Last week’s announcement of the proposed merger of the two seemingly failing satellite radio companies XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio has created a lot of excitement but also a sort of active stand-offishness among those who believe satellite radio is a doomed and soon to be irrelevant enterprise anyway. The reason for the irrelevance is that some day soon - real soon (maybe) - we’ll all be able to listen to any radio station through wireless internet connections. Wireless over the wireless? Let’s call it WiSquared!
There’s little doubt we will one day see at least an version of unlimited radio delivered wirelessly, but we’re definitely not there yet, and probably won’t be for years to come. There are at a minimum two things missing right now: Adequate wirelss Internet coverage and Internet radio receivers.
So for the time being satellite radio is the name of the game for coast-to-coast radio.
And that is quite frankly not much of a game. more accurately, it’s a game for not that many participants. For $13 a month plus the cost of the receiver (which can easily run into hundreds of dollars) you get a wide choice of things that mostly won’t interest you and for which there are cheaper and/or more portable substitutes.
If you like to listen to music that you’ll rarely hear on terrestrial radio, or if you desire music of any kind without commercial and other interruptions, you can always go with a compact disc or some MP3 player. You can usually tune in some kind of news cast on groundbound radio, almost no matter where you are (and where you can’t you probably won’t find yourself very often).
Satellite radio has a fairly weak value proposition, even if the “premium brand” and “original content” programming for which XM and Sirius has paid so dearly are taken into account. I imagine it is easy for many, and perhaps most satellite radio subscribers to drop their subscriptions after a year or two, when the novelty has worn off.
Things could have been different had either of the two companies hit the market hard with a portable receiver for $50-$100 and a monthly plan for as little six or seven bucks a month. An marketing assault of that kind might have spurred a wider adoption of satellite radio, and, consequently, a much greater social relevance than it has today.
But even in that scenario, which sounds like science-fiction compared to how XM and Sirius actually rolled out their products, satellite radio would have amounted to little more than regular radio, upgraded at a cost. It’s just not a compelling offer, especially when other new media bills are to be paid, such as cell phones, Internet access, cable, iTunes downloads, Netflix etc.
A reliable satellite service that reliably provided phone service and always-on two-way Internet access at a reasonable price, now that would be would be worth cellphone money.