Contract talks continue between Stern, SiriusXM

Radio broadcaster Howard Stern is photographed before an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show” in 2012. (Photo: Bill Norton/Flickr Creative Commons)

Satellite and streaming radio service SiriusXM has revived discussions with pioneering broadcaster Howard Stern following a pandemic-induced lull between the two sides.

News of the discussion was confirmed by SiriusXM chief executive Jim Meyer during a conference call with investors on Thursday.

“I know what Howard wants,” Meyer said. “And we’re trying to figure out a way to make all those things work together.”

Meyer didn’t elaborate on Stern’s demands, but the satellite radio giant is likely to acquiesce if it means keeping the broadcaster locked in at the satellite radio company a bit longer.

After a successful run with a syndicated morning show on traditional radio, Stern escaped the iron fist of federal regulators by moving him and his broadcast team to Sirius Satellite Radio in 2005.  He brought with him millions of listeners who agreed to pay around $12 a month for access to his show and more than 100 commercial-free music and other channels. His move thrust SiriusXM ahead of its competitor, XM Satellite Radio; the two companies ultimately merged a few years later.

Stern has been good for business, and he’s leveraged the subscribers and money he’s brought to secure sweetheart deals any time his contract is up for renewal, which typically happens every five years.

In 2010, Stern inked a five-year deal with SiriusXM that earned him around $400 million in cash and stock. In 2015, he renewed for another five years at a reported cost of more than $500 million. The last contract saw SiriusXM get access to Stern’s back catalog of FM radio broadcasts, which Stern successfully acquired from former employees CBS Radio and NBC. In exchange, Sirius granted Stern and his team various time-off guarantees.

That last element of his contract has rankled long-term listeners who are now paying between $14 and $22 a month for access to Stern’s show. Those listeners have shown an appetite for live, current programs, and they’ve lamented the broadcaster’s frequent absences after he reduced the output of his live show from four days to three (Stern also takes several vacations throughout the year).

Stern and SiriusXM have attempted to placate those fans by offering video on demand content through a streaming app and running popular segments from old broadcasts on the anthology series “Sternthology” and “Friday Night Fights.”

Terms of the latest discussion aren’t clear, though it’s been speculated Stern could further reduce production output of his live shows, increase his vacation time or some combination of the two. In recent broadcasts, he has expressed a desire to spend more time with family, openly contemplated the idea of launching a podcast and made remarks that suggested he was ready to retire from radio for good.

Meyer’s comments on Thursday strongly implied Stern was willing to stay on the right terms and at the right cost.

“Howard is very happy with what he’s doing,” Meyer said. “His show is better, and he’s more relaxed. I’ve been clear: I want Howard Stern to work at SiriusXM for as long as Howard Stern wants to work.”

Stern often does not reveal the outcome of contract discussions until just before they expire, usually around mid-December of the last contract year. If Stern does decide to retire, SiriusXM’s current agreement allows the satellite and streaming radio service to continue airing his old shows under a license that lasts for seven years.

“That’s not what I want,” Meyer said. “I want Howard on air.”