Sunday, February 15, 2009

Radio: Sirius XM – What may save you may also kill you.

Welcome to Mel’s Hell.

Did you ever – even in your wildest dreams - imagine seeing Mel Karmazin, hat in hand, pitching and wooing his own Sirius XM stable, asking for their loyalty at his time of need?

Money changes everything.

For the past couple of weeks, Mel’s been entreating for concessions and pecuniary breaks from Oprah, Martha Stewart, Major League Baseball, and the NFL, just to name a few. The MLB deal runs $60 million per year; Oprah’s at $55 mil, the NFL’s $23 mil, and Martha weighs in at $7.5 mil.

The pro sports teams offer subscription on-line audio and video alternatives in addition to their satellite broadcasts.

Mel already stuck out in his first time at bat with MLB last week. MLB COO Tim Bronsan, who’s responsible for all media negotiations told Business Week, “We have a binding agreement that we intend to honor.” The MLB deal runs through 2015.

There was a time when Mel’s casino dice eyes dared you to trust them. They told you straight out, play me long enough and you’ll lose. His smile was always more for him than it was for you. To Mel, the meek would never inherit the earth; only the small piece they fertilized.

That’s why it's so odd to see him painted as a victim.

Oprah, whose Sirius XM deal is up this fall, could take her channel and move to an on-line subscription service, which would provide Internet radio the break it needs to develop into a major player and move stand-alone Internet radio from its 33-million listener cult status to hundreds-of-millions critical mass. Most likely she would form her own syndication company for independent terrestrial radio distribution with Internet radio options.

There is, of course, Howard Stern’s five year $100 mil per year contract. Signing Howard put a new face on Sirius debt. It was the stimulus package Sirius needed to gain ground from its poor number two to XM showing.

Sirius even got a year’s supply of free plugs from his former company, CBS Radio – known as Infinity while Mel was there – when Howard did his daily rant on evils of CBS and other terrestrial radio chains, while promoting his future-cast on Sirius.

And what a coincidence - Mel ended up at Sirius, too. Who would’ve (or wouldn’t have) thought?

2006 was the year Sirius shelled out that $500 million for Howard in an effort to lure a large share of his 10 to 12 million predominantly adult male terrestrial audience to satellite. In 2007, A Bridge Ratings research study estimated that 2.5 million of that 10 to 12 million were Stern’s most loyal listeners. Of that 2.5 million, it’s estimated that Howard brought in 1.3 million new subscribers to Sirius.

Be assured that Howard leaving Sirius is not one of Mel’s problems. Unlike the rest of Sirius XM stable, there’s a tight, deep, multi-decade business connection with Howard and agent Don Buchwald. Wherever Mel goes, Howard will be there, too – unless he decides to retire and that’s an option that can’t be ignored.

Being Mel Karmazin today is like working for Mel Karmazin yesterday.

Bob Dylan could rewrite “Gotta Serve Somebody” with Mel lyrics.

Then again, there’s only one Mel Karmazin.

Just ask Farid Suleman. Just ask Lew Dickey.

It’s really not Mel’s fault that Sirius XM is a penny stock.

In their most primitive days, both Sirius and XM over paid for everything. When money was no object and IPOs were being announced daily, XM ran a series of pricey spots featuring pianos and violins crashing to Earth – and paid David Bowie millions for his endorsement. Sirius burned through multi-millions years before its first broadcast on the physical plant and its gold-brick per square inch lease.

It must be said that Sirius XM was the outcome of merging two bad business models. Before the merger, both companies were stuck with debt they couldn’t get out of. The merger changed nothing. Now, the combined company is stuck with debt it can’t get out of.

Though Sirius XM managed to exchange $172.5 million of debt maturing in December for new debt due in 2011, it still has roughly $175 mil and change, which was due yesterday.

So the news about Sirius XM’s potentially impending bankruptcy, which I wrote about on December 29, should be a surprise to absolutely no one. The first time I mentioned it was back in October. Look it up.

But it doesn’t end here.

Meet Charlie Ergen, the CEO of Dish Network and EchoStar. He tried unsuccessfully to take control of Sirius – but was rejected by Mel. Now he’s bought up $300 million of discounted Sirius Bonds that come due next week and he’d like nothing better than to take Mel out.

