Infinity Broadcasting’s Chief Operating Officer, Joel Hollander, made some interesting comments yesterday concerning Howard Stern’s impending (if 12 months away can be considered impending) move to Sirius Satellite Radio. Consider:
“If you give me a check for about $100 million, I’ll take him off tomorrow,” Hollander said. “I certainly don’t love the fact that he’s on the air talking about satellite radio. But it is overblown, in fairness to him.”
To an extent, I agree with him. Allowing Howard Stern to talk about the move isn’t great for Infinity, but people are listening and ratings translate to advertising dollars. I’ve read rumblings that Sirius and Infinity may strike a deal to release Howard Stern from his contract, but I doubt it. There’s too much money to make in the next year before he moves to Sirius, which means twelve more months of status quo.
That doesn’t mean the Mr. Hollander is smart. Aside from the fact that Infinity stations air commercials for XM during such high profile shows as The Don and Mike Show, which is like Coke allowing Pepsi to pay to have its logo displayed on every can of Coca-Cola, Mr. Hollander sounds a lot like cable television skeptics from the early 1980’s who questioned whether or not people would pay for television when they could get the networks for free. Five hundred channels later, the argument is ridiculous. Consider:
Brought in last year to turn the Viacom unit’s lagging revenue growth around, Hollander expressed respectful skepticism about Sirius, and satellite radio in general. He said the rise of both XM and Sirius shares is the result of “irrational exuberance.”
Satellite radio is a viable business, according to Hollander. “I just think it’s a boutique business; I don’t think it’s a mass appeal business.
“And that’s why I think people are going to come back to [traditional] radio. It’s survived every new technology advance of the last 50 years. It’s not going away. It’s still a $20 billion business. And the irrational exuberance is that there’s [sic] 290 million people that [sic] listen to radio every day in the United States, and [satellite radio has] 4 million subscribers.”
Terrestrial radio is free and abundant, but there’s a flaw in Mr. Hollander’s argument. Terrestrial radio sucks. Now that I have Sirius in my car, I never listen to regular radio (aside from Don and Mike and Howard Stern). Every radio station I hear has the same characteristic flaws: repetition, commercials, and annoying DJs. I want music or talk, not both at the same time. When I want music, I want to hear a variety of songs, including songs I’ve never heard. What terrestrial radio gives is the same rotation of Jessica Simpson and Usher. When I want talk, I want uncensored (though not “blue” for the sake of being “blue”) talk. What terrestrial radio gives is
lame-ass family-friendly noise.
Terrestrial radio is virtually useless to me because it lives by the mentality of the target audience, the holy grail of free entertainment. But I don’t care about demographics. I’m a 31-year-old male with a girlfriend who isn’t inflatable and a real job that doesn’t require me to say “Thank you, drive thru“, yet I rationally worked out a plan to fly to England for a weekend to see Busted perform in London. (Which didn’t work out because of that stupid real job. Damn you, Responsibility!) The only way I’m a typical listener is that I’m not a typical person.
Sirius doesn’t focus its playlist based on my demographic because, rather than chasing me with what some poll tells them I want, they let me find the playlist I want on any of the dozens of music stations. In my unscientific survey, which means I asked everyone I know who subscribes to satellite radio, no one who tries satellite radio is willing to give it up. To every person I ask, not one of them can imagine going back to terrestrial radio. I pay my $12.95 every month and that’s all the proof they need that they’re doing something right. Terrestrial radio would play some Busted for me, but not before trying to sell me a black mini-skirt, a tube of glitter-filled body spray, and the latest Orlando Bloom movie. Where’s the mystery?