Waiting for the TiVo of satellite radio

Could SIRIUS XM end the battle between internet and satellite radio before it starts with recording devices in vehicles and satellite radio 2.0?

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
3 min read

In the battle between satellite and internet radio, there is definitely room for both products. But could satellite radio, with its first mover advantage and market penetration of all automotive manufacturers, soon be all things to all people by using recording devices to combine its wide channel variety with the personalization of internet radio?

A CEOutlook article alluded to this possibility, quoting analyst Matthew Harrigan who speculated that SIRIUS XM's satellite 2.0 would offer "'more personalized radio channel content using buffered content,' which would be 'cached onto a storage chip for later playback.'"

Putting on my happy ears, I'd guess that SIRIUS XM will eventually allow people to download its programs and music onto in-vehicle hardware and other devices that will let them create custom channels. To some extent, that's already being done. With MyFord and MyLincoln Touch you can set alerts that scan for specified artists and programs playing on any station and temporarily record 45 minutes of a station. But that's a result of Ford's hardware vendors -- not SIRIUS XM. And as always in the music industry, it all comes down to licensing. The Chevrolet Volt entertainment system has a feature that can record 30 minutes of AM/FM radio for playback, but not satellite radio because it doesn't have a license from SIRIUS XM. Strong-arming OEMs with expensive licensing deals could hamper wider adoption of satellite radio recording technology--at least in vehicles.

In informal chats with SIRIUS XM's PR people over the past couple months about satellite radio 2.0, they've been evasive about the product roadmap. The short answer on how they'll compete with internet-based offerings is that they don't; they're completely different products with SIRIUS XM's value proposition to the customer being variety and curated channels.

True, people do like variety, but they also love control. When a song that I hate plays on Hair Nation, I have to change the channel to skip the song. In Pandora, I just ban it from the playlist and move on to the next Poison track. But satellite has an obvious advantage over internet streaming: the satellite. Although it hasn't been a problem for me to date, spotty mobile coverage and the end of unlimited data plans could be an obstacle for internet music in the car. And at present, you can't get the Oprah channel on Stitcher.

But to achieve the "listen to only what you like" model of internet audio options, the very nature of satellite music delivery would probably mean that any customization of programs or creating personalized stations would have to be a hardware play. While the quoted articles don't tell much, satellite radio 2.0 will hopefully ease the way for more hardware enhancements of the service. As manufacturers focus their efforts on ways to incorporate Pandora, Stitcher, and other free streaming applications in vehicles, recording options could breath fresh life into satellite radio and help justify the monthly fee in the same way you paid for TIVO or other DVR service. With more control over programming, I could see becoming a satellite radio convert.

Would better hardware encourage you to pay for SIRIUS XM service?