A Hotel on Broadway

As a self-proclaimed music enthusiast, I have given up on the tragic state of FM radio and Clear Channel-induced propaganda. Many moons ago, just as another Detroit radio station fell victim to yet another loud-mouthed-with-nothing-to-say DJ playing “hits from the 80s, 90s, and now!”, high school shout-outs, and mad moms in minivans winning Disneyworld trips, I threw my white flag in and turned off my car radio. I couldn’t buy blank CDs fast enough to keep up with my changing music taste and new band discoveries in constant rotation in my car and bedroom. My dad was falling into the same radio slump as he contemplated re-registering for his 1991 subscription for “2000 CDs for one cent each!!!” (The last thing our house needed was more Steely Dan anthologies and Billy Joel greatest hits. Don’t get me wrong, they are legends in their own right and have graced the Waters family airwaves every Sunday – but you need to draw line after something like River of Dreams). When he found himself dusting off his reel-to-reel, he decided it was time to make some changes. Enter satellite radio.

We have not turned back since that day in 2003 that we got our XM radio hook up. Since then, it has taken over our lives. Running wires into every room in the house, car hookups, portable players, streaming on the web. When I found out I could bring “the sounds of Starbucks” into my dorm room, I was on my knees thanking the commercial gods of coffeehouse rock. Dad had every Canadian hockey game that CBS wouldn’t pick up. Mom had her news and Martha Stewart. Me and my sister had bona fide new music on 150 channels of broadcast bliss…..commercial free! So when the news hit of a potential XM-Sirius merger earlier this year, you have to believe I was obsessed with the business behind this theoretical ground-breaking proposition. My first instinct was as a loyal customer: “The channels! Imagine the possibilities! 500 channels! Ecstasy!” my next was as a business woman: “The monopoly! Imagine the lawsuits!”

This is the best professional judgement I came across in a WSJ article.

If the FCC somehow turns their head from the possibility of airwave-takeover with this merger, the outcome could be awesome for listeners. Low subscription prices as production costs decrease (if they want to be ethical about things…..HA I am an idealist), larger selection, more celebrities, more Howard Stern (!).

But the essence of monopoly is in the air. It would take us right back to the Pinocchio strings of the media as another consolidation leads to giving us no choice but to listen to what they feed us. And for many satellite listeners, that was the main reason for the switch in the first place. Lest we not also forget the basic ECON 101 lesson behind a monopoly – without competition, where is a corporation’s drive to lower prices? They could take the prices up to $1,000 but if you want it badly enough, you will pay. Then it becomes an internal struggle instead of a media luxury; how much is Howard Stern worth to you?

The idea of “competition” is where the fine line will be hyper-analyzed over the next few months as a decision is reached as to whether the FCC will allow the merger to take place. You could argue that XM and Sirius are each other only competitors in the satellite radio ring. But is that all they are fighting with for our listening (and money)? Or is FM/AM broadcast a threat in the radio ring? iPods in the music application ring? old school CDs? Podcasts in the media ring? Wii in the entertainment ring?? If the competition expanded to the entertainment industry as a whole, satellite radio is less than 2% of the market. I never considered this idea of what combination of consumer products are vying for my attention (and money – you get the idea) Its like 6 degrees of separation within all capitalist organizations. Somewhere, there is a poor college student trying to choose between XM radio and TBS reruns.

(logic: listen to XM or Podcast? The Onion podcast or NY Times TimesTalks? TimesTalk with Larry David or Harvey Weinstein on entertaining America? An episode of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm? Vandelay Industries or Junior Mints? TBS rerun or DVD box set?)


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