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Why I like SiriusXM’s new Mobile App

It hasn’t gotten a ton of attention, but SiriusXM’s recently revised mobile apps add some functionality which I think makes a dramatic difference in the quality of the user experience and also transforms the meaning of satellite radio online using the familiar metaphor of the DVR (not new for the conventional satellite radios, but certainly new for their streaming versions).

It’s no longer simply the mobile way to stream most SiriusXM channels via the Internet.  It now allows a whole new level of control, as illustrated by this summary from SiriusBuzz:

  1. The “START NOW” feature which will allow users to start shows from their beginning even if you have tuned into that channel after the show begins

  2. “TUNE START” automatically starts the currently playing song from the beginning when you tune to a music channel. This allows you to enjoy the complete song.

  3. “PAUSE” allows you to pause live radio and pick up your audio feed from the point where you left off

  4. “FAST FORWARD and REWIND” allow you to navigate through previously aired programming

  5. “SHOW FINDER” allows users to easily find their favorite Sirius XM shows.

You can also set alerts for the shows which you like most.

Most radio streaming treats the streaming experience the same way we experience the radio stations over-the-air.  There is no rewinding, pausing, or selection of content from previous periods.  These changes to the SiriusXM apps transform the uniform experience into a customizable one without creating channels which are entirely customizable a la Pandora or IHeartRadio.

These new apps are, in other words, built on the idea of customizing the presumably valuable and already curated content of SiriusXM, not creating an all-new channel the way Pandora does.  I actually think this is smart for one good reason:  Pandora et. al. already exist and create custom stations quite nicely.  Is it really necessary for SiriusXM to do this?  I don’t think so.  How about an argument that goes “our content is good enough for you to personalize but too good for you to one-up.”

For example, if I tune in to CNN on SiriusXM’s app and want to hear a show that ran hours ago, there it is in all it’s streaming glory – along with the ability to skip those pesky commercials.  Want to hear the Stern show from the beginning no matter what time you tune in?  Now you can.

Rather than separate shows into “live” and “podcasts,” this feature treats them as essentially “live” and “what you missed.”  The focus, in other words, is on the content, however you want it.  Not on “here’s what’s on the air right now no matter what you want right now.”

I think these changes are really super and they are guideposts for what more radio apps should be (the fact that you can already dig deeper into particular artists on some station apps is one illustration of how this concept is already at work).

If we perceive there’s serious magnetic value in our curated offerings – if, that is, we have a brand worth experiencing – and unless we’re empowering consumers to create their own radio station from scratch as Pandora does – then we should be organizing our apps around content, not simply around the idea of whatever happens to be “live” now.

IHeartRadio is a terrific application, but it’s built from the get-go to do two things:  Find and sample a live radio station or create one from scratch.  But suppose I want to hear Rush Limbaugh and hear him right now?

You can’t do it, because the app is organized around stations, not content.  For that you’d have to go to TuneIn.

Why shouldn’t IHeartRadio feature this?  If I really do “heart” radio it’s because I “heart” what’s on it, regardless of how you organize it by station.

Great radio will be built online (as on the air) from great and distinctive content.

And our mobile apps should be organized around that content.

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