- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rivals XM Satellite Radio Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., whose plans to merge face regulatory review, have an “abysmally low” share of the radio market.

Or at least that’s how XM Chairman Gary Parsons characterized the 3.4 percent share of all radio listening that satellite-radio channels accounted for last fall during an Arbitron sampling period.

In its first survey asking listeners about satellite and Internet radio — in addition to traditional AM and FM stations — Arbitron culled data from 468,786 listeners who kept diaries of their listening preferences between Sept. 21 and Dec. 13. About 5.6 percent of those surveyed said they listened to satellite radio, citing a total number of 297 separate channels.

In an interview, Mr. Parsons cited the Arbitron data in his defense of the proposed merger, which the National Association of Broadcasters, whose members include traditional AM/FM broadcasters, has criticized as a would-be monopoly.

Arbitron did not include ratings of specific satellite channels, and has put off doing so as it tweaks its rules for measuring programs that air on both satellite and terrestrial AM/FM stations. Still, the data shed some light on listening patterns of XM and Sirius subscribers.

For example, those who said they listen to satellite radio spend more time listening to the radio overall — including AM and FM stations — an average of 33 hours a week, compared with 19 hours a week for those who listen only to AM/FM.

Satellite-radio listeners spent 14 hours listening to terrestrial radio versus 10 hours and 45 minutes spent listening to satellite. Internet radio occupied the remaining 8 hours and 15 minutes.

“It confirms what you might feel subjectively, which is there are people who are really interested in radio, and those heavy users are mixing up all kinds of radio,” said Tom Taylor, editor of Inside Radio.

Detailed demographic information on satellite-radio subscribers, who number about 14 million, has been hard to come by, Mr. Taylor noted.

“It’s been a very opaque picture regarding satellite radio, but at least it’s a glimpse at some listening,” he said. “I think [Arbitron] is to be praised for taking the viewpoint that listening is listening, that radio is radio, whether it comes from a little antenna in your car or an AM/FM radio” or over the Internet.

Both District-based XM and Sirius of New York posted narrower fourth-quarter losses this week.

On Monday, XM announced a 45 percent increase in revenue, narrowing its loss to $263.2 million (90 cents per diluted share) from $270.5 million ($1.22) a year ago. Sirius yesterday said its loss narrowed to $245.6 million (17 cents) from $311.4 million (23 cents) last year.

The two companies will be the subject of a congressional hearing this afternoon, called by the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat. Mel Karmazin, the chief executive officer of Sirius, who would become the combined company’s chief executive, is scheduled to testify.

‘Ask the … ‘ returns

Bonneville International’s “Ask the … ” program, which features interviews with Washington-area governors and other officials, has returned to all-news WTOP (103.5 FM, 820 AM) from WTWP (107.7 FM, 1500 AM), which didn’t have room for the 10 a.m. segment with the debut of “The Tony Kornheiser Show” on WTWP from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Channel Surfing runs on Wednesdays. Call 202/636-3139 or e-mail [email protected]washing

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