SiriusXM exec rebukes notion of sports-only radio plan

(Stock image via Pexels/Graphic by The Desk)

A SiriusXM Pandora says there is a high level of interest in sports events and related content on its flagship satellite and streaming radio service, but the company isn’t considering plans to offer a sports-only tier of service in the future.

In an interview with financial publication Axios this week, SiriusXM Pandora’s chief content officer Scott Greenstein said the company’s investment in live play-by-play of professional sports and related content helps draw new customers into its ecosystem.

“Trial subscribers that listen to sports channels convert to a paid tier at a higher rate than those who don’t listen to sports,” Greenstein said during the interview.

SiriusXM currently holds the exclusive national broadcast rights to live audio simulcasts of pre-season, regular season and playoff National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) games. It shares similar rights for Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Hockey League (NHL) games with streaming audio service TuneIn.

Professional leagues require multi-year contract deals for the right to redistribute audio of their games, which is similar to agreements between the leagues and television networks. While SiriusXM Pandora has never revealed what it pays for the right to provide customers audio play-by-play those games, the rights are believed to be substantially less than what television networks pay for live video of the same games.

In addition to its live professional sports, SiriusXM Pandora also offers live play-by-play from some college sports (including football from major conferences), NASCAR, Formula 1, tennis, golf and soccer. It also offers live and on-demand analysis from a handful of third-party programmers, including Fox Sports, CBS Sports, NBC Sports and ESPN.

SiriusXM Pandora currently charges over $20 a month to access live sports play-by-play on its satellite hardware, and around $11 a month plus fees for a comparable, streaming-only plan. When asked if SiriusXM would ever consider a sports-only tier of its satellite and streaming radio service, Greenstein said the company has considered the idea, but ultimately has no plans to roll out that type of package.

The company has a good reason to rebuke the idea:  The majority of its $1.7 billion in revenue reported last quarter came from subscriptions (about $1.6 billion), while advertising only accounted for around 3 percent of its revenue (around $49 million).  Executives claim there are 145 million cars on the road that have SiriusXM radio hardware, but only 34 million customers pay for the service, which means over 75 percent of cars with SiriusXM tuners don’t have an active subscription. (SiriusXM Pandora’s subscriber count includes streaming-only customers.)

SiriusXM Pandora has tried to offset slow subscriber growth at its flagship radio service by building out other parts of its business. Over the last few years, the company has made significant investments in the streaming audio space, starting with its 2018 acquisition of music service Pandora. Two years later, SiriusXM Pandora acquired the podcast platform Stitcher and its production subsidiary Earwolf for $325 million. This May, it acquired Conan O’Brien’s audio production and distribution company Team Coco for a reported $150 million.

Those investments have more than paid for themselves: SiriusXM Pandora saw its streaming ad revenue climb to $403 million in the three-month quarter ending June 30 — nearly ten times as much as the revenue from its flagship satellite radio brand — even though Pandora continues to lose premium subscribers. Overall off-platform revenue — which includes subscriptions to Pandora and Stitcher, along with associated ad revenue for SiriusXM-owned podcasts — reached $534 million last quarter, nearly one-quarter of SiriusXM’s total revenue of $2.2 billion.

At an investor conference last month, SiriusXM Pandora chief executive officer Jennifer Witz said the company may raise prices on its SiriusXM satellite and streaming radio service and end promotional rates offered to customers who threaten to cancel their service. Specifically, Witz said new hardware technology, called 360L, offered more features that justified higher subscription prices.

“With 360L, which is going to have significantly more capacity to be able to provide more content and features to customers that enhances the value, I think it gives us more opportunity to perhaps raise rates going forward,” she said.