Tag Archives | Sirius XM

A Tale of Two Receivers: XM Skydock vs. XM Onyx

Sirius XM announced two new XM receiver devices this week – the Skydock ($120) and the Onyx ($80). Both are scheduled for a fall delivery and, I’m guessing, they’re targeting different audiences. While choice is good, I’m not sure the Skydock will be worth the 50% premium over the Onyx for most.

The XM Skydock essentially turns an iPhone or iPod touch into a satellite display and controller tethered inside a car. Whereas the Onyx, for $40 less, sticks with the more traditional plug & play receiver form – and is bundled with a vehicle kit, but presumably home kits and maybe even boombox accessories (like this) will be available. Making it a more practical option for many. One device, one subscription, multiple locations. Additionally, as most folks know, the iPhone has a small problem with third party multitasking. Meaning, that while an iPhone may make a great satellite receiver when paired with the Skydock, you’ll have to stop the music to navigate or take a call. (Sirius XM could have minimized this limitation by integrating some sort of speakerphone functionality, perhaps utilizing the car speakers.)

I’ve got XM built into my vehicle, so I won’t need to make this decision. But I’m wondering which side other folks will fall on. Assuming you find satellite radio worthwhile.

[This post republished from Zatz Not Funny.]

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Sirius XM Still Shedding Customers, Albeit More Slowly

sirius-xm-mergerSirius XM continues to bleed customers, although at a much slower pace than the first quarter of this year, numbers released Thursday morning show. The satellite radio provider shed 186,000 customers in the second quarter, an improvement from the 404,000 customers it lost in the first.

Regardless, the satellite radio provider is still losing customers, the wrong way to go when you’re already struggling to make money so as it is. Pro forma revenue was in at $608 million, which was a 1% improvement year over year. Losses were $171 million, an improvement over last years $203 million loss.

Some of this improvement can be credited to a further reduction in subscriber acquisition costs, now down to $57 from a year ago. Additionally, monthly average revenue per subscriber edged up 11 cents to $10.66.

It is also continuing to pull a bigger profit from operations, now up to $132 million in the current quarter.

There is still trouble ahead for Sirius XM however. Beginning this month,  a $2 royalty fee at minimum will be tacked on to every subscriber’s bill. It will be interesting to see the effect this may have on subscriber numbers. If we see a worsening again in the third quarter numbers out this fall, we’ll know the likely cause.

Regardless, the company must keep a hold of its customers. All this improvement can easily be stymied or wiped out if the company has an increasingly smaller base of customers. The biggest thing now is focusing on keeping current customers happy.

Programming — which from the looks of things appears to be Sirius XM’s weak spot — is job one. It’s clear that many are not responding to the “FM-plus” strategy carried over from Sirius, and much rather would prefer deeper playlists, which was XM’s biggest strength.

I’m reserving judgement until next quarter whether this merger can ever be a success. I’m still not sure yet.


XM Pricing Alternatives

Yesterday I canceled my XM satellite service after five years. Today, the company asked me to take a survey for departing subscribers. It was filled with the questions you’d expect–mostly ones on why I chose to cancel. But one question focused on what might have gotten me to stay, and mentioned some specific price points:

XM Pricing Survey

Currently, XM costs…well, that’s a complicated question, but the standard package is now $12.95, plus a $2 music royalty fee, plus $2.99 if you want to listen online and/or on an iPhone. Other options start at $9.99, and it’s possible to spend $21 a month if you go for the “XM Everything Plus the Best of Sirius” package and want to listen online.

I don’t think any of the scenarios outlined in the survey involve a permanent price break–they’re likely sign-up deals, not unlike the ones that cable companies offer. Oddly enough, the deal that Sirius XM offers to try to convince folks not to cancel isn’t mentioned: $77 a year.

Truth to tell, I’m not sure if Sirius XM can charge less than it does: Between the cost of the satellites and the cost of music royalties and the money it’s forking over to folks like Howard Stern, Oprah, and Major League Baseball, it’s an inherently spendy business.

Incidentally, the “Mostly Music” and “Sports, News and Talk” options mentioned above are trick questions: XM already offers them and is apparently trying to determine if people know they exist. (I didn’t until recently, and might have sprung for one if it wasn’t for the fact that neither one entitles you to pay $2.99 a month extra for online listening.)

How much is satellite radio worth? Well, it all depends on how much you listen to it. But to repeat myself, what would tempt me right now is a plan aimed at folks who only want to listen on an iPhone. If the rep who took my call yesterday had offered me that for $99 or so a year, I wouldn’t be ex-XM.


I’m an Ex-XM Subscriber

iPhone XM RadioLast week, I was thinking about replacing the XM satellite receiver in my car with my iPhone 3GS.  Now the deed is done: I called XM this afternoon and canceled my service, more than five years after I first became an XM fan. From now on, nearly all the audio I listen to in my car will be piped from my phone. (I do listen to local NPR stations, and may continue to do so via Plain Old FM Radio at least part of the time.)

