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Getting Sirius about Howard Stern’s Next Step

From Inside Radio:

Analysts: Sirius XM “would be fine” without Stern. The satcaster’s high penetration in automobiles and partnerships with carmakers will keep its subscriber rolls strong for years to come, according to analysts. “The company’s in a pretty good position and their operations would be fine and continue even if they lost subscribers because of Stern,” BGB Securities analyst Murray Arenson tells Reuters. Despite the “Where you go Howard, we go” mindset of many of Stern’s fans, Barrington Research analyst James Goss says the listeners who followed Stern to Sirius XM may not be ready to leave with him. “People who took the product then might have found other things they liked about satellite radio, and at this stage, they wouldn’t necessarily leave,” Goss tells Reuters. Stern has floated the idea of striking out on his own with a mobile app that would give subscribers access to his show and archives. That’s an idea whose time has come, according to Jennifer Lane, who writes Audio4Cast, a daily blog about internet radio and digital audio. “Imagine Howard Stern apps, streams, in- studio videos, side channel audio and video programming, all wrapped into one online platform,” she writes.

It’s easy to suggest that Sirius XM will be just fine without Howard Stern based purely on subscription and car sales metrics.  But that is an analysis so extraordinarily short-sighted, I’m surprised it’s coming from a professional analyst.

Ponder, for example, the consequences of Howard’s potential departure from Satellite as a news item.  This would be the worst publicity debacle for satellite radio in its short history. It would also be the biggest news item about satellite radio since the announcement that Howard would land there in the first place.

Indeed, a quick look at Google Trends for “Sirius” indicates the biggest spike by far was timed with Howard’s appearance on Satellite.

To suggest that such bad publicity is anything but bad for Sirius XM as a brand is naive.  Would you want to unleash the harsh negativity of a disgruntled Stern audience on your brand?  I didn’t think so.

At the same time, it’s easy to wax rhapsodic about the potential opportunities for Howard Stern in the digital space, because indeed there’s great potential there. But Team Howard retains all their own digital rights.  To a degree all the whiz-bang digital doo-dads are available to Howard under his existing contract.  And so far (for various reasons) they remain in the future.

But these arguments miss the larger picture.  Old media is still big media, and it generates big headlines. It’s not just about subscribers and money.  It’s about being on the tip of the spear that captures the world’s attention. And the Howard Stern digital-only empire would be no attention-grabber.  Certainly not the way satellite radio was thought to be on the day that Howard announced he’d be joining it.

Howard Stern is a star and a star is in show-business.  And show-business favors the biggest and broadest possible stage.  And isn’t that where a star belongs?

So Howard can be the A-list star of a blockbuster on radio or even on satellite radio.  And he can be this while also flexing his digital muscles.

But what about a digital-only Howard?  On the Internet, he could make beaucoup bucks for sure.  But without big media support, he’d be the auteur of his own independent film.

And even with a lot of butts in the metaphorical seats, it’s still an Indie.

Ask yourself:

Would Oprah do that?

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