- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

One features programming by Howard Stern and Martha Stewart, as well as National Football League games. The other counters with the talents of Snoop Dogg and Ellen DeGeneres, and Major League Baseball broadcasts.

Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio Inc. each cost $12.95 for a monthly subscription, and offer more than 60 channels of commercial-free music and dozens of talk-radio programs that cover everything from sports to politics to comedy. Representatives from both companies said their diverse programming gives them the edge.

XM started up in 2001, a year before Sirius, and has more than twice as many subscribers. But Sirius has signed some high-profile talent — most notably Mr. Stern — who could shrink that lead.

“It’s really going to come down to the personalities that both of the companies are signing up,” said Jason Hollins, vice president of Edison Media Research, an independent firm in Somerville, N.J. “Howard will be the first real key to see how that affects subscriber [numbers] in the first quarter of 2006.”

Mr. Stern, the self-proclaimed “King of All Media,” signed a five-year, $500 million deal in October 2004. He will make his Sirius debut Jan. 9, although the two satellite channels he oversees already are broadcasting. His last live broadcast for Infinity Broadcasting Corp., the unit of Viacom Inc. that carries his syndicated show in more than 20 markets, is scheduled for Dec. 16.

Sirius announced recently that it had added more than 359,000 subscribers in the third quarter for a total of nearly 2.2 million customers. The company expects to have more than 3 million subscribers by the end of the year.

In addition to landing Mr. Stern, the New York satellite system debuted the Martha Stewart Living Radio channel on Nov. 21, the “most complete package of radio for women, unmatched by XM and terrestrial radio,” said Patrick Reilly, senior vice president of corporate communications at Sirius.

Sirius also hosts Radio Margaritaville, a “good-time music” channel co-produced by Jimmy Buffett, and weekly talk shows hosted by a variety of celebrities, including diet-and-fitness guru Richard Simmons, former Sen. Bill Bradley and Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, Mr. Reilly said. Sirius also has exclusive rights to broadcast all NFL games under a seven-year, $220 million contract.

“Our primary subscriber is a guy who wants it in the car,” Mr. Reilly said. “We’re really focused on owning the car.”

XM satellite receivers are offered in vehicle models from General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Porsche, Volkswagen and Audi.

Sirius has deals in place with Nissan, Toyota, Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen, as well as with BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ford and others.

XM doesn’t have Mr. Stern or Mrs. Stewart, but the D.C. company is winning the subscriber battle with more than 5 million customers, expectations for more than 6 million by end of the year and the potential for 20 million by 2010, said David Butler, director of corporate affairs.

XM has more than 150 channels compared with Sirius’ 120, and Mr. Butler said XM is more concerned about adding customers than signing celebrities.

“It’s easy to generate headlines,” he said. “The challenge is to generate subscribers, and that’s where XM has a significant lead.”

But XM’s holiday advertising campaign does feature some of its more high-profile talent. In the television ads that debuted earlier this month, rapper and actor Snoop Dogg interacts with TV talk show host Miss DeGeneres, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and musicians Martina McBride and David Bowie. Miss DeGeneres hosts a show on a talk channel aimed at female listeners that includes original content from HGTV and the Food Network.

XM also has a few celebrity hosts with local ties. Bob Edwards, formerly of National Public Radio, hosts a show every weekday morning; Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken and his brother, Billy, host a weekly show; and XM has exclusive satellite rights to “The Tony Kornheiser Show.”

And although Sirius has the NFL, the crown jewel of XM’s sports offerings is its exclusive agreement with MLB under an 11-year, $650 million deal announced last year, Mr. Butler said.

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