I enjoyed XM enough over the years that I’m not leaving as an unhappy camper, even though the last couple of years were pretty dang rocky–the service kept raising prices (it now charges $18 a month for what was once $10) and dropping stuff I liked to listen to (Harry Shearer, all of MSNBC). But I don’t want to fiddle with two separate devices in my car, and when I had to make a decision, I opted for the iPhone. It gives me tens of thousands of radio stations for the cost of my AT&T data plan. Plus customizable “radio” from Last.fm, Pandora, and Slacker. Plus a bevy of podcasts. Plus audio books. Plus all my own music. Given all that, I’m willing to live with the fact that it’s not as convenient a car radio as my XM Xpress receiver was. Did I mention it also does GPS navigation and lets me make phone calls?

Some folks have reported having trouble canceling satellite radio or being offered cheap or free service as an enticement to keep the account. I had to wait a half hour on hold to speak to a real person, who offered me a $77-a-year deal if I’d reconsider–but one that would only kick in when my current subscription ended next March, and would then extend to March, 2011.

In other words, even though I told him I was canceling because XM was too expensive, he suggested paying the same rate for eight more months, then continuing to pay for another year beyond that. I declined the offer; he canceled my service.

What XM didn’t offer me was the one thing that might have kept me around: An iPhone-only subscription at a competitive price. (The $12.95 Sirius XM wants for online listening is too much given that it’s the same as the base rate for satellite listening, for a lineup that lacks much of the service’s signature programming and has dozens fewer channels.) I’ll bet I’m not the only XM defector who might have stuck around for a decent iPhone plan…and if it ever offers one I might be back. But for now, I’m ex-XM.

I’ll let you know how my iPhone-as-a-car-radio experiment goes. I already know I like the three customized 1960s stations I’ve created with Slacker a lot more than XM’s Sixties on 6…


Sirius XM Says 1 Million Have Downloaded iPhone App

While Sirius XM may not be having much success keeping customers, it seems to be having a good deal of good fortune attracting listeners through its App Store offering, apparently. In the first two weeks of availability, the Sirius XM application has been downloaded 1 million times.

Sirius XM Premium Online is free to download, however it requires a premium subscription to listen. For current Sirius XM customers, that means a $2.99/month extra fee — for non subscribers, that’s $12.99/month.

Regardless, its now the 7th most downloaded app overall, and #1 in the Music category. Lord knows if people are actually shelling out the $13 bucks for the service (I know I wouldn’t), but it’s a respectable showing.


Learning to Leave Satellite Radio

iPhone XM RadioI’ve been making noises about the idea of retiring my XM satellite radio receiver, canceling my account, and using my iPhone as an audio device in my car for a while now. The more XM charges and the less I like its programming, the more tempting the idea becomes. Now I’ve finally gone and taken a necessary step: figured out a workable way to pump my iPhone’s audio through my car stereo.

This was surprisingly difficult, which one reason why I’ve dawdled as long as I have. My car is a 2004 Mazda3, dating from an era in which cars didn’t come with iPhone integration and even mundane AUX ports were rare. (I did pay extra for a six-CD changer…which I ended up using maybe four times.) I went through an array of wireless FM transmitters for both my various iPods and my various satellite radios, and even the best ones were staticky hassles. I also spent more than $100 and a considerable amount of time on a fancy-schmancy kit that connected my iPod to my Mazda stereo system–it sounded greated, but caused the iPod to have some sort of digital nervous breakdown that rendered it unusable.

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Sirius XM Set to Raise Rates Yet Again

sirius-xm-mergerAlready peeved satellite radio customers will have one more reason to be upset with Sirius XM: yet another rate increase. While you were able to escape the last one by simply electing to forgo online access, this one is unavoidable.

Every subscriber will pay at least $2 more per month. The reason is this: beginning in August, the company would be able to raise rates to cover the costs of higher royalty payments to the record companies.

The royalty rate increases were allowed by the FCC as a result of a December 2007 agreement on those rates. The company was not able to pass along these increases due to the stipulations of the approval of the merger. However:

“After the first anniversary of the consummation of the merger, the combined company may pass through cost increases incurred since the filing of the combined company’s FCC merger application as a result of statutorily or contractually required payments to the music, recording and publishing industries for the performance of musical works and sound recordings or for device recording fees.”

That anniversary is coming up on July 29. According to unconfirmed reports, after this date a $2 charge on the primary radio, and a 97 cent charge on additional radios will be applied as a “royalty fee.” In other words, you will be paying at a minimum $14.95 per month for service.

People with knowledge of the situation are quick to point out that this isn’t an increase from Sirius XM per se, but rather a pass through of charges that were already being paid by the company because it can no longer afford them. You don’t say–after all its financial situation is pretty damn bad.

(See this link for a copy of the internal memo to customer service reps who are sure to be facing the brunt of yet more consumer dissatisfaction.)

Worse yet, this fee will increase by .5% per year through 2012. Thus it will be at least $2.10 in 2010, $2.21 in 2011, and and $2.32 in 2012. So much for those rate freezes eh?

This is really bad for Sirius XM. The Internets are flooded with consumer complaints about the service post-merger, and many are looking for a reason to drop sat radio like a rock.

I don’t see how the company doesn’t lose more customers over this. The company better get more responsive to programming complaints or there may be big trouble in sat radio-land.

Sirius XM customers out there — is this the last straw for you?