Sirius: The Future Belongs to Those Who Curate

Sirius XM Radio is lucky to be alive, and their growth hasn’t been cheap.

But with 22.3 million subscribers, this is easily the largest music subscription service in the world.  In fact, they have roughly seven times the global subscriber base of Spotify, and Sirius chairman Mel Karmazin recently claimed to have more subscribers than all other music services combined.  The stats solidly back that claim.

Which means, Sirius knows something about curating content and monetizing the music consumer, despite all the criticism surrounding its programming decisions. “As we’ve said many times, business models matter,” Karmazin recently told a group of investors.  “Our business model is superior to that of terrestrial radio and the internet radio companies we compete with.”

“Also, at a time when more and more content is available and consumers continue to be time-constrained, there are still only 24 hours in a day. We believe curated content… is more important than ever and will be even more important in the future as even more content becomes available especially on the internet.”

Others are buying that philosophy, but not necessarily winning.  That includes Pandora, which recently pointed to a collection of ‘just’ 900,000, from roughly 90,000 artists (per the latest Wall Street disclosures), a number that has remained flat over the past few years.  This is a company that is putting little emphasis on growing its content collection: the iTunes Store has now boomed to 28 million songs; Pandora has about 3.2 percent of that.

But even iTunes-style collections mean little without the curation to manage it all.  It’s the reason why getting into the iTunes Store means nothing, while getting on the iTunes front door means everything.  And why Spotify’s OS fantasies involve curating apps, not just endless spreadsheets of music.  Because as much as the Spotify OS needs a massive and comprehensive catalog to make this work, the future may belong to those who effectively deliver less.

9 Responses

  1. Vail, CO

    You know what BDS learned after 20 odd years monitoring all those radio waves non-stop? People only really care about something like 30,000 songs at most, at most, beyond that it’s just obscure b-sides and afficionados.

    That’s called playing the biggest songs — that’s not curation!

    • radio & records vet

      It very well could be curation at some point if it’s a data set that meets the essential criteria involved in curating information. If the amount of available data reaches unsearchable levels (and as time advances, even the hits become “lost” within the data sea), then the “…the signal-to-noise ratio gets harder for technology to solve without a final analysis by a human.” (Steve Rosenbaum, Curation Nation).

      Content curators must be someone who is intensely familiar with a specific area of expertise. Aggregation is different – iTunes aggregates, Pandora curates. “Curation goes one step
      beyond aggregation by adding an active, ongoing editorial component.” (What Is Curation)

      Sounds like a return to how we used to evaluate music directors.

      Simply put, there’s too much product available to us today in broadcasting. People are choking on a never ending sea of music that has no connectiveness culturally in a mainstream oriented market. More music has not contributed to better value. It has acted more as a corruptive element in cultural cohesion.

      People want simple. Or as the old adage goes, people don’t know what they want, they want what they know. Curating helps solve the problem of “know.” Creating with both editorial and economic boundaries in mind and placed into a trusted “place” for curated content is a value in an ever increasingly noisy world.

      The hits may well have been curated by all of us as a culture – establishing both the editorial knowledge and economic value inherent in closed closed data set.

  2. musicservices4less

    Hmmm. Let’s see. If I was competing with Mel, I would imitate his ‘road’ (no pun intended-ok, yes pun intended) to success. From my vantage point, as ‘crazy’ as this sounds, his road is FREE. That’s right… buy or lease a car and get SIRIUS free. Bam, your hooked. By the way, his other little “secrets” – when the first year runs out and it’s time to pay 1. you keep the service continued without paying for about 4-6 months, and 1. during that time if you don’t go for the full price you might eventually get offered another year for a VERY reduce price. And Mel gets to count you as a paying customer. Take that Pandora!

  3. Greggery Peccary

    It warms my porcine heart to see music reduced to data crunching and accounting. Now all that is needed is a little input from the marketing department and we have the next big thing in digital music consumption.

  4. New York, NY

    Sirius can consider themselves a music subscription service but in no way should their numbers be compared with actual music services. If you took the percentage of their subscribers who actually listen to MUSIC and didn’t sign up for talk radio I guarantee it’s not so impressive.

  5. wallow-T

    Sirius has had years to master delivery of music to the car; they are far ahead of any Internet-based service on the auto dashboard. I suspect that’s where Sirius XM market power comes from: most cars can come Sirius-ready, or I can go to Best Buy and get a Sirius-ready head unit installed for a small sum. I don’t think the issue has anything to do with curation, it’s purely a technical factor.

    (Sirius, of course, doesn’t rely on the Internet for delivery to listeners: they beam the bits down from satellites.)

    As far as I can tell, Internet listening in the car is still for the bleeding-edge customer.

    I don’t want to downplay curation: I adore good curation. (And Sirius and XM killed off all the nicely curated niche stations I loved after their first couple of years, so…)

  6. @KeyMediaPR

    Curating music for audience tastes… which is what labels, managers and music companies do, yes?