If we thought that the nation’s two satellite-radio services — Sirius and XM — would each become a long-term going concern in the foreseeable future, we would be at the front of the line opposing their merger. If there were any evidence suggesting that Sirius and XM’s respective losses of $1.1 billion and $732 million last year would soon evolve into respectable profits, we would oppose their merger. If there were evidence indicating that their separate operations, which so far have generated cumulative cash-flow deficits totaling $10 billion, would eventually produce positive cash flows within a reasonable period of time (even if losses continued), we would oppose their merger. If their combined share of the radio-listening market were 34 percent rather than the 3.4 percent it actually is, we would oppose their merger. If the combined 2006 broadcasting revenues of XM and Sirius were 27 percent of the revenues captured by commercial terrestrial (AM/FM) radio broadcasters rather than the 7 percent that they actually are, then we would oppose an XM-Sirius merger.
But not a single one of these anti-merger reasons exists. Sirius and XM continue to hemorrhage cash and generate losses at rates that raise serious concerns about their long-term viability. Their combined market share hardly represents a current threat to the 12,500 terrestrial radio stations, whose politically powerful lobbying arm, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), is becoming apocalyptic over the proposed satellite-radio merger.
If the NAB were so concerned about maximizing competition, it would not be in the business of relentlessly lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to increase the number of terrestrial radio stations that a single firm can own in a single market. Moreover, if the NAB were not concerned that the merged operations of Sirius and XM might provide a legitimate competitive threat to terrestrial radio in the distant future, it would not be interested in the least about a merger in the satellite-radio industry. In fact, the NAB is quite happy with the status quo, which includes two loss-producing satellite-radio firms facing the real prospect of going out of business because the high-cost structure each faces prevents them from reaping the benefits from the economies of scale that merged operations could exploit. Consumers would benefit from the competition that a viable satellite-radio concern could provide the entrenched terrestrial radio industry and the rapidly expanding operations of Internet radio
For consumers, who now pay $12.95 per month for either Sirius or XM, the merger would significantly increase the odds that satellite radio would become a viable long-term concern. Some of those benefits were revealed this week. On Monday Sirius chief executive Mel Karmazin unveiled several a la carte pricing and program options that consumers could select from the merged operations. Currently, XM has exclusive satellite-radio rights for Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, while Sirius offers the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. Sports fans could buy a package that would include all leagues for $14.99 per month. Another package would allow consumers to select 50 nonpremium channels for $6.99 per month. A “family package” would also be available.
To maximize the possibility that satellite radio will be around to provide the long-term competition to terrestrial and Internet radio that will benefit consumers, the FCC and the Justice Department should approve the merger.