I've had Sirius in the ride for a few months now and with the big Sirius/XM merger passing hurdles and on it's way to happening, I figured this would be kind of a good time to take a look at what this music obsessive who used to dabble in a little radio thinks of the service.
Well, on the surface, it has a lot going for it. There's a ton of commercial free music channels. There's a bunch of talk. The reception is better than terrestrial radio plus, if you're on the road, Sirrus stays with you so you don't have to scan around for stations each city you hit.
On the other hand, there may be a lot of music stations, but there's a definite skewing towards boomer rock. Off the top of my head, I can think of about half a dozen stations that would fall into this category, with a lot of crossover between their playlists.
If, like me, you're into jazz, you have one station. Wait, maybe there's a fuzak station as well. Popular genre like hip-hop only has a couple of choices, the main one, Eminem's vanity station, the "blazin' hip-hop and r&b hits" station and Backspin, the oldies.
Which brings me to the next thing. I listen to Backspin from time to time and I'll be damn if any time I tune in it's not Das Efx, Arrested Development or MC Lyte "Shut the Eff Up!" I could give other examples on some of the other music stations I check out, but the point is, for all Sirius portrays itself as better than terrestrial radio, their programing shares a lot of the same problems. It seems like the play lists are fairly shallow with a good amount of repetition, just like any Clear Channel owned station.
Still, I could overlook that, to an extent, and I'd be willing to listen to more music if the sound quality wasn't so poor. Remember the first mp3 you ever heard? Remember how cymbals sounded wooshy and vocals sounded slightly metallic? Yeah, that's pretty much what Sirius sounds like, even in the car with all kinds of road noise. They advertise CD quality, but they're pretty far from it.
Because of all that, I end up listening to a bunch of talk. While the music stations maybe commercial free, the talk stations most certainly are not. There are so many commercials on the talk stations (NPR excepted, though they have their station breaks with ads for other Sirius channels) that it feels like close to a 1:1 ratio of programming to advertising. It's enough to really drive a person crazy.
So, if you get the impression I'm not terribly impressed with Sirius, you're right. If the merger with XM goes through, which I'm guessing it will, I don't see any of these things improving. However, I'm not sure it matters.
I think satellite radio was an interesting idea, but I think it's time is starting to pass. For one thing, it's too easy to carry an iPod if you really want to listen to music. Most new cars have some type of dock or aux input making connecting an iPod very easy business.
For another thing, there's competition from HD radio and internet radio. I'm not sure how much competition these two mediums will be as HD radio is starting to feel like a non-starter to me and internet radio isn't quite ready for breaking free of its computer tether.
But, in my mind, it goes back to the iPod factor. It's just too easy to create and carry your own radio station wherever you are. These two titans may merge, but I don't think it's going to matter that much in a market that may have already peaked.