Tag Archives: Amazon Music

Could 2021 Be the Year SiriusXM Adds FREE Channels?

Back in July of 2016, I wrote an article wondering what might happen if AM/FM radio broadcasters woke up one day to the headline “SiriusXM is Now Free.” What made me think about this happening, was I had just read how Angie’s List had announced they were pulling down their paywall and making their service free and available to everyone.

Pay to Play

Call it a subscription, a membership fee or a paywall, what happens when they are eliminated? In Angie’s List’s case, less than one percent of Americans were members at the $40/month fee that had been in place. Paying that fee let people see the reviews of members that they  experienced when doing business with certain businesses or services. But now, everyone could have free access to those same rather substantial reviews, while enjoying the website’s strong, trusted and valuable content.

Why did Angie’s List Tear Down Their Paywall?

Angie’s List is a publicly traded company. Their stock had been down seventy-five percent from the previous three years and management was under pressure to get the stock going back up. By tearing down their paywall, they would increase page views. When page views go up, revenue goes up.

SiriusXM Under New Leadership in 2021

On January 1, 2021, Jennifer Witz takes over from James Meyer as CEO of SiriusXM. Meyer has been leading the satcaster since May of 2004. During his tenure, SiriusXM has grown to having its service playing in 132 million cars, but with only 34.4 million paid subscribers.

Its stock price all-time high was back in February of 2000, over twenty years ago, when it hit $66.50 a share. This past year the stock has traded between $4.11 and $7.40, for an average price of $6.05 a share.

Do you see an Angie’s List type of problem?

Walking a Tightwire

Incoming CEO Witz knows she will be walking a tightwire by making part of SiriusXM free to all radios capable of receiving the satcaster’s signal. The challenge will be to monetize those non-members through ad-supported free channels without cannibalizing paid memberships. SiriusXM grew revenues 7% in 2019 to a record $6.2 billion.

AM/FM radio revenues are projected to fall 17% in 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, but quickly rebounding in 2021 and growing in the years beyond.

Audio Advertising Works

With the dynamic growth of smart speakers, fueled in the United States by Amazon which controls 70% of the home smart speaker market, new interest of advertising goods and services via audio only has increased dramatically.

This should be a boon to AM/FM radio advertising, except for one caveat, the way people consume audio today is vastly different than even ten years ago with eMarketer saying there are 204 million digital audio listeners in the United States today. In fact, listening to digital audio makes up two-thirds of all digital media consumption, second to only digital video viewing based on time spent on this activity.

Moreover, digital audio advertising has been growing at a double digit rate.

Competition for Your Ear

The competition to be in your ear has never been greater. Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, podcasts, and audio books are all looking to get a piece of your time and attention.

With this increased focus on digital audio by consumers, advertisers are following in lockstep.

SiriusXM

Which brings us back to where this article started, SiriusXM. The satcaster has long seen AM/FM radio as its main competition and that two-thirds of AM/FM radio’s revenue stream is due to dominance on car radios. It’s simply too tempting not to want to utilize the chip it’s paid to have installed in your vehicle’s dashboard and monetize it in a new way. Doing so would mean an increase in revenues for its shareholders and at the same time the ability to elevate the company’s stock price.

If Apple has taught the world anything, it is that you can’t be afraid to cannibalize yourself if you want to grow your company.  Also, you don’t always have to be first to the party, to come away a big winner. You simply need to provide a superior product.

SiriusXM also enjoys the advantage of knowing who’s listening to what. Here’s how the satcaster puts it:

Jul 6, 2020 — “TRACKING” YOUR ACTIVITIES ACROSS DEVICES AND APPS We receive Listener Usage Data automatically from Internet-enabled devices. If you have a Sirius XM account, we may match the Listener Usage Data we receive to the device or devices associated with your account and thereby with you or your household.”

It’s an obvious advantage over audience estimates provided by a third party ratings company when a digital audio service can tell an advertiser how many people actually were exposed to their advertisement.

For radio sellers in 2021, it’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight.

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Great Expectations

OR FMI read with great interest the five part series by Matt Bailey on “The Alexa Effect.” In the 5th and final installment Matt shared what he called the “radio weapon Spotify will never have.” What is it? The radio personality. He wrote:

 

  • “A radio personality can tell you the backstory of a breakthrough artist that makes you want to hear her work.”

