Sunday, December 31, 2006

To Podcast or Not to Podcast: Part 1

Never in the history of Howard Stern have his fans had so much opportunity to enjoy, wallow in, and be obsessed with his show and universe.

We can listen to his show, repeats of his show, and discussion of his show on live radio 24 hours a day on 2 Sirius channels. We can read about and comment on his show 24 hours a day on the internet on forums such as the Stern Fan Network ( And we can watch videos of his show, and other wacky stuff, 24 hours a day on Howard TV from on-demand cable networks.

So what more do we want?

A lot. We want podcasting. We want to be able to download Howard's show every day, and any other Howard 100 or 101 show, and load it onto our gorgeous iPods.

But that will never happen. Or will it? As usual, it's all up to Howard.

Most indications are that Howard isn't interested in podcasting. Certainly, if he wanted to he could be doing it already. The technology is very simple. He could set up an RSS feed on his website in a heart beat. The iTunes store would welcome him instantly and charge 99 cents for each show. But instead Howard has said that the Stilleto is a better Christmas gift than the iPod because it comes with content attached as opposed to the iPod which comes empty. (Which is quite true and also applies to the cheaper S50.) So if the Stilleto is better, why would Howard support the iPod? Wouldn't that just hurt Stilleto sales and also Sirius subscription sales?

But podcasting is a technology, and a medium, that no one can just dismiss, even Mr. Howard Stern.

Sirius satellite broadcasting is also great technology, and a great medium, but it can't do everything. (Video for example.) And the Stilleto does some things better than the iPod, and other things worse.

What Sirius does great is broadcasting. What is does best is replace your car radio. Once you get one in your car, you'll never listen to regular radio again. The music is commercial free, the signal is digital and available anywhere in the country, and there is a ton of content instantly available including Howard Stern.

Also, get a Stilleto or a S50 and hook up a home system, and you also have a great replacement for radio listening. Sure, it's a little annoying you need to be connected by wire to an outside antenna, but once you get one hooked up you forget about it. And with the Stilleto you can also listen live over the internet without a wire.

But when it comes to truly portable listening, Sirius can't fully compete with the iPod. Apple's manufacturing and design are just going to be better for the immediate future. (The new iPod shuffle is the size of a match book.) And the fact that the iPod doesn't need an antenna, or the hardware for receiving broadcasting, is always going to mean it will be smaller, and lighter and it's batteries will last longer. Moreover, the iPod isn't simply a listening device. The larger models do video and are basically a small computer with dates, addresses and games. Before long it looks like the iPod will also be offered with phone features. It's unlikely Sirius will be able to catch up to it for years to come.

On top of that, Sirius hardware, at least now, isn't good at time shifting. Technically, you can program your Stilleto to record a program at a certain time and date, and even repeat that every week. But it's kind of a pain in the ass to do. Most people can't program their VCR's, so it's not likely that feature is going to be used much. Moreover, if you are moving your Stilleto back and forth from your car (which is it's best use) you have to remember to pull it out and put it back in it's receiver so it can record a show for you later. It's a pain and it's why I have never been able to record and listen to Reilly Martin's crazy show on Howard 101, despite the fact that I keep wanting to.

Podcasting is not broadcasting. It's entire strength is in time shifting, or more importantly, audio on demand. You get what you want when you want it very easily with no programming. You simply go to an internet site, copy the RSS feed, and iTune's takes it from there. Or if the podcast is on iTunes, you simply click and it is instantly sent to you, and you can instantly subscribe. Right now, Sirius simply can't compete with podcasting for that kind of convenience.

If Howard were to put his daily show up on iTunes, and charge 99 cents an episode, it would instantly be the hottest thing on the iTunes store. He would get millions of hits and since most of the money collected by Apple goes to the owner of the recording, it could mean millions in revenue a week.

But wouldn't that just cannibalize sales of Sirius hardware and subscriptions? I don't think so. In fact, I think there is an argument to be made that it might help increase Sirius sales and market share. That's because the iPod also has limitations. It does not receive broadcasting, Sirius's strength. And it doesn't work so well in a car, it's kind of a pain in the ass to hook it up. Also, when you're driving you time shifting isn't so much of an issue. It's like the difference between watching broadcast TV and playing a DVD. When you watch TV you expect something, anything to be on, and then you can surf around to see what you like. This is also a strong strength of Sirius. It's great for surfing because it offers so many channels. While driving your mood changes and sometimes you want to listen to music, sometimes to news, or to Howard. (Mostly Howard.) This is one of the reasons that Howard quickly found out that repeats of his show were more popular than putting on other shows that he produced that weren't up to the quality of his main broadcast. When you're broadcasting repeating your best stuff over and over works better than having a large variety of material of various quality.

