Sunday, January 14, 2007

To Podcast or Not to Podcast: Part 2

Tons of Howard news to catch up on, so pardon me if it takes me a little time to catch up. In particular, in the middle of my pod-casting posts, the new Apple Inc. has announced at last that they are moving into the cell phone business with the iPhone. This is an announcement of huge importance to us Howard fans, but I'll have to save it for my next piece. Because for you to fully understand what an amazing development the iPhone is, it's all the more important that you understand what has been going on behind the scenes with Howard and the pod-casting phenomena.

Howard isn't already pod-casting, even though I'm sure he knows he should be. It is a market he can't afford to ignore given its future growth. Especially now with the iPhone, which Apple conservatively estimates will put another 10 million devices capable of pod-casting into the marketplace.

So why hasn't Howard started pod-casting yet? Well, his first job, after leaving traditional radio, the one that he got paid 500 million for, was to save Sirius from bankruptcy. If he had been available on iTunes when he first launched, there is a good chance many of his listeners would have avoided the trouble of rigging up their cars with new radios and simply got him for their iPods. Ultimately, I still think serious Howard fans would have gotten Sirius too, but they might not have rushed over, like they did by the millions.

But Howard has already done job 1. He brought Sirius over 5 millions fans in a single year and the company is finally posting profits. But sales growth is slowing. Sirius will continue to grow, because it's good broadcasting technology, but the hard core Howard fans who would make the switch simply because of Howard, have probably all switched. More casual Howard fans will choose Sirius when they get a new car or someone gives it as a present. As non-Howard fans learn how great this technology is, and decide to go out and try it, the fact that Sirius has Howard and they've heard he's funny will also help. Beyond Howard's radio fans, there were a lot of people that never got a chance to hear him because he wasn't broadcast in their city to begin with. Some of those people will get a new Sirius system for their car, and discover him. So Howard's audience will continue to grow.

However, because Howard is only on Sirius, he has lost some of his reach and potential to win over new fans quickly. It's not an easy thing to just check him out to see what the buzz is about. (Like it was when he was on free radio.) Sure, Howard can go on David Letterman and make a splash and get people curious. But someone curious won't necessarily pay to buy the hardware and a subscription and the all the extra work that involves.

Which is where pod-casting comes in. Someone who sees Howard on Letterman, or reads about him, might be willing to pay 99 cents to hear him off their iTunes store. They might buy his show a few times and then realize it would be simply cheaper to get Sirius. Or that they want both the convenience of Howard's pay for pod-cast, and a Sirius subscription so they have full immediate access in their car, so Howard gets paid twice for the same content (or three times if you include Howard TV).

So that's Mary's opinion, who cares? What's the chance of this really happening? It isn't going to happen unless Howard makes it happen, and what are the chances of that?

I think they are actually be pretty good. Because I have secret inside sources? No, because I listen to Howard. And he can't fool me.

When Apple made the announcement of the iPhone, Howard went out of his way to talk about it on the show. He carefully read the description of it. Now Howard certainly didn't endorse it, he said he was happy with his own phone. And he said he didn't "get it" but perhaps he could be wrong. Now contrary to what people think, Howard doesn't just babble on the air for four hours saying anything that comes into his head. He makes it appear that is what he is doing, but EVERYTHING he says he says for a reason. The guy is a genius and everything he says or does has a lot of thought behind it. Most often, he says what he says because he knows it is entertaining. But also much of what he says has to do with furthering his own business agenda and some times political agenda. Whether it's talking about how great Howard TV is, or why you should buy Sirius as a gift, or why the FCC has no legal right to regulate satellite or why he doesn't care about the fact that traditional radio ratings are falling. (Yeah, you don't care Howard. You aren't laughing with inner delight ever time you hear about it. You have no interest in seeing your enemies defeated, their fields salted, and their women sobbing. Right. You can't bullshit me, you want to skull fuck their their dead fathers! You're the most competitive person on the planet! You say you don't care, to rub it in.)

The discussion of the iPhone wasn't particularly entertaining. Sure, it was a topic of the daily news, but Howard didn't need to spend as much time as he did on it. Moreover, Howard could have used it as a opportunity to slam iPods or pod-casting as being inferior to Sirius broadcasting. But he didn't. Even though he didn't rave about the iPhone, he certainly gave it some very good promotion, and anyone coming out of the conversation was likely to at least be curious about it. Howard didn't endorse it, but he certainly didn't dismiss it. (For example, at first they said it didn't have a camera, and then they talked about the fact that it did, and that it was a very good 2 mega pixel one.) Howard's dopey, "I don't get it" act didn't fool me. This guy is a genius about technology and media and has tons of inside contacts. He completely gets it.

