Is Sirius-XM about to go global?

Chris Forrester

Apple’s hugely popular iPhones have won world-wide appeal, and any day now Apple will be launching the OS.3 operating system. There’s already a radio app for use on the iPhone (Normsoft’s Pocket Tunes). We also know that pay-radio operator Sirius-XM is busy working with Apple on a Sirius application. The iPhone app is widely expected to be a streaming radio device. How could this play outside North America?

Sirius-XM is not alone in the pay-radio market. There’s already Worldspace and the promised services from Ondas Media, anticipated for 2011. Technically, Sirius-XM is somewhat constrained in its ability to deliver global signals, and financially this may not be the most timely moment to ‘go global’, other than with the Apple-type devices. There’s also the challenging question of international audio rights as to sports coverage as well as listening to on-air talent such as Howard Stern, but these could be overcome, as is often the case, with cash!

But let’s also remember who – largely – now owns Sirius-XM. It’s Liberty Media, with significant cable interests in Europe and elsewhere. DirecTV – another Liberty area of influence – has DTH interests in Central and South America. Liberty itself has other interests in Japan, Chile and Australia.

In other words pay-radio could be a useful additional RGU to Liberty/Sirius. And the timing could be just right. And let us not forget the sterling work done by Music Choice, which until recently was carried by DirecTV (and dropped in favour of XM.). Whether a ‘streamed’ service could be financially as beneficial as a broadcast-to-many system is for the accountants to answer.

But Liberty already claims 16.9m customers, plus those of DirecTV, under its belt. Branding a pay-radio service, with exclusive content (musical and audio) under one roof might well be an appealing addition to the growing number of iPhone owners as well as a zillion other handheld devices, many of them perfectly capable of handling streamed and even ‘broadcast’ options.

As mentioned, many of Europe’s DTH operators still offer Music Choice to subscribers, and there’s plenty of hard-won experience from this portion of pay-radio. But set-top boxes don’t fit that easily into a jacket pocket! iPhones and their rival products fit only too well. We’ll await Apple’s (and the upcoming Google) news with interest.