Moreover, from a simply economic standpoint, Sirius is a much better value than buying content off iTunes. At 99 cents a show, a fan would be paying about 30 dollars a month for just a small part of the Howard content they get from Sirius at $12.95 a month (and it's even cheaper for longer subscriptions). Making the show available might actually increase the value of Sirius in the eyes of Howard's fans. The beauty of this is that fans who don't have a lot of money would quickly realize it is cheaper to subscribe to Sirius. Fans who do have money would probably pay twice. They would have a subscription for use in their car and also download shows onto their computers for portable use.

So if it makes so much sense, why doesn't Howard do it? We'll talk about that in Part Two of this article. (Hey! I'm trying to post more often and I'm long winded! Give me a fucking break!)

Mary DeSade

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

You Tube, My Space and Howard Stern

On my "Hollywood is Dead" blog I just wrote about the significance of Time magazine making "You" (mostly You Tube and My Space) its "Man of the Year" because of the impact of regular people networking and creating their own content:

But something Time doesn't mention is that Howard Stern has been on the fore front of this movement for some time. Long before You Tube was the darling of the mainstream press, Howard had his film festival where he invited fans from around the world to create shorts about his show. The results, frankly were amazing. Some incredibly high quality content created by fans on their own and for almost no money.

And long before You Tube even existed, Howard was playing audio clips of song parodies and prank calls created by his fans. The same technology that makes it easier for people to make their own films and music, makes it easier for Howard's fans to participate directly with the show, and Howard has from the very beginning understood and taken advantage of this growing phenomena. Before people even new it was a phenomena.

Moreover, Howard's fans have always been big on networking with each other, not only creating their own web pages and blogs but jumping into My Space very early.

So while a lot of the mainstream media are scared by this new development, Howard has already embraced it and profited by it. Of course, one area where Howard's empire could use some work is his own website and online offerings. While Howard's site does a far job of keeping up with general info, and it's great for seeing pictures of girls and guest moments after they've been on the air, it has almost no video content and isn't updated as much as it could be.

There's no reason Howard couldn't turn it into his own version of My Space and You Tube combined. Would this threaten fan generated signs like SFN and Marks Friggin? No, I think it could enhance them. And there are a lot of ways Howard could benefit from a much more expansive The easiest and most profitable might be by offering subscriptions for My Space, Flicka, You Tube type offerings. Like My Space and You Tube it could be self policing with a little adult supervision.

My Space, frankly, sucks these days. It's covered with advertising and incredibly slow. You Tube is nice, but the technology behind it is improving rapidly and it wouldn't be hard to build something even better. It would be great if Howard fans had a place to share videos, audio, pictures and profiles in one easy interface. It could be offered for a couple bucks a month to Sirius subscribers, more for people who don't subscribe.

Or it could be offered as a bonus to subscribers, and might even encourage more people to join Sirius. If the hot viral video on the web is only available on and you want to see it, then you have to join Sirius.

Building up his website probably isn't a major priority for Howard right now, but I predict in future, as web content continues to grow in importance, we'll see a major upgrade.

Mary DeSade

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mary Seriously

Gotten a lot of positive e-mails about the blog, but most keep asking why I don't post more often.

Sorry, but I only post when I feel that I have something "serious" to say about Howard, and I do a lot of research to back up what I say, and that takes time. Please understand, this is not an everyday blog or even a weekly blog. I blog when I have a serious opinion about something specific and try to work hard to explain and defend my opinion.

It wouldn't be hard for me to toss up day to day gossips about Robin being willing to press the button to zap Sal's nuts. (Which was great. A true art performance.) But there is tons of that already on the web in regards to Howard. I know it might sound crazy, but I am seriously worried about the historical record of Howard's show rather than up to the minute news. Even after this blog goes away, and Howard sadly goes away, the internet is being carefully stored for future generations and historians. When a scholar searches it trying to understand who the hell Howard Stern was, I hope they will find this blog and understand he was more than a popular entertainer. He is one of the most important artists of our time.