Don’t look for a whole lotta love between Charlie and Mel. When Mel was at Viacom, he pulled its cable channels off Dish Network. Charlie responded by posting the Mel’s home phone number for viewer complaints.

And guess who’s on EchoStar’s Board? Joe Clayton.

Name doesn’t ring a bell?

Let me introduce you to former Sirius CEO and Chairman Joe Clayton. Mel came to the decision that Sirius was not big enough for the both of them.

The question has to be asked. Is Joe Clayton to Mel Karmazin what Mel Karmazin was to Roscoe Mercer? Just asking.

Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times identify Mel’s white knight as one of Ergen’s rivals, Liberty Media CEO John Malone. But it must also be said that white knights come with a price.

So, come Tuesday, when the debt is due, we’ll see if Sirius XM makes it, breaks it, or does an all-bets-are-off, all-contracts-are dead bankruptcy filing.

There’s one of two endings. One of them has Sirius XM fading into the memory vault along side 8-tracks, New Coke, the Edsel, and Pauly Shore.


Anonymous said...

"There’s one of two endings. One of them has Sirius XM fading into the memory vault along side 8-tracks, New Coke, the Edsel, and Pauly Shore."

And, along with HD Radio. I wonder, if SIRI declared bankruptcy, that would kill any chance at HD Radio's forced inclusion into SIRI receivers?

Anonymous said...

Sirius has secured a bridge loan from Liberty Media for Tuesday's payment. No bankruptcy this Tuesday. Maybe no bankruptcy at all.

Anonymous said...

This is from RadioTV News. Just came out after I read your blog and went on line to find more info:

Sirius-XM: Is Mel out of the DooDoo?
Chris Forrester 15-02-2009
Sirius-XM’s CEO Mel Karmazin can breathe a little easier, having converted some of its end-2009 debt into some over-the-horizon obligations that can be ignored until June 1 2011 if certain conditions are met. But the pay-radio broadcaster is certainly not out of the woods just yet. Far from it, and there’s one key condition that’s especially onerous.

The key clause requires that Sirius-XM clears up the $175m that’s due to Charlie Ergen on Feb 17. But even if Karmazin manages to clear this impending hurdle, the talk of bankruptcy cannot be helping his overall cause. Sirius-XM’s roller-coaster stock price finished Friday at just 10 cents, up 42% on the day, so confidence is still extremely fragile. The company has a market capitalisation, based on this price, of a miserable $154m. Sirius-XM says it has other similar debt refinance discussions taking place, which may or “may not be successfully consummated”.

Those assorted talks include discussions with John Malone and his Liberty Media, and are described as “intense”. Malone is seen as a potential ‘white knight’ for Sirius-XM and has reportedly offered a bridging loan to avoid Tuesday’s obligations. The position of Echostar’s Charlie Ergen is seen as more challenging given his behind-the-scenes moves. Ergen has acquired $175m of Sirius’ convertible notes, due to be paid or converted Feb 17.

These two giant media players, both based in Denver, Colorado, have reputations for playing the hardest of hard-ball. It is generally accepted that whoever ‘wins’ Sirius-XM will make significant alterations to the pay-radio outfit. Which is why Chapter 11 Bankruptcy might still end up being an attractive option for Karmazin’s team.

Here’s the current debt obligations:
$175m due to Charlie Ergen this Tuesday
$350m due in May to a clutch of bankers
$227.5m due in December
$172.5m, now rolled over until June 2101

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else find it somewhat strange that last week on CNBC's Squwak Box co-host Joe Kernen made the statement "I'm addicted to my Sirius"?

I would like to know if Kernen is getting a free comp subscription from Mel. I bet he is.

The same for Bob Lefsetz of the Lefsetz letter who is always doing free plugs for Mel's birds, too.

For every "full disclosure" made there are thousands that are not revealed. How many influential media types Mel Karmazin has bribed with free Sirius XM subscriptions in trade for favorable comments?

While you are at it. How about Jim Cramer? Does he have a comp too?

