Satellite Radio Services Vie for Conquest of Space

Declaring "it's about the music," Sirius satellite radio today unveiled its plans for 2003, which include dedicated home tuners and nine new music channels, while its competitor, XM Satellite Radio, touted its 360,000-strong subscriber base as evidence of its vitality. The car market remains the primary target of both services, with XM boasting of its inclusion in all Cadillac models for 2003 and Sirius touting Hertz's offering of its service with rental cars in some major U.S. cities. In addition to 20 new car receivers and a more compact car antenna, Sirius unveiled satellite receivers dedicated for home use. Kenwood and Audiovox home tuners will be on store shelves by mid 2003, according to Sirius. A new plug-and-play Sirius radio that can be transported between a car and a home system, made by Audiovox and modeled after Delphi's SkyFi transportable XM tuner, will also be available this year. Kenwood and Audiovox will also release plug-and-play tuners soon, Sirius said. New antennas for the Sirius home tuners include a saucer-shaped design for homes that already have a satellite-TV dish. The antenna hooks into the support for the dish and connects to the dish's wiring, eliminating the need to string additional cable for the Sirius antenna. Sirius unveiled dedicated home satellite radio receivers at CES, including this one from Audiovox. XM unveiled no new products, saying instead that it would release products during the year as its "innovations center" made them available. The company gave a general update, emphasizing strong pre-Christmas sales for the Delphi SkyFi tuner and its growing subscriber base, which has increased by 145,000 since Sept. 30, 2002-almost doubling in three months. (Sirius, which started its service later than XM, had approximately 12,000 subscribers as of Sept. 30 and currently claims about 30,000.) When asked about dedicated home XM tuners, XM president and CEO Hugh Panero kept mum. An XM employee said privately that they weren't likely to arrive this year. Sirius, which held its press conference first, began with a short video that implied its satellite radio service would be as revolutionary as rock & roll radio stations in the 1950s or MTV in the 1980s. Speakers went on to emphasize that Sirius's 60 music channels, called "streams," are all commercial-free (a few of XM's music channels have commercials). The new Sirius programming includes several rap and hip-hop streams as well as streams for folk music and "jam" bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead. Sirius Right and Sirius Left are the highlights of the new talk-radio streams, with Oliver North featured as a commentator on Sirius Right. Using a typical in-car LCD screen, Sirius also demonstrated the ability to stream video via its satellites. Although the company said it has no firm plans yet for video-based services, it did say children's programming would be the initial focus.