After a dismal first half of the year that saw subscriptions slump and stock prices tumble, Sirius XM seems to be rekindling investor interest with several new products designed to reposition the company as a multi-platform premium content provider. But with each move, starting with the release of an Iphone App for stream reception in June, followed by a new Wi-fi tabletop receiver and a SkyDock Iphone accessory, comes proof that cross-platform program distribution of subscription-based content can become devilishly complex.
To appreciate all the twists and turns the Sirius XM online saga has taken, it's best to turn back the clock a bit. Less than a year ago, XM subscribers were able to listen to most XM content online at no additional cost to existing satellite subs ($7.99 for stream only). That changed on March 11 when Sirius XM announced it was upgrading its 64kb/s audio stream quality (presumably to a level exceeding that of satellite delivery's heavily parsed bandwidth). Subscribers wanting to stream then had two options -- either pay an additional $2.99 a month for a Mac/Windows app to receive the enhanced (128kb/s) stream, or listen to a decidedly low-fi 32kb/s stream.
Then came the long-awaited Iphone application with all the requisite fanfare and buzz. Iphone users could now subscribe to Sirius XM online for $12.95 monthly, or an additional $2.99/mo. for existing satellite subscribers. There was, however, a small catch: SIRI's Iphone menu omitted some of its strongest content, like MLB Baseball, NFL Football, and, oh yes, Howard Stern. SIRI's stock price ticked upward, but pundits were less than impressed.
The latest hardware introductions are equally perplexing. First there's the new Sirius TTR1 tabletop Wi-fi/Ethernet radio that lets you listen to the same online content at the same price as the Iphone app (XM Internet package sans Stern, MLB and NFL). And that's all you'll be listening to, because the TTR1 doesn't accept non-Sirius XM Internet streams. Price point on the TTR1, when it becomes available, is said to be about $150.
Finally, for those who always wanted a satellite radio, but decided to settle for an Iphone, there's the new SkyDock, a vehicular add-on that allows your Iphone to channel XM radio content through your phone directly from the bird (it includes an antenna). Of course, if you want to hear Howard, you'll have to pay both the XM Everything package satellite sub rate, plus an additional $4 for the Best of Sirius package. The SkyDock, which thoughtfully charges your Iphone while you use it as a satellite radio, will retail for around $120. Of course you could simply buy a satellite radio, but then you'd run the risk of the boss calling while Howard's on.
So the evolution of Sirius and XM from a pair of dedicated satellite radio service providers to a single source premium content provider appear to be underway. But for the time being at least, consumers who want to hop aboard face a confusing set of tolls and detours, proving once again that in the world of digital radio, nothing is ever quite as simple as it ought to be.