As a subscriber to both I have no plans to renew either. Mel ruined Sirius and now he is doing the same to XM. The program quality has dropped and many of my favorite hosts have been dropped.

I have my iPod and am now set up to get internet radio in my car. It is a much better alternative.

Anonymous said...

It's time for Mel to go. He's a toxic waste. I was at two places he destroyed. CBS and Westwood One. He took, took, took and put nothing back. We worked with antiquated equipment. It might have saved Mel a dime. The company is another story.

We had no promotion, marketing of any kind. We could not even get banners for station promotions. We had to use the banners from a previous format which had different call letters and slogans.

Mel is out for Mel and no one else. Before another company offers him a CEO job they should study his past.

Every company he ran he has left in worse condition than it was when he arrived.

Mel, youre fired.

Anonymous said...

a contract from mel is a contract from hell. scott muni who was a loyal footsoldier to mel was given a lifetime contract at wnew-fm in new york. that changed when mel got tired of him. oedipus (eddie hewson) of wbcn in boston also had a lifetime contract. that ended when oeddie had a fall out w/mel over opie & anthony. roscoe mercer left wnew-fm in new york mel subsequently fired him at every station he worked at, radio and tv. mel did nt like roscoe quitting on him. he finally sued mel & i believe he won. contracts w/mel mean nothing. and mel is surprised that so many people despise him?

Anonymous said...

You were right. The problem with luck is that eventually it runs out. Mel's finally has. Poor baby.

Anonymous said...

Hey John, Your blog is having some problems today. I cannot see the right hand column. It is difficult to log on to. Maybe Mel hired some tech wizzards to screw with your blog today.

Anonymous said...

I love my Sirius tho' not as much as I once did. I was one of the early adopters and had Sirius just a few months after it signed on. I was going to go with XM but I was enticed by an audio store promotion than offered a free one year subscription. I enjoyed Sirius in its early days. It sounded like they were still feeling their way through what they could do with it. Some of the formats were too radical like the alternative channel while others were searching for what best defined their format. For the last few years tho' it has become a bore. The Howard Stern-ization of Sirius changed everything. Instead of music and sports intensive it took on an Animal House feel. Fine for some but not for me. About a year ago I cancelled my subscription. I had to go through an ordeal to cancel it and was still getting billed long after I stopped service. Adding to that was and is the constant 'we want you back' campaign. I planned to get XM but when I heard Sirius was talking about merging with them, I decided against it. Since then I have discovered internet radio and prefer it to satellite. I am set up to listen in my car and at home. I believe that as internet radio becomes easier to receive it will overtake and surpass Sirius and XM in popularity. One thing I picked up in your column today was that no where did anyone connected with Sirius mention the listener. It has turned into a big boys game of seize and control with no interest in what the consumer wants. I don't know much about Mel Karmazin other than what I have read here and in magazines and on TV over the years. I don't know who would want to work for such a self centered egomanic.

Anonymous said...

Some corrections:

Oprah's deal with XM was for $55 million over three years, not $55 million annually. Still stupid anyway you figure it and not the kind of deal that ever made a profit for XM.

Also, the Howard Stern deal is not $100 million cash per year. Half that is paid in cash and the other half is in stock options which likely have a strike price well underwater at this point.

David Bowie was not paid millions by XM for his endorsement. But you are correct in noting the XM launch campaign cost millions.

XM CEO Hugh Panero was fond of throwing outrageous money at big names thinking they would lead subscribers to his service. People like Quincy Jones got huge sums but never really delivered anything of substance to the channels other than the occasional "special" plus personal appearances with Panero during CES and other public functions.

Mel deserves all the crap heaped on him but readers shouldn't forget Hugh Panero's hands-on role in bankrupting XM. His fingerprints are all over this mess.

Anonymous said...

John, I had trouble getting on your site for most of the day. Either you had a lot of traffic or Mel hired techies to silence you.

Seriously though. I cannot see Mel Karmazin working for anyone or even in a position where he would have to share power or answer to anyone. Mel is just that way. He has to be in charge.

I think Sirius has some life left although it may continue without Melvin at the controls.

Anonymous said...

