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Stern Re-Signs: Could Howard Have Ever Left Sirius XM?

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By WG on December 9, 2010

The King of All Media on Thursday morning announced he had reached an agreement with Sirius XM that will keep Howard100 and Howard101, the two most popular channels to be beamed from space since Apollo 11, chock full of strippers and queef contests through at least 2015.

But was there ever really a doubt?

No, not really. First of all, Howard is obviously way too valuable for Sirius to let him go. Plus, he and Sirius XM CEO Mel Karmizan are way too smart of a duo to not figure out some agreement that suits both of them. Mel understands today, just as he did back in 2005, that signing Howard is crucial to making satellite radio a relevant player in the competition for rush-hour commuters.

As someone who made a one-hour drive for over a year and has been a loyal Stern listener since the ’90s (my mom actually listened on our drive to school, which in hindsight is kind of awesome), I can tell you that terrestrial talk radio is completely pathetic. If they do manage to do something funny, it’s either a) invented by Howard; b) been done better by Howard; or most often c) both.

Here’s why his threats of departure from Sirius never fazed me.

Sirius still needs him.

Howard forever changed radio and was instrumental in putting SIRIUS on the map when he first launched on satellite radio.  He is one of the few ‘one-name’ entertainers in the country and our 20 million subscribers are lucky to have him,” said Mel Karmazin, Chief Executive Officer, SIRIUS XM.

SiriusXM Press Release

When Howard came on board the struggling satellite venture, they had just 60,000 subscribers. The merger with XM certainly contributed to the growth, but he has no doubt been a key factor in convincing subscribers to pay for content, once they could clearly differentiate it from what they would otherwise get for free via terrestrial radio. About 6 months after the show started on Sirius, a monthly Bridge Ratings “Stern Effect” study found that 31% of new subscribers listed the Shock Jock as their primary reason for signing up.

In January of 2005 Sirius reported 1 million subscribers. Stern announced his move to satellite in October of 2004. By January of 2006, Sirius subscribers had climbed to 3.3 million and to 6 million by January of 2007. Bridge Ratings estimates that between Stern’s announced departure from terrestrial radio in October, 2004 and January 2007, Sirius added 5 million subscribers. however Stern was only directly responsible for 1.6 million or 32% of the increase.

Bridge Ratings

As the saying goes, “It’s not just TV, it’s HBO,” and once the Howard and his Wack Pack got involved, satellite radio ceased to be thought of as the same old radio delivered via a different technology and became “HBO” (read: there were nipples and swear words). And who doesn’t want to pay for that?

He can’t go back.

All the reasons Howard needed to leave terrestrial radio are still there, and while it wouldn’t cost the loyal listeners who followed him into outspace to go right back to free radio, well, it’s something like eating a McGrilled chicken sandwich at McDonalds: twisted and unsatisfying. There’s no terrestrial or basic cable network that can contain his personality (remember that he was considering making a run at the open judge spot on American Idol). Even if he could bear to go back to having to watch his mouth or fit into somebody else’s program, the latter of which is not even remotely possible, it would likely be of little interst to fans who now know what we’re missing.

He probably doesn’t want to start his own distribution channel.

Dude is 57, already works a ton for the show on an extremely regimented schedule, and isn’t interested in taking the unnecessary capital risk to host and distribute his own content when he could juts collect an 8-figure salary elsewhere.

There’s still room to grow with SiriusXM.

The one thing SiriusXM subscribers had to gripe about when it comes to Howard100 and Howard101 was that they couldn’t access his show via mobile devices. Since 2005’s iPod was still just for playing mp3s you downloaded from Kazaa, Howard’s contract with Sirius was limited to distribution of his content to their receivers and on the web.

There was some speculation that iTunes might be the place for a Howard Stern podcast, but that’s just not economical. Why would the King of All Media limit himself to one brand when he could just sell the mobile rights to Sirius and be distributed via their app to all their smartphone platforms? Howard obviously thinks too big to make that mistake, as the new agreement will include such a deal, which could be of interest to a whole slew of potential listeners for whom smartphones are the 21st century radio.

Now all we need is WiFi in NYC’s subway.

As a bonus, here are Richard and Sal exploring what love means:

Follow WG on Twitter @wannabe_genius and Mike’s other grumblings @mickeyvee.

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