Thursday, March 8, 2018


Last month consultant Mike Henry posted a series of essays about the impact of SiriusXM (“SXM”) satellite radio on the Paragon Media Strategy’s website [link]. The bottom-line message to earth-bound broadcasters is:  

SiriusXM is a major competitor. They are not going away. Take them seriously.
However, the message Henry and his associate Larry Johnson are sending seems to only pertain to terrestrial commercial radio. The authors didn't explore the advantages noncommercial radio might have over SXM. 

SXM's lack of commercials is a major selling point for the sat-caster. But "commercial free" is also a distinguishing brand attribute of public radio.

Henry says the excitement and originality of SXM;s programming reminds him of great radio from any decade:

Some broadcast radio seems pale after listening to satellite radio.  The creativity and personalities that once drew people to terrestrial radio are all there on satellite radio, and without the commercials!   

Henry cites other SXM advantages:

• SXM’s subscriber base continues to grow. According to the 2017 4th Quarter Report to Shareholders, SXM had 32.4 million subscribers. Of that number, 26 million of the subscribers are paying customers. The rest are not paying because most are involved in promotional campaigns such as “free trial periods” for new car buyers.

• SXM has an impressive variety of music channels arranged by era and/or texture-tempo. Plus there are specialty channels created by artists and programmers with deep knowledge of specific genres.

• SXM is “a model of sustainability” because it earns the money it needs from subscribers.

• SXM provides stability for shareholder because it turns a profit every quarter.

While all of the above is true for commercial music stations, it may or may not apply to noncommercial public radio stations.


SXM reminds us of the Mall of America, a big corporate space with something for everyone. 

But, like the mall, SXM is hard to embrace. There is very little fan excitement for even the best offerings. 

Check out the chatter on XMFAN [link], the only bulletin board (I know of) for SXM fans. Almost all of the comments are about technical or subscription issues, not about programming.

"Local terrestrial public radio"

Subscribers seem to like but not love SXM. They have virtually no input into the content they hear. Their is very little engagement. Thecorporate mindset determines what choices are available – so, love them or leave them.

I wish Henry had talked a bit about the stickiness of “music discovery” stations. They are all about street-level engagement, something SXM doesn't do.


SXM excels in music channels but news and information channels are less satisfying. Channel 122, NPR Now  [link] actually has very little NPR-produced content. Morning Edition and All Things Considered are not available. Programs that are available include vital shows such as 1A, Fresh Air and Marketplace.

Screenshot 3/7/18 6pm CT
The featured program today on NPR Now is On Point with Tom Ashbrook, despite the fact that Ashbrook hasn’t been on the show for months (ouch!). 

It appears that nobody at SXM or NPR cares whether the program listings on are accurate. This is also how they treat subscribers.

Other pubradio-ish channels that are available on SXM are PRX Public Radio (channel 123), a simulcast of PRX Remix 24/7; BBC World Service (channel 120); Insight (channel 121), featuring Radiolab and Snap Judgment; CBC News (channel 169); and audio-only versions of cable TV channels such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and C-SPAN.


SXM’s wide diversity of channels includes quite a few clinkers. Ratings information is hard to find. Though SXM does subscribe to Nielsen Audio, the data is closely held. SXM releases total listener numbers but does not provide channel-by-channel data.

The ratings information we do have shows that some programming such as Howard Stern and sports coverage reach millions of weekly listeners. However many of the channels have fewer weekly listeners than a station in Boise.

In our files, we have two books from 2007. They show that, at that time, noncommercial news channels had a very small number of estimated weekly listeners.

Consider this from the Fall 2007 Arbitron report:

(Arbitron Fall 2007)

NPR Now   17,700
BBC World Service 8,800
CBC News 4,000

Folks in noncom public radio should never get complacent about SXM. But I don't see them as a serious threat to public radio listening. The defining brand attribute of both SXM and public radio is NONCOMMERCIAL.

1 comment:

  1. I read your article on Sirius XM with interest. I produced the Jay Thomas Show for five years. As a broadcaster, Sirius XM is heaven. The facilities are state of the art, and the freedom we were given was unmatched in my 50 years of experience.

    Sirius does run commercials on many of their channels. We did on our show. From their support page: "Almost all of our music channels are commercial-free. There are a handful of music channels not programmed by SiriusXM that air commercials. Many of our sports, news, talk and entertainment channels also carry limited amounts of commercials."

    Ratings information was never shared with us. In fact, I was told that Sirius did not subscribe to ratings services, and that they were only concerned with total subscribers.

    The listeners we had were very vocal and supportive of the show. Most of the shows have their own web sites, and most communicated with their fans through Facebook and Twitter. I can only speak for our show, but our listener input was very important to us, and many of the topics, features, and guests were suggested by listeners. Since our show was a talk show we had some listeners who became regulars on the show because they were entertaining, or had something that made them stand out.

    As far as the corporate mindset goes, I don't really see much difference between commercial and non-commercial radio. We are all competing for numbers, and many of the decisions made concerning content and/or personnel reflect those numbers. My time at Sirius came to end because I was making too much money. It doesn't get much more bottom line than that.

    Shawn Rosvold

    PS - I am commenting as anonymous because I don't have any of those profiles. Perhaps you should add Facebook and Twitter to the list.