The XM disaster can be attributed to Lee Abrams. Hugh P. fell for Abrams's hype hook line and sinker. If he told Hugh to paint his office black he would have. It took him a long time to figure out that Abrams is just a con man. If you want to look at the waste from contracts to stupid ideas look no further than Lee Abrams. Hugh learned too late the same thing that everyone from Kent Burhart to eventually Randy Michaels at Tribune will learn. Abrams is a joke.

Anonymous said...

More downsizing at Sirius XM. That is what will come out of this. Whether Mel stays or goes Sirius XM is beyond saving. It will never turn a profit. I think the spectrum will be used for other things. Internet radio is the next frontier. Satellite radio was just a stopgap.

Anonymous said...

To Charlie and Joe -

Put your firing of Mel on pay-per-view. Now that is entertainment!

Anonymous said...

Not change the subject or anything, I've heard that this Friday will be a Black Friday, as yet another round of layoffs take place at Clear Channel stations. Has anyone else heard this?

I also heard that a lot of severances will be fought on the basis of trumped-up "insubordination" accusations. Anyone else hear this?

Anonymous said...

Prediction: Mel will stay around for his pound of flesh, then exit. That means Howard will not renew. Malone made a bad decision here unless he has other plans for the spectrum. I think Oprah will stick around as long as she is getting her contractural dollars. She's a savvy businesswoman and takes no you know what from anyone including Mel who inherited her from XM.

Anonymous said...

Mel is the problem not the solution at Sirius XM. As a subscriber and a somewhat disapointed one as of late I think we would be much better off with new leadership and not only at the top. The programming could use some much needed tweaking. We came to satellite radio because terrestrial let us down. Mel is turning Sirius XM music channels into glorified AM-FM stations and neither service knows how to treat their customers.

Anonymous said...

Sirius XM has the opportunity to hire a creative CEO. One that understands content, packaging and sales. It needs a major change in music programming and formats. Millions were willing to pay a monthly subscription fee for decent radio. Many more will if the formats are truly entertaining. Mel put Sirius XM in reverse just like he did CBS/Infinity. Time for a change.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the poster that mentioned Lee Abrams as the cause for XM's downfall. Abrams has the gift of gab. He fooled some of the best minds in radio, did the same at satellite and is now well on his way to destroy the Tribune. His memos which show up on Gawker and other sites are laughable. Lee Abrams invented FM rock radio? Come on. He uninvented it. Lee Abrams invented XM? He stifled it. Don't believe it? Ask Kent Burkhart, Dwight Douglas and everyone else that he worked for and with.

Anonymous said...

To quote Bob Dylan, an XM host who
Hugh Panero spent a king's ransom to get to host a weekly show on the channel on the advice of Lee Abrams:

Then time will tell who fell
And who's been left behind,
When you go your way and I go mine.

Mel, now it is your turn. Don't let the clean glass door hit you on the ass.

Anonymous said...

How Mel blew it:

Couldn't have happened to a nicer bastard.

Anonymous said...

This link has the full story:

bobyoung said...

I bought a new car in October that had XM installed and free for three months. I checked around the channels, lots of music, niche music that you probably wouldn't find on regular broadcast radio. i decided to sign up vaguely aware of the upcoming merger of Sirius and XM and not really caring figuring that this would just mean more channels and more music. Wrong! Sirius has been adding junk so far and taking away quality programs and butchering the ones that were already there. The only thing they added so far that I like is Little Steven's Underground Garage, other wise Sirius has just jammed XM-Sirius with junk I would never listen to such as 20 sports channels, right wing political channels as if there aren't enough of those already on terrestrial radio. Who the hell wants to listen to Martha Stuart or Oprah for Christ's sake! Give me a break! MLB can be found all over the terrestrial dial. XM was fine the way it was and now Sirius is adding a bunch of krap to what was a not perfect but was a decent Satellite service. The play lists on the decades channels have been cut severely also, what's this guy hate music? Also they are now charging for online access whereas before it was free although hard to listen to at 31 K. Unfortunately I just signed up for a year before I looked at Mel's long term plans to gut this service of music. Hope they refund some of our money when they go belly up.