  • “A radio personality can point out that crazy line in the second verse to stay tuned to hear.”

  • “A radio personality can engage you to smash or trash a song on the station’s social media.”

  • “A radio personality can give you the chance to be among the very first to hear a new song by a star artist.”

“A radio personality can add context that will make listeners excited to hear a song that otherwise would simply be weird and unfamiliar. It’s a deeply personal and emotionally engaging weapon no algorithm can match. When we stifle their voices and their role in introducing new music simply to avoid potential tune-out, we might win a few tenths of a point in the PPM battle, but we will lose the new music war to Spotify.”

Consolidation & Voice Tracking

I don’t disagree with Matt, but I lived through the ramifications of the Telcom Act of 1996 and the consolidation of radio stations, along with the rollout of voice tracking.

Clear Channel called it “Premium Choice,” and we were told it would replace our local personalities with big market talent.

I watched in market after market as radio personalities, who were like members of the radio listener’s family, were sent to the unemployment lines. Relationships that took years, even decades to establish, wiped out in an instant.

Early Media Expectations

I grew up at a time when the family television set received a signal from a couple of antennas on the roof. We had two channels, which meant we received two television networks, CBS and NBC. If you wanted to change the channel, you had to get off the couch and change it. There was no remote control.

Our radios had both the AM and FM bands, but I remember wondering why. I often scanned the entire FM band to hear nothing at all with only the AM band picking up radio signals.

My early media expectations were two TV channels and AM radio stations. The radio provided a lot more variety, plus I had a radio in my room and our family had a single TV located in the living room. I controlled my radio, my parents controlled the family TV.

Media Expectations Change

In time, I would come to expect television to be in color, to be connected to a cable and have a remote control to easily change the multitude of channels I could now receive, from the comfort of my couch.

Radio would expand to the FM band and a whole new type and style of radio was born. The one thing that connected AM and FM radio was the radio personality. Every station had them and the decision to listen to one station over another was because of the radio personality.

In fact, I wrote an article on the power of the radio personality back in 2015 entitled “We Never Called It Content.”

I wrote this article after reading about the latest round of “forced retirements” in the radio industry.

And if you thought this type of downsizing was only occurring in large radio metros, the movie “Corporate FM” told the story of how in the 80s, ninety percent of mass media in America was owned and controlled by about fifty different companies, but after the Telcom Act of 1996 it was down to just six corporations.

New Media Brings New Expectations

Let’s fast-forward to today. I cut the cord on cable TV two years ago and all of my television viewing is streamed. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling TV and YouTube provide me with more hours of television entertainment and information than I could ever have time to watch, and I’m retired.

Amazon Echo provides me with all of my audio entertainment and I do mix it up between stations via TuneIn and the pureplays like Pandora and Amazon Music.

I also read a lot and subscribe to several online newsletters that all link to the original source of the material.

Which leads me to this conclusion, my calendar age did not cement my media habits. They’ve been fluid all of my life.

My 21st Century Great Expectations

  • I expect NPR to open up my world to things I should be aware of, that I might not have been. I expect them to also provide me with more depth to the stories in the news. I expect them to have all of this posted online for almost immediate access. They don’t disappoint.
  • I expect my television viewing to be On Demand and commercial free.
  • I expect my music listening to match my mood and be there by simply asking Alexa to play my favorite channels when I want to hear them.
  • Finally, I expect I’m not alone in these “21st Century Great Expectations.”

Rewound Radio DJ Hall of Fame

On Saturdays, I enjoy asking Alexa to play Rewound Radio so I can hear another fabulous radio personality featured in the weekly “DJ Hall of Fame.” The other weekend they featured WOR-FM out of New York City and the air personality was Johnny Donovan. OR-FM air checks are all in stereo and the music mix has plenty of variety. It was a time when Music Radio 77 – WABC dominated the world’s airwaves on the AM band. But the one thing I notice in these weekly trips down memory lane is how integral the radio personality was in the total program. They were a constant companion. They really were radio’s “secret weapon” to attracting faithful listeners.

The question I ponder often is, was this period of radio history akin to the vaudeville period of theater. It filled the right hole at the right time but won’t ever be coming back again.

I welcome your thoughts.

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