Since I wanted to know more about what Howard might be up to in regard to pod-casting, I did some research on on Marks Frigging ( which is the best research aid for us serious professional Howard analysts. (I must admit that I don't listen to every minute of every show). Interestingly, I only found two mentions of the word "pod-casting" over the years.

The only time Howard talked about it on the air was to say that he listened to Adam Curries pod-casting show. Which is also carried on Sirius. (Certainly it doesn't seem to hurt Sirius that Adam Curries show is also available on iTunes, but then he's no Howard.)

The other mention wasn't even from Howard's show. It was, every interestingly, from a report on May 2, 2005 that Mel Karmazin announced with some fan fair that Sirius was jumping onto the pod-casting bandwagon.

So Howard's boss also knew this was interesting technology and promoted it himself. But despite the announcement, Sirius has done little pod-casting so far, other than Curries show and a couple test promos for Howard before he started broadcasting on Sirius. Since then, almost nothing. Why the change of heart? My guess is that at the time, Mel was keeping his options open in case the Sirius launch failed. If people didn't buy up the radios to get to Howard, he could have shifted gears and tried to make some money (and paid for Howard's salary) with a iTunes pod-cast that was a sure thing as a last resort. But because Howard was so successful in moving people over to Sirius, he decided to put the pod-cast plans on the back burner. At least until now.

Now if you change the search from "pod-casting" to "iPod" you get 52 results. Going through them, you'll find that over the years Howard has had a lot of nice things to say about iPods, loading his up with Heidi Cortez audio porn, and also giving them away on his show as a promotion. Some of this was before the move to Sirius, but even after the move, Howard and his crew generally only has nice things to say about iPods, including Richard using them to watch porn on a plane. Now, obviously Apple can't promote its products as useful porn delivery devices. But that is exactly what they are, in addition to be good at other thing. Yet Howard can talk about it. And Apple certainly benefits enormously from those backhanded porn advertisements. So Apple certainly owes Howard for some favors.

The only negative things Howard has said about the iPod is a couple half hearted mentions by him and his crew about how the Stiletto is a better gift, because it comes with content included. This is true, but a little bit of a misrepresentation. There is plenty of free content for an iPod on the internet. But that was about the best argument one can muster in a Stiletto vs. iPod debate. The Stiletto is bigger, has less battery life, etc., etc. It certainly doesn't compare favorably to an iPod, any iPod.

But that is because it shouldn't be compared. They are two completely different devices and mediums. You don't compare a car to a motorcycle. The Stiletto is bigger because it does something an iPod doesn't do. It receives broadcasting anywhere in the United States. The iPod has to be connected to a computer to get content. With a Stiletto you can channel surf, with an iPod you have to choose what you want in advance. The Stiletto is great if you don't know what you want to listen to, the iPod is great at time shifting. Apples and oranges.

Yet, there is no denying that some people do get confused about the fact that these are different devices that do different things, both of which are useful and complement each other. So why shouldn't Howard go ahead and slam the iPod or at least avoid promoting it. He mentioned that there were talks with Apple about integrating it into the iPod but they decided not to do it. So why keep giving Apple free airtime?

Generally, Howard isn't easy on his enemy's or any potential threats to his business. He fights back aggressively. (There are 80 results for a search of XM on Marks Frigging and you can be damn straight they all blast it.) It's certainly not like Howard to be easy on even a potential opponent. So why is he soft to the point of supporting Apple?

Because, Howard knows that one day, he will be working with Apple, and wants to keep the door open.

Now that Sirius is saved from bankruptcy, and they have a profitable subscriber base, it's time for Howard to start testing out some pod-casting. He's got nothing to lose, and quite a bit to gain. He can take advantage of the strengths of satellite radio technology to shore up it's weaknesses.

Let's start with a no brainer. One of the great things about satellite radio technology is that Sirius knows exactly what the ratings are for all of it's programing. Down to the listener down to the song, down to the second. Naturally, they don't want to publicize this so much (we know exactly what you are listening to) but this technology was necessary so they could keep track of music payments for songs downloaded as opposed to listened to during a broadcast. (The corrupt record companies forced them to do that, but that's the subject for another post.) So they have true ratings, as opposed to terrestrial radios guesses. (Which of course, Howard always bitched about.)

So what are these ratings saying? People are listening to Howard. They listen to him a lot. And not that much more. His ratings are higher than ANYTHING else on Sirius by a huge margin. Including…

Howard's own programming. Ferrall, Bubba the Love Sponge, Red Peters and other non-Howard programming get a tiny fraction of "The Howard Stern Shows" audience. Doing better are the "Wrap Up Show," Howard 100 news and some of the other programming that is at least about Howard, like the Super-fan Round Table and the Intern show, etc.

