The a la carte plan being proposed by Sirius and XM has been praised by the Parents Television Council, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters yesterday that it sounded good to him, although he hadn’t looked into the details, according to the Associated Press. Sirius honcho Mel Karmazin himself took to the pages of the Washington Times to push the idea, saying it was about taking consumer choice "to the next level." And he was again pitching it yesterday on Fox News Channel.
But not so fast, says the National Association of Broadcasters. While traditional radio experiments with the advertising concept of "less is more," it appears that the satellite services want to provide less FOR more, on a per-channel basis, at any rate.
"If ‘a la carte’ is intended to mean more choice and lower prices, XM and Sirius fail the test," said NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton. "Only in a monopolist’s world are 50-channel minimums, higher prices, interoperability restrictions and a required hardware upgrade considered a consumer benefit. This analysis demonstrates that XM and Sirius are engaged in nothing more than a desperate PR stunt at the expense of consumers."
NAB’s analysis, which is being shared with the FCC and DOJ Antitrust division, shows that there is limited ability to mix and match channels between services. The so-called "best of both worlds" package includes 100 channels from a customer’s primary subscription and an option on only 11 pre-selected channels from the other, all for two dollars more than a straight subscription to one service or the other. To select this option, the subscriber would have to buy a new radio, which is not yet available, and the price of which is unknown.
NAB notes the 50-channel mostly-music package for 6.99 a month, well below the 12.95 currently charged, but adding Oprah, available on XM only, takes it up to 9.99, and adding anything else, like sports or Howard Stern speed walks subscribers within a dollar of, or well over, the base 12.95 price, all the way up to 50 channels/Howard and "Sports Super Premium," which costs 17.99, a 150% increase in price per channel for 45% less content.