way for a unique form of competition in the entertainment industry -- one based on the individual programming preferences of listeners.

Alas, we’ve seen and heard only a blending of XM and Sirius program services in their new combined Sirius XM operation. It’s only the “pay channels” that offer choices, and I’m not about to fork over greenbacks for the likes of Howard Stern.

We're certain that John Malone has much more in mind than just offering a la carte radio programs and thus making good on a Sirius XM commitment. He and his new colleagues are likely exploring ways to capitalize upon new and more profitable wireless services.

BUT….it would be good if he could hold the collective feet of Sirius XM owners to the fire and make them deliver on promises that flowed ever-so-easily when they were trying persuade the FCC and the public of the virtues of a single satellite radio service.

Technology makes such a la carte services readily available. Only the will to do the right thing remains in doubt.

We hope John Malone and Sirius XM will do the right thing.

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