How do I know this? Because of what is being aired. Howard's show is being repeated like crazy, including old broadcasts from years ago, and broadcasts from just a few weeks prior. If Bubba or Ferrall or whatever was getting those kinds of ratings, they would be repeated more often. Right now, Howard 101 is kind of a graveyard because everyone is listening to Howard 100. And Howard 100 just airs stuff about Howard. Which is, frankly what it should be.

Because in a broadcast medium, like satellite, having a channel that just airs Howard, is like having a channel that just airs oldies. One of the advantages of Sirius, is that you can have channels that air 70's, 60's and 50's. If you like that kind of music, you'll be happy. If you like Howard, you'll be happy tuning into the Howard channel even if it's a repeat.

On the other hand, Sirius has some other great programming, and if you're willing to take the time to explore, you'll find some amazing content. It's just that most people, when they're driving (and that's still when most people listen) don't want to explore. They want to be entertained without thinking. And Howard knows how to do that.

Bubba is a bit of an acquired taste, and so is Ferrall. Both have their fans, but they aren't necessary Howard fans. Just because you like Howard, doesn't mean you'll like Bubba or Ferrall. Likewise, it's possible that there are people who might like them, who aren't Howard fans. (Well, not likely, everyone loves Howard if they bother to listen.)

So what to do? Why not put their shows up for pod-casting? In fact, why not put them up for free pod-casting? Why not let them try to create a fan base on the internet. Right now, no one is buying a Sirius player to listen to Bubba or Ferrall. But what if someone starts catching their shows on iTunes, and gets hooked.

But if some new hard core Bubba fan can get if for free on iTunes, why would they then subscribe to Sirius? Well, once again, we're talking Apples and Oranges. You become a big fan of Bubba or Ferrall, because it's free. But to listen, you have to go to your computer, plug in your iPod, and download it. Not a huge pain in the ass, but it takes a little work.

So when you're buying a new car, you are offered a few choices. No satellite, XM or Sirius? Well, everyone knows commercial free music from satellite is great and well worth it so you might as well get it since it's only $12.95 a month or even less. (First three months free, etc.) XM or Sirius? Well, Sirius has Bubba. Sirius has Ferrall. And you're already a fan. Plus, they have this guy named Howard Stern, who doesn't give a free pod-cast, but might be interesting.

Now I'm not saying that this would result in anything like the 5 million subscribers Howard brought over to Sirius. But I do think it's possible it could add hundreds or maybe thousands of new subscribers and who knows, maybe a lot more.

How on Earth could Sirius lose anything by trying this?

Speaking of Earth, what about Spaceman Reilly Martin? If there is one breakout non-Howard show, I would be willing to beat that show is it. I suspect it's ratings aren't amazing, but Howard talks about the huge numbers of calls it gets, which means it has a great hard core fan base.

But I suspect it could be doing even better. I desperately want to listen to it, but I simply don't have the time to schedule my life around it's occasional broadcast. (Or figure out how to program my Stiletto and S50 to capture it.) But I sure as hell would pay 99 cents for it. In a heartbeat. And I'm sure there are a lot of other Howard fans that would do the same to be able to play it on their iPods.

Once again, Sirius has absolutely nothing to lose by trying to test this out. No one is subscribing to Sirius to get the Reilly Martin show. At least now. If it was available as a paid pod-cast, and got popular, who knows?

Also, there are fans of Howard's old radio broadcast that simply were too cheap to pay for Sirius, or got angry because they had to. So why not toss those cheap bastards a bone. Make the Super Fan Roundtable free as a pod-cast on iTunes. Make the Intern Show free. Have a free daily Howard 100 new-cast.

Why? Why reward those Howard fans too fucking cheap to pay $12.95 a month for him? Well, if you're a drug dealer, why not give Artie some free snorts of heroin since he decided to give it up? Trust me, if you start putting Howard 100 news, and the Intern Show out there for free, you will do two things. You will make us Sirius subscribers very happy, since we can put it on our iPods, and you will make other old fans who aren't subscribing hungry for more. And when the walk in to buy a new car, they'll subscribe.

Finally, why not sell a weekly "Howard Stern Show Listener" pod-cast? Charge 99 cents for an hour highlights reel? Again, this is something that hard core fans would pay for in addition to subscribing, and could encourage other people to subscribe to Sirius to get the full real thing.

Okay, so I'm smart, but Howard is smarter. Why hasn't he and Mel already thought about all this? Why aren't they already doing it? It just makes too much sense to at least pod-cast some promos (like they did before the Sirius launch) for Howard and Mel to be ignoring the potential pod-casting to help Sirius sales. So what's going on?

I'll tell you. Howard did such a good job in moving subscribers to Sirius they didn't need to rush. And they had inside information about the "Next Big Thing."

Take a look at my next blog for a big announcement.

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