Mary DeSade

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Disappointing Christmas

Howard and the press have been talking about the news that Sirius is warning that retails sales (while still growing) are growing slower than expected. Of course this gives Howard bashers some fresh meat to attack him and gives Howard fresh meat to bash the Howard bashers.

But this one has nothing to do with Howard. Howard has done his job and continues to do his job in bringing his old fans and new fans to Sirius. Five million have followed in less than a year from his switch and Sirius's continuing retail sales now top XM month by month. This is a complete reversal from before Howard moved to satellite.

But Howard can only do so much. Satellite radio is still a very new technology. And there a still bugs to be worked out before it can really take off. Which leads us to the real reason Sirius had to revise it's sales numbers:

The Stiletto.

This device was suppose to be the holy grail for Howard and Sirius fans and drive a ton of sales. Pre-orders were in orbit. But once the product actually came out, things went back to Earth. The reviews have almost all been extremely negative. What should have been the best Christmas gift this season, is dying from bad word of mouth. Sirius really blew a huge chance with some very foolish mistakes.

Now, let me start by saying I bought one, and I use it every day and love it. But there are some serious problems with it that could have easily been avoided or at least should have been mentioned before the buzz turned from positive to negative.

The biggest is the headset. It's just terrible. You simply can't use it. The earphones, as have widely been reviewed, simply hurt your ears just minutes after trying them out. It's a very weird design and I can't understand how it ever got put into production. Even if you are willing to endure the pain in order to get your outdoor fix of Howard, the reception, as widely reported, is terrible too. I live in the heart of Hollywood and the reception goes in an out every fifteen seconds. (Sirius doesn't have a repeater in Los Angeles?)

Also, like all Sirius hardware, the design isn't the best and it feels very chunky in comparison to an iPod. The battery life isn't great. For walking, I've gone back to my pre-recording on my S50 through my home dock and just time shifting. It's a real shame I can't listen live outside. I would not have hurt to dampen expectations on this front until the bugs were worked out.

But one thing that Sirius did do right is the internet connection. It's seamless and I can listen to Howard now inside my home off the internet. (Using my own headphones, which thankfully work.) I've heard complaints about the sound quality, perhaps that's true for music, but for Howard's show it's perfectly fine. Only downside of this, and I assume it for some stupid legal reason, you can't record off the internet. But at least I can now listen live anywhere inside my home or office. Once I get a car connection I think it will be worth the price. Anyhow, I'm not disappointed I bought a Stiletto, but I am disappointed from what I hoped it would be.

Which gets us back to lowering sales expectations. If the Stiletto had been what I hoped for, I would have bought several to give as gifts. But that's not going to happen now. The Stiletto improved in some ways on the S50 but in other ways it didn't. Sirius just simply doesn't have it's hardware up to speed, and it's beta testing products on Howard's devoted fans. There is no doubt in my mind that Sirius will finally make some better products. (And get enough repeaters in Los Angeles!) They'll have to fix the bugs in the stiletto (especially the head phones) but mean while they encouraging Howard fans to wait for them to get their act together.

If they could come up with one really slick new radio, most of Howard's fans would all upgrade immediately and give them as gifts and spread the good word. So don't blame this short glitch in the rise of satellite on Howard. Howard's the greatest salesman in the world. But even he can only do so much with a mediocre product.

Sirius and XM Merger

So the main stream press is starting to buzz about something I predicted back in October, that is, that Sirius and XM are going to merge:

Trust me, this is not a question of if. It's simply a question of when. The fact that Sirius's sales growth is starting to slow only makes it more likely that this will happen sooner than later. (Because it becomes clear Sirius can't completely crush XM.) So if you haven't sold your Sirius stock, hold on to it. Because once these companies merge, satelite radio will be in a position to really take off.

The advantages in manufacturing one set of hardware, the savings in combining operations and not having to compete for talent are enormous. But also I think some of the hestitation in the public with adopting this new technology comes from confusion (among non-Howard fans) as to which system to buy. With that issue gone, it is simply a question, like it was in the early days of cable, as to whether you wanted it or not. With a merged company, I think you will find that the majority of people who purchase a car will go with a satelite subscription.