Looks like Howard Stern is not a Sirius team player
Sirius XM released their highly anticipated and long overdue iPhone application yesterday, and the big news was that Howard Stern’s Channels (channels 100 and 101) would NOT be available on the iPhone. There was no official statement from either Sirius or Apple, but Bloomberg quoted a Sirius customer service rep (who odds are knew nothing) as saying Stern wouldn’t be offered because of the “mature programming” on the show. This of course is a ridiculous answer, as the iPhone’s new parental controls and ratings would take care of any content issues, as would the fact that although the app is free, you still need to subscribe to Sirius’ programming to access the content. So why isn’t Stern being offered on the iPhone? Well, odds are, it’s Stern himself that’s the problem.
I happen to be a huge Howard Stern fan. I am one of those people who subscribes to Sirius exclusively for him. My Sirius radio is set up in my basement, set to channel 100, and it never changes. Every morning my Mac Pro records Stern’s show using Audio HiJack from 5:55 AM to 12 noon (don’t want to miss the wrap up show), breaks it into 2 hour, bookmarkable segments, and then syncs them to my iPhone in iTunes. I then listen to Stern (on a 1 day delay or so) all day at work. So, yes, I am a die hard Stern fan, having heard every single minute of every show for about 12 years (I used to record his terrestrial New York show before his move to Sirius). And as anyone who has ever visited the Stern Fan Network website knows, there is nothing a huge Howard Stern fan loves to do more than bash Howard, so let’s do that. (By the way, while I haven’t logged on in years, my SFN screenname is “Dana Plato’s Ghost”, an obscure reference to Diff’rent Stroke’s actress Dana Plato’s suicide following a tough Stern interview, if you ever want to say “hi”).
It’s all about money
So, how can I be sure that Howard is the reason behind no Stern on the iPhone? Well, let’s look at the logic behind a Stern ban. Obviously Stern on the iPhone sells more iPhones, so Apple wouldn’t be opposed to that. Of course, so would hardcore porn on the iPhone, and Apple has not exactly embraced that. However, the Stern program is not nearly as pornographic as most non-listeners imagine, and obviously, being radio, it is not VISUAL pornography. There is no language said on the show that is not already available in various podcasts and in a slew of R-rated movie Apple sells and rents on iTunes. It’s adult programming to be sure, but nothing you can’t find in content already on iTunes. So I feel it is safe to say Apple is not blocking Stern.
So, would Sirius, want to ban Stern from the iPhone? The answer here is also “no”. Conventional wisdom is that although you need to buy a physical satellite radio to listen to Sirius XM, the company does not make its money on hardware sales. They make it via subscriptions. Offering Sirius on the iPhone is basically a “free” way for Sirius instantly increase the number of people who own Sirius radios (iPhones) and pay monthly streaming fees by 20 million or so. Now yes, Sirius usually charges a $6 a month fee for each radio and only $3 extra for streaming, but by charging their streaming fee for the iPhone, they will make up the difference given they will not be losing any money on hardware costs and support.
Above: I figured a picture of Stern’s wife Beth would keep you reading longer than another Howard picture.
So, if Apple wouldn’t want to block Stern, and Sirius wouldn’t want to block Stern, then that leaves Stern himself. Why would Howard Stern care whether he were on the iPhone or not? Well, like all things with Howard, it comes down to money. While I personally see no difference between Sirius allowing Stern to stream his channels on computers (which they do) versus on mobile devices, odds are Stern’s contract either specifically forbids it, or only specifically mentions computers. In his mind (of his agent’s), the mobile platform is a whole new ball game, and should be open to renegotiation. I obviously have no insider information here, but as a long time listener, I think I do have some insight into Stern’s mindset.
First, the developers of Starplayr 2, the desktop Mac and PC Sirius streaming app which I occasionally use, once called in to Stern and said they were working on an iPhone streaming app that they hoped to get approved soon. Stern sounded excited at the idea, but also wondered how it was they were allowed to do so. He is notoriously defensive of his content, fighting a constant (and losing battle) against sites like YouTube who allow users to post clips from his shows without his consent. He is very much about keeping his content exclusive and being compensated for it. And guess what? I don’t think he’s wrong.
I don’t care whether or not her actually got the rumored $500 million pay day for signing with Sirius (although if any of that was in stock options, we may need to pass the collection plate for him), I think the man deserves to be paid as much as he can for whatever anyone will pay him to do. Just as professional athletes, actors, and top executives are allowed to be paid ridiculous sums of money, I would not begrudge Stern the chance to be paid even more for streaming his show, if indeed money is the reason he is holding out. Aside from being jealous, I have no problem with people being overpaid. However, what this move points out is that Stern is NOT the Sirius team player that he portrays himself to be.
Stern is not a team player
Aside from talking about Sirius Satellite radio once every two years to David Letterman’s 3 million viewers, Stern does very little to promote the benefits of Sirius to the outside world. Oh sure, as a listener he constantly talks about how great it is, but he’s preaching to the choir. His listeners all have Sirius. Where are all the Sirius commercials featuring Stern? Where are his appearances on talk shows? He constantly says he would do Conan or Jimmy Kimmel if he had something to promote… well, guess what? He DOES. It’s something called Sirius radio.
If Stern were TRULY interested in helping Sirius’ bottom line, he would allow his show to stream via the iPhone app. This instant boom in streaming subscriptions is basically free money that Sirius has to leave on the table because without Stern, there is nothing that a streaming Sirius app offers iPhone users that they do not already get through hundreds of other FREE streaming radio apps like Slacker, AOL, Pandora, Last fm, etc.. We already have an 80’s channel, a Elvis channel, a country channel, etc. In fact, we have 60 of each.
I don’t actually care
Personally, I don’t care about Stern streaming on the iPhone. My current recording scheme outlined above is how I would prefer to listen to Stern even if he did stream his show, and I would prefer to listen to the show in its entirety rather than to listen to it in pieces here or there while out and about. But I know there are thousands of listeners out there who WOULD, and who would pay to do so. And so does Stern apparently. At a time when Sirius is hurting, if Stern really cared about driving subscriptions and generating money for the company, he would bring his show to the iPhone, as well as other mobile platforms. But he doesn’t. It’s all about the money with Stern, and while as a fan I would like to see him be bigger than that, I can’t argue that Stern’s pay-for-play attitude has worked well for him so far.
Maybe he’ll use mobile streaming as a bargaining chip in his next contract negotiation. Stern’s current contract ends in December of 2010, and of course he says he’s retiring at that point. As a long-time listener, I have heard him definitively say he was quitting at the end of his contract FOUR times now, so I have a feeling it may be another year and a half before we hear Stern on our iPhones. Of course, we’ll have to wait until Monday to find out for sure. Stern conveniently does not do a Friday show, so the Thursday release means no one has been able to call in and bitch at him about this. If it turns out he says he’d love to do it but it’s all Apple or Sirius holding back the deal, then I apologize. But somehow I doubt it.