Bob Young
Millbury, MA

Anonymous said...

The moral of the story is that Mel Karmazin fell prey to his own greed. Sorry, Mel.

Anonymous said...

Mel, you goniff. Live by the sword die by the sword. You don't think Malone will take you out when the time is right? Quit while you still have a head.

Transistor Radio said...

John save your story, you can reuse some of it when writing about terrestrial radio's bankruptcies and failures.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Malone has designs on doing a MusicChoice distribution with Sirius XM? For that he does not really need Mel. I think at this point and after reading the Wall Street Journal piece on Mel Karmazin that it is best that he step aside.

Anonymous said...

Stupidity. Sirius stock soars following Malone's bail out? How can Sirius XM ever make money?

Oh, I forgot. Mel math. It's like Less is more.

Anonymous said...

I think the damage has been done and potential subscribers will be wary of signing up with a company that could still go belly up.

iPods which can store more music than anyone could listen to in a year and internet radio which has hundreds of formats and thousands of choices also have growing advantage over satellite radio.

I think Sirius XM has had its day.

Anonymous said...

Pure lunacy. I am not sure what Malone hopes to get from Sirius other than a nice fat IOU from Mel.

The subscriber base will not grow. If anything it will shrink from fewer new subscribers replacing the old. Most young people are not into satellite radio or radio period. Maybe Mel has forgotten. This was the generation HE lost while dumbing down CBS Radio. He and his compadres at Clear Channel, Entercom, Cox, Citadel, Cumulus, etc., etc., etc.

That lost generation listens to their iPods. Some found internet radio. None listen to terrestrial and satellite serves as an alternative to nothing to them.

Leaving CBS soon said...

Mel got his way and he will have to pay big time and if Malone turns on him Mel is toast. A fitting end to a tyrant who cared only for himself and treated his hard working managers with ignorance and disrespect.

We can also thank Mel for destroying CBS Radio the way John Hogan and Mark Mays did for Clear Channel.

Dan Mason or John Hogan. Is there really that much of a difference?

Anonymous said...

Weekends to peopleig2tmean that they can have a two-day wowgold4europe good rest. For example, people gameusdcan go out to enjoy themselves or get meinwowgoldtogether with relatives and friends to talk with each storeingameother or watch interesting video tapes with the speebiewhole family.
Everyone spends agamegoldweekends in his ownmmoflyway. Within two days,some people can relax themselves by listening to music, reading novels,or watchingogeworld films. Others perhaps are more active by playing basketball,wimming ormmorpgvipdancing. Different people have different gamesavorrelaxations.
I often spend weekends withoggsalemy family or my friends. Sometimes my parents take me on a visit to their old friends. Sometimesgamersell I go to the library to study or borrow some books tommovirtexgain much knowledge. I also go to see various exhibition to broadenrpg tradermy vision. An excursion to seashore or mountain resorts is my favorite way of spending weekends. Weekends are always enjoyable for me.
igxe swagvaultoforu wowgold-usaignmax wowgoldlivebrogame thsaleGoldRockUbrogameswagvaultgoldsoonoforuigxethsale

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

不動産ソープランドアクセスカウンターコレステロール中性脂肪花粉症在宅ワーク内職在宅アルバイト乾燥肌ダイエット 食事サプリメント無料占い出会い山口クレジットカード現金化クレジット現金化ライブチャットフィリピンチャットレディパソコン在宅ワーク

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


麻將,台灣彩卷,六合彩開獎號碼,運動彩卷,六合彩,線上遊戲,矽谷麻將,明星3缺一,橘子町,麻將大悶鍋,台客麻將,公博,game,,中華職棒,麗的線上小遊戲,國士無雙麻將,麻將館,賭博遊戲,威力彩,威力彩開獎號碼,龍龍運動網,史萊姆,史萊姆好玩遊戲,史萊姆第一個家,史萊姆好玩遊戲區,樂透彩開獎號碼,遊戲天堂,好玩遊戲,遊戲基地,無料遊戲王,好玩遊戲區,麻將遊戲,好玩遊戲區,小遊戲,遊戲區,電玩快打,cs online