Internet vs. Satellite Radio: Mobile Pandora.com + Sonos Zone Player + Sprint MP3 Purchase Solution.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on some sort of corporate marketing see saw that just keeps going up and down and down and up and up and down and … a couple years ago we started hearing about XM satellite radio, then Sirius (and we built their Canadian web site).

But seriously, who hasn’t heard of satellite radio yet? Who has heard satellite radio? Who listens to satellite radio as their primary audio consumption channel? I think I know one person who got a device for free at work and bought a subscription for a couple months. They genuinely enjoyed it, but they definitely were not into the wide variety of programming (hell I dated her for two years and she still couldn’t remember my 4 digit buzzer code, that has two unique numbers repeated once). How can you expect a person like this to remember the satellite radio channels without using the paper menu / radio programming guide – especially if they only use it in their car? Needless to say she listened to about two satellite radio channels and then probably forgot that she even had it or a subscription. She could however remember the artists she liked.

Nobody really blogs about the business behind internet radio, the silent player making big headway over digital delivery channels. I’m sure internet radio can be just as easily piped over a satellite connection, but I mean typically web based internet radio. Built for indiscriminate web based consumption. I’ve fallen in love with Pandora.com, an web based radio disc jockey. It’s possibly the best automatic DJ solution I’ve ever come by. It plays what I like, skips what I don’t (after one single thumbs down click), and keeps the music fresh by compiling lists of similar songs / artists / albums and grouping them into radio stations for playback. It makes it easy if I want to listen to Linkin Park, I click on the Linkin Park station. So on and so forth. Another site and community is Fine Tune (http://www.finetune.com/), I don’t like it as much because I have to do stuff. But if you’re a doer, and you like more control over your play-list, then it may be for you.

I’ve been fighting the iPod / MP3 player craze for a number of reasons. The biggest reason being that I think it’s silly and borderline crazy to store up to 80GB of music on a portable device that you carry around with you. It’s too easy to lose, too easy to smash up, drop in the water, and well, I already have a mobile phone to carry around and smash up so I don’t need more junk. Thus it’s not very shocking that we’re seeing MP3 players being pushed into mobile devices – and I cite the clunky iPhone as Apples’ last ditch effort to get in on that consolidating market.

I woke up last week to find out that Pandora was being shut down perminently in Canada. I said boo for a second, configured my proxy, and can still connect (note to US congress: we will always find way’s around your soft embrace with the RIAA).

OK so back to Satellite Radio, the thing that really sucks about the Satellite Radio we have up North is I have to purchase a device and another subscription to the Satellite Radio service. I once asked my uncle (CEO of a major multinational corporation) if he’d consume news information on his Blackberry. He looked at me, laughed, and asked: “why would I use my blackberry when I have a newspaper”. I didn’t retort to the many reasons why he could get better more global information delivered to his Blackberry in a more timely manner. I could tell in his eyes he thought I was crazy. He could tell I thought he was crazy. And we had a silent moment where I understood what a newspaper meant to him. To be frank, news isn’t that important to him, he got all the information he needed for his life for free – and didn’t have such urgency to consume information in real time.

Possibly this is what radio is to us? An audio media channel we consume in a manner of complete and utter convenience. I wouldn’t personally pay for both a device, and a subscription! That just seems crazy for someone like me that doesn’t commute above ground where the signal is available, nor even drive into work. And still, I’d have to carry another little annoying device around like the iPod that will break down and see me losing my music (please no stupid back-up your data comments here cause I’ll be frank and cite Murphy’s law in retort). But that technology can only get better (Note: most likely a hybrid approach with like an “underground cache”).

Sprint has announced a deal to bundle Pandora and Sonos with it’s next generation mobile devices. Not only is this my dream come true, but it’s my worst nightmare as I can’t subscribe to this service in Canada. Nonetheless, if I could, the cool part is, I can get a subscription to Pandora content for merely $2.99 per month on my cell phone – compared to $15-$30 per month on Sirius. I just think that’s a great price for a great service of convenience. I really want Pandora to succeed because I think Satellite radio is just too complicated – and I want internet based mobile CDN’s to take off and kick start the mobile network supply chain. The Sonos device allows users to stream media from their home PC to anywhere with a wireless connection – but at over $30 per month, I think I’ll continue to pass on that one!

This leaves me with one major question for satellite radio providers. I know the scale of the Sat CDN is huge. But the internet will deliver similar quality content in the very near future with equal reach but with many more devices. What is satellite radio going to do when bandwidth is inconsequential and digital music can just as easily be streamed over the mobile web in mass? Wouldn’t it be smart for XM and Sirius to partner with the Motorola, Nokia and RIM’s of the world to get their “radio bands” built into these consumer devices? I guess ultimately this is the Carriers decision.

Stay tuned for the big picture coming tomorrow …

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