XM & Sirius Merge Channel Lineup: My Thoughts

By November 12, 2008 3 Comments

I’ve been an XM subscriber for a good year and a half now, and have always enjoyed their programming lineup. Well, the rumor I had heard lately, that XM and Sirius were going to merge their channel lineup, came true just two hours before posting this. At midnight, the switch took place. It appears more XM channels were replaced by pre-existing Sirius channels than vice-versa. It makes sense, considering Sirius technically bought out XM in the supposed “merger of equals” as the deal was described. (I’ve personally never understood why XM wasn’t the one buying Sirius, considering their significantly larger subscriber base). I have a lot of mixed feelings about the merger. Let’s get started.

First off, I know the merger of redundant programming on two channels (one on each service) into one channel on both will save the company, currently hemmoraging money, lots of coin. Unfortunately, that comes at the expense of many long-time employees at both satellite radio services. I heard the number of people let go was in the hundreds. As far as consolidation goes, I think some of the names of the stations Sirius previously had, that took over XM stations, are silly. I don’t even necessarily listen to the following stations, but they’re relevant examples. Why replace XM’s light alternative rock station “The Heart” with “Sirius XM Love?” Silly name. Then again in some cases neither station’s equivilent station makes any sense. XM’s classic alternative rock channel “Lucy” got replaced by Sirius’ “Lithium.” Go figure either one of those. Some replaced stations do have better names now, though. My favorite station, ’90s & ’00s hot adult contemporary station “Flight 26” was replaced by Sirius’ “The Pulse.” I do like the name better.

I’ve been listening to The Pulse for the past two hours and haven’t really noticed any big differences. I’ve caught a few “new” (to the station) songs sprinkled in, like a catchy track from The Killers I hadn’t heard before, but nothing else out of the ordinary. My guess is the same program director will stay at the reigns, and the only shift will be in the name. The on-air personalities now include two from each station, with the exception of one Flight 26 personality, P.J., who was either let go or was moved to another station. Even the voiceover guy is the same, as I’ve discovered with most other respective channels as I’ve flipped around the dial tonight. The new imaging packages by the voiceover team all say “[Name of station] on Sirius XM] now and come wrapped in a much tighter package, all sounding very quick, snappy, and punchy.

What I don’t get, and don’t agree with, is Sirius XM’s decision to integrate programming lineups but keep channels different on both services. In fact, I think if they’re going to do this, they should go big or go home. What’s the point in having the same channel lineup on both services, yet have different channel numbers for each? I know nothing about exactly how the technology will now be implemented and combined, but my guess would be they could decomission either the XM or Sirius (one or the other) satellites and have only one previous company’s satellites serve the combined subscriber base. It would most definitely save the company a lot of money. Plus, XM’s channel bandwidth could then be used to expand Sirius’. The sound quality on either service has always been questionable. I’ve heard better stereo sound from a cassette tape. The biggest difference can heard when you switch between highly-compressed XM and an insanely-processed, polished-sounding radio station, such as Q94. Using XM’s bandwidth for Sirius’ channels would allow the combined company to allot more bandwidth to each station, effectively dramatically improving sound quality. I’ve heard that music channels are compressed as low as 64kbps (half of what is considered mediocre to good MP3 quality), and some talk channels as low as 16kbps. I can’t confirm this, but I believe it.

Why not just lose the silly Sirius XM moniker and pick one name? I think, for simplicity’s sake, just one should be used. Also, get rid of the channels hardly anyone listens to, like the three French music channels and “The 40s.” How many people do you know in their 80s (that’s how old you’d have to be to reasonably remember music from the 1940s) that listen to satellite radio, much less even know what it is? It’ll be interesting to see how all this plays out, and the response from subscribers. We all knew this was coming. The company is looking to bring value to its shareholders by cutting costs, and this was the quickest way to do just that. I think in the long run, after customers such as myself accept and adapt to the changes, it will be a good thing for everyone.