The High-Tech Texan Blog

Monday, February 28, 2005

XM means Xtra Money

The satellite radio wars became more even-sided as XM announced it will raise its monthy fees to $12.95 - a 30% increase from its current $9.95 monthly rate. It's competitor Sirius charges $12.95 per month for its 100+ channels of digital radio. Coincidence or not?

XM was the first-to-market satellite radio brodcaster and boasts over 3 million users. Sirius claims to have about 1.24 million subscribers. Both companies deliver crystal clear programming dedicated to different music genres, generations and genders. Like 80s tunes? XM and Sirius each have channels that play non-stop Duran Duran and Toni Basil. News junkie? Take your pick from CNN, CNBC and even BBC information.

But each provider is upping the ante with niche programming trying to get new users to select its service based on their particular interests, hobbies and passions. Sirius drew the biggest headlines when they signed Howard Stern to a reported $500 million deal that will put his daily show exclusively on the Sirius satellites beginning in early 2006.

Add to their current NFL and NBA packages that allow subscribers to listen to every game and their recently inked multi-year deal with NASCAR, Sirius is posing a serious threat to XM's market share lead. Oh, XM has Major League Baseball. (yeah.)

I first experienced sat radio about two years ago when I was test driving a GM car with XM radio (GM has a deal with XM to install nearly 50 models exclusively with XM receivers). I loved it. All 80s all the time. Local radio? Oh yeah. Not my Houston stations but rather KIIS-FM in Los Angeles. Nothing like Rick Dees talking about the morning congestion on the 405.

It was only a matter of time before I got an XM receiver installed on my own ride. But I waited until I actually got my own new ride. No use, I figured, in putting new radio gear in a car that I would get rid of soon.

Fast forward two years later and I finally did get a new car. And I did install satellite radio. And I got Sirius. Why? I kind of had to. My new BMW was pre-wired for Sirius thanks to a parthership they created last year. All new BMWs will be installed only with Sirius gear when you go through BMW dealers. No XM for you - unless you opt for a third-party installation which may void BMW manufacturer warranties. I wasn't taking chances with an expensive car and a 5 year everything-included warranty. Seriously.

Luckily for me I am a huge football fan and come this fall Sirius will allow me to listen to my beloved Cowboy games. Not too bad since Cowboy games have not been heard on Houston airwaves since the Texans moved to town. Howard Stern? I could care less about him. NASCAR is not too bad to watch on TV but I have a hard enough time spotting my fave drivers on the tube; can't imagine how hard it would be to LISTEN to their positioing during drafting and slingshotting at Daytona.

So to me the field is kind of level when choosing XM or Sirius. The monthly fee will now be the same. The number of channels will approximately be the same. The programs I enjoy like music, news, comedy and general sports are pretty even. My decision came down to the equipment and integration offered by my car manufacturer. That made it easy on me.

But if I decide to get a home or portable satellite receiver - and can have my choice of equipment - I'd probably have to go back to the drawing board or maybe play eeny-meeny-miney-mo. (But I'd still probably go with Sirius as subscribers get a break when they activate additional radios).

Your thoughts on satellite radio? Post your comments below.