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Another Wacky Theory: Apple Will Overtake Sirius XM

Now imagine, just imagine, that Southwest Airlines had the potential to become a major competitor to GE. All right, I realize that’s ridiculous since the two companies aren’t playing in the same industry. But if you look at the recent chatter, you’ve got to wonder the source of the boneheaded conclusion that Sirius XM, the U.S.’s lone satellite radio service, has something serious to fear from Apple Inc.

Apparently this theory is based on the fact that Apple’s iconic gadgets, such as the iPad, iPhone, not to mention the iPod, seem to garner a higher approval rating from customers than Sirius XM. Ipso facto Apple stands to gain at the expense of a provider of satellite radio.

Well, maybe that’s closer to comparing the radio with the radio station. But it all goes to show that, when web traffic is the goal, writers will twist and turn and do everything they can to make something out of nothing.

What is evidently being ignored is the fact that an Apple mobile device and Sirius XM can happily coexist. Indeed, it’s quite possible for the latter to benefit from the success of the former. However, I thought this concept was logical, so why would it become an issue?

But here’s the reasoning: Surveys demonstrate that a growing number of people use their Apple gadgets to listen to radio shows. Rather than turn on a radio (satellite or terrestrial), or listen to the music feed from a cable or satellite service, you use your Apple device. You can listen directly, plug it into your car radio, or perhaps an accessory audio system. All well and good.

But the real issue is what you are listening to, not the device you’re using to listen.

One popular choice is Pandora, an online service that lets you create your own virtual radio station simply by specifying your listening preferences. AOL Radio and other alternates also offer a rich selection of stations. If that’s not enough, you can simply visit iTunes and download and hear your favorite podcast, which is my personal preference for the self-serving reason that I have two shows offered in that format. More to the point, lots of radio stations and networks now offer mobile apps.

In fact, our network, GCN, offers a decent iOS app (it’s also available for Android OS users) that allows you to listen to their entire programming lineup, including mine. You can tune in to the rebroadcasts, or the live feeds. Your choice. Since the iOS multitasking feature is supported, you’ll be able to continue to listen to a show while doing something else, but that applies to all current radio apps.

To nobody’s surprise, there’s also an app from Sirius XM that allows you to hear your favorite satellite stations. Or just use your personal computer and go direct to their web site.

So do you see where I’m going here?

Apple is not in the business producing radio shows. Other than podcasts, Apple is not distributing radio shows. Their gadgets serve as simply another medium through which you can receive such content, and any company who builds an app can compete for listeners in the open marketplace.

So if Sirius XM has a potential competitor, it is not Apple Inc. However, this isn’t to say that they are in the clear. You see, you pay a monthly fee for satellite radio. It’s not a large fee, but that could be a deal breaker for some, although the company seems to be doing well financially, particularly after the two original companies, Sirius and XM, joined together a few years back.

One way to boost Sirius XM signups is to make partnerships with auto makers to deliver a satellite radio with many of their models, sometimes as standard issue. So, for example, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, and the equivalent from Hyundai’s Kia affiliate, the Optima, offer one of the two satellite networks on a three-month trial on new vehicles. After three months, you have to sign up and pay the monthly fee to continue to receive your favorite satellite stations.

There’s a lot to be said for the flexibility of satellite radio here in the U.S. You can listen to a single channel all across the country, except in regions where a usable signal can’t be acquired, such as in a tunnel. Even then, Sirus XM has installed lots of satellite repeaters in various locales to improve reception. I have to tell you that, having done interstate trips from time to time, it’s awfully convenient not to have to continually switch the radio to a different station as signal strength ebbs. If you listen to a syndicated show, you otherwise have to hope that there will be another station that carries the show.

The other advantage with satellite, other than loads music channels in all the popular genres without commercials, is that you can hear a live broadcast. With Pandora and podcasts, you’re getting something prerecorded.

But it’s hard to argue against free, and if you don’t have a lot of discretionary cash lying around, even the small sum you pay for satellite radio, starting as $12.95 per month for a standard package, may be too much. For this service to survive and prosper, they will have to continue to offer something special, compelling. Consider, for example, shows where such rock legends Bob Dylan and Tom Petty hang out for a half hour and play their favorite tunes. For me, such offerings are well worth the price of admission. Maybe it’s not to you, but it wouldn’t be because Apple had anything to do with it.