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It is too early to gauge the results of this initiative, although early results of 1 million downloads in two weeks are positive (Kharif, 2009).
Another competitor is Internet radio. This industry is fragmented, with hundreds if not thousands of operators. It has many of the same content advantages of satellite radio, including the ability to offer a wide range of formats. It is at a content disadvantage, however, because few if any Internet radio stations can afford the high-end talent that satellite radio has established. However, their cost structures are much lower as well, meaning that they can offer their product for free. As of 2006, an estimated 30 million Americans listened to Internet radio each week (Prince, 2006). The industry is at a disadvantage, however, in terms of its ability to measure its listenership. This in turn makes it difficult for Internet radio providers to compete for advertising revenue.
In addition to intense competition for listeners, Sirius XM is struggling with debt and liquidity. Q1 2009 figures showed the company with a current ratio of 0.35 and a cash ratio of 0.16. The firm's debt-to-equity ratio was 29.6 (calculated from MSN Moneycentral, 2009). The company lost $50.41 million in Q1 and in Q2 lost $157.36, although some of that figure comes from a one-time writedown. The debt-laden structure has the firm committing some $65.74 million to interest in Q1 alone. This burden makes it difficult for Sirius XM to invest in new technology or content.
Since its robust pre-merger growth, Sirius XM has seen a slowdown in subscriber growth and in forecasted growth. In Q2 2009, the company announced that it had 18.4 million customers, down 1% from the previous year. The average revenue per customer was $10.66 per month, an increase from the previous year (AP, 2009). Subscription growth was projected to bring the total number of subscribers to 20.6 million by the end of 2009, but with the company shedding subscribers in Q1 and Q2, it appears that these estimates will need to be revised (Frommer, 2009). It is possible that without a significant uptick in auto sales, Sirius XM's subscription base will flatline.
There are two major constraints to growth at Sirius XM. The first is the company's capital structure. The firm's major competitors -- terrestrial radio and Internet radio -- are vulnerable given their poor financial positions. Yet, Sirius XM is in a position that is just as poor if not worse. As a result, the company cannot make infrastructure or talent investments that would increase its competitive advantage. That the merger deal forced them to freeze their rates, thus denying them to the ability to extract monopoly rents, further constricts their financial position. They can only increase revenues by increasing subscribers, and that will be difficult to do without increasing investment. The other major constraint is the firm's dependence on new auto sales. With that industry slumping badly, there is no end in sight for subscription stagnation at Sirius XM.
Thus, it is recommended that Sirius XM develop new markets. They have a differentiated product and little money to further improve their offering. Moreover, without the ability to charge more, it is unreasonable that they should adopt such a strategy. Therefore, the best strategy is to invest in marketing and find new distribution channels. The move into the iPhone is an excellent start. With robust sales, the iPhone offers an excellent opportunity to Sirius XM to find new subscribers without significant technology investment. This strategy also allows Sirius XM to leverage this potential competitor to gain sales, reducing the degree to which portable music from mp3 players or phones competes against satellite radio.
With respect to the firm's financial position, it should lobby the relevant antitrust authorities to remove any objection to the removal of price controls. Sirius XM needs to leverage its monopoly position in satellite radio to maximize its revenue streams. While the company may not be able to raise prices, knowing that it had the ability would help greatly. The firm has not increased its subscriber fee since 2006, so it is not unreasonable that it should be allowed to do so. Moreover, the FCC does not have the authority to create rate-regulated monopoly for satellite radio (Sidak & Singer, 2008). The fact that satellite radio has two clearly-defined competitors in Internet and terrestrial radio should be raised again. Improved lobbying efforts to reduce restrictions should help Sirius XM recover its financial position.
Lastly, it is recommended that the company develop deals with more automakers in order to increase penetration. Most competing forms of music and talk content delivery have much greater market penetration. Since the firm's fixed costs would not dramatically increase, greater penetration will equate to greater revenue streams. At present, the company installs its service with Ford, GM and Toyota. There are more auto companies in existence and in the absence of direct competition, Sirius XM should move aggressively to capture these other automakers.
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