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XM To Add More Local Weather and Traffic Stations Print E-mail
Friday, 30 July 2004
While the satellite radio players swear they aren't becoming local broadcasters, they continue to add more and more local content. XM has announced that they are adding traffic and weather to their satellite radio service for Miami, Minneapolis, San Diego and Seattle. Competitor Sirius also airs major market First Traffic reports. The XM Traffic and Weather service provides:

• 21 channels of traffic and weather information about the nation's most traffic-congested metropolitan areas
• 24-hour, seven-day-a-week reports for each market, offering in-depth, continually updated information
• Travel times for major roadways, provided by Traffic Pulse (R) technology on the ground in local markets
• Average speeds for major roadways, provided by Traffic Pulse (R) technology on the ground in local markets
• Amber Alerts and other important public safety and homeland security notifications on the air and displayed in text form on the radio display

XM's latest move and the desire of satellite operators to provide local content such as traffic (albeit it on a national signal), may fuel the controversy started by terrestrial broadcasters who swear XM and Sirius are laying in wait to be local broadcasters. Some in the radio industry think the satellite operators are paving the way toward using land based repeaters designed to fill in their space linked coverage to compete for listeners and ad dollars.

Satellite radio is already being broadcast on terrestrial radio stations (FM or AM) and XM has the most powerful terrestrial repeaters of the two satellite radio leaders which they use to cover the dropouts for their satellite signal from space. Both satellite radio companies repeatedly deny they are not moving into the terrestrial radio business yet they continue to develop increasing amounts of local programming - once an untouchable franchise for traditional FM and AM radio.

Increasingly listeners are getting exposed to satellite radio in places
like Dish Network, rental cars, restaurants and retail outlets. And they like it - especially as compared to traditional radio. Niche programming, more stations and now local content make for a compelling reason for mainstream Americans to invest $10 per month. When listeners switch over to satellite, it is believed that they rarely switch back to FM or AM broadcasts unless their newer cars' hardware makes it very simple to do so. Most satellite users appear to stay tuned to the dish once they get started on satellite radio -- at least that is what XM and Sirius would have you believe.

If the satellite radio companies make the move to a local, terrestrial
based system at some point - the big radio groups will be calling in all of their political markers, going all the way to the White House to stop the move. It could be a make or break issue for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) which would no doubt lead the charge for broadcasters.

Consolidated radio groups have in the opinion of some industry executives not kept pace with what listeners want. Programming is stale and uncreative. Voice tracking is a marvel to engineers but apparently wins few listeners. Radio stations still have failed to help the troubled record industry through its hard times which include but are not limited to music downloading and the decline of the CD.

Broadcasters have acknowledged as much. In the past few weeks at least
one group -- Clear Channel -- made a public announcement that it is cutting commercial loads on its 1,200 radio stations. Infinity acknowledged it would do the same but not make a public announcement about it. Other groups like Cox already limit commercial loads for the purpose of pleasing listeners and making inventory scarcer so advertisers have to pay more.

Industry experts say that radio has never earned more than 7 percent of the total ad revenue in any given year in modern history. With the advent of pay radio like XM and Sirius, the beginnings of no-cost-of-entry internet radio coupled with the downfall of traditional radio programming, it is not likely that number will improve now.

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