You can’t be serious about XM/Sirius


At least the writers of a new OpEd in the Tennessean have proven not be actual musicians. That perhaps partly explains why Tim DuBois and Butch Spyridon of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau were the unlikely authors ‘splaining how the merger was good for musicians.

They note that radio is in an era of shrinking playlists, and the nine XM country channels and five on Sirius offer an invaluable alternative media outlet to get exposure. They also note that the satellite services pay royalties to performers, while broadcasters do not.

Another argument is that the two companies are in an existential struggle; however, that is a claim that has been repeatedly denied by both, who say they are perfectly capable of moving forward without the merger.

RBR/TVBR observation: OK, there are 14 country channels on satellite – do these guys think there will be more after a merger? We’d expect the exact opposite – that similarly programmed stations will merge and there will be less channels. And instead of having two programming staffs in competition for access to your music, an artist will have one programmer much more able to dictate terms. And the royalty situation doesn’t change one way or the other. There is nothing good about this merger from a musician’s standpoint.

Response letter:

June 15, 2008

To: Nashville TENNESSEAN

Letter to the Editor

Re: Response to Commentary by Tim Dubois and  Butch Spyridon on Satellite Merger                 

Dear Editor:

Should the only two providers of Satellite Radio Services (XM and Sirius) be allowed to merge and become “the one and only” satellite radio provider and program arbiter in the USA. Is that not MONOPOLY?

Tim Dubois and Butch Sprydion in Sunday’s TENNESSEAN make a case that a merger of XM/SIRIUS will be good for Nashville and our music industry, writers, and artists. Their reasons are:  XM and SIRIUS have invested in Nashville, that they have a lot of channels, and they play a lot of music. Both companies are losing money and have for a long time, though they are getting closer to “break even”.  “Losing money” is not a reason to grant a merger.  All it does is “bail out” Wall Street and reduce competition. If we want “one satellite company nationwide” let one of them fail.  The FCC can then recover the spectrum and make it available to others.

Part of the reason XM and SIRIUS have lost money is  because they have had to compete for talent and programming.  Each is trying to “one up” the other with better offerings.  How did Howard Stern get such a high price from SIRIUS.  SIRIUS did not want XM to have him.  If they were one company, would Howard, or any other talent, have any lever-age in negotiating with XM or SIRIUS  “as one company”.  One may like/dislike Howard Stearn, but he is the highest profile.  What chance does a beginning artist or writer have in that negotiation.  Nashville artists/writers know too well the power of big music companies ….and what mergers have done to/for them.  How does it follow that a  merger of  XM and Sirius is good for writers, artists, musicians, and Nashville. 

Historically the FCC has been concerned and has acted when a network seemed to get too much negotiating power over programming suppliers.  That is exactly the power a merged XM/SIRIUS could have.  Does that make sense and is it good for the public.

Having two competing satellite radio companies is good for the country.  The local radio stations are not the enemy.  There are 12,000 of them across the country with more than 3,000 licensees who are mostly “local”, except in bigger cities.  Even Nashville area  has more than 50 radio stations with more than 20 owners.  Radio stations compete for listeners on a “local” level.  Their focus is “local” as that is where they are heard.

Satellite  is a national service. XM and Sirius each for a fee provide about 130+ channels (that’s 260 combined) to every community in the US.  Yes, they compete locally for listeners, but no local radio station’s coverage competes nationally with the only two satellite providers.

Does it follow that the “only two satellite providers”, if allowed to merge as one  public Wall Street based company,  will  be fairer to individual writers, artists, musicians.  Does it follow that prices will not increase? Does it follow that  260 channels will continue to be offered (ala play as much music as two competing companies now do)?  Does it follow that they will play artists/writers music for FREE.  Probably not.  Satellite does pay a performers fee.  Count on paying a “per play fee”  if the merger goes through. With no competition, the BIG GORILLA IN THE ROOM,  XM/SIRIUS, will have free reign to do as it wants.  YES, Wall Street will be very happy.  Music City has complained a lot about big radio companies. What about ONE BIG SATELLITE COMPANY WITH NO COMPETITOR.  

Is that good for you, the public, or Nashville in the short or long run. An XM/SIRIUS merger sounds good to those on Wall Street who want to make local radio the enemy.  No one ever really talks about the fact that a merger really does away with competition for Nashville’s proudest product, the programming made by our local artists, writers, and musicians.  It is wishful thinking to believe that in a merged monopoly XM/Sirus will be altruistic or even fair.  That has not been the history of their past performance and can be expected to be less so if allowed to merge.

Bayard H. Walters, President
The Cromwell Group, Inc.
PO Box 150846
Nashville, Tn 37215

Note:  Bayard H. Walters is a radio station licensee in Nashville and in smaller communities in Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky.  He is past Chairman of The Tennessee Association of Broadcasters.