By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Coming off a year of 300 percent growth, Sirius said it expects to double its number of subscribers this year to over 2 million, according to CEO Mel Karmazin.
Although Sirius continues to lag behind rival XM by over 2 million subscribers (Sirius now has over 1.1 million), company chairman Joe Clayton stated Sirius' brand awareness now matches that of XM, and he traded barbs with XM at a CES press event by stating, “We're the big dog in satellite radio. Our time has arrived,” adding, “As they say in the South, 'Let the big dog hunt.' “
Sirius affirmed but delayed its plans to launch satellite video for the car. It will deliver two to three channels of children's programming late in the summer of 2006, a year beyond its previous target date, said Clayton. The satellite video system will use Microsoft's Windows Media Video 9 compression, said the company.
Sirius announced a full slate of new receivers for this year, including two models with flash memory for recording satellite radio programming, a feature now available in rival XM's products.
The new ReGo supplied by Xact Communication is a plug-and-play receiver with a four-hour memory buffer, and also the first of its kind to include an MP3 player. Users can fast-forward and rewind through songs in the buffer. The ReGo has a USB port and a Secure Digital slot for storing MP3 songs. Xact is also expected to offer headphones for the ReGo with a built-in antenna as well as a snap-on battery pack so it may be used as a portable/headset. Pricing and shipping plans will be announced shortly, said Sirius.
Also new is an upgrade to the Sirius-branded Sportster plug-and-play receiver, which now has a 44-minute memory buffer for recording and storing Sirius programming. The new Sportster IR also has a 100-channel wireless FM modulator to work with any car radio. It is expected to ship in April.
Sirius continues to expand its line of Sirius branded product and will add the Star Mate, the company's smallest plug-and-play receiver to date. It will ship this month at $129. Also, under the Sirius brand is a new Starbase wireless FM modulator that can convert any OEM radio to Sirius when also combined with a SiriusConnect tuner and antenna. The unit's FM modulator can work with up to 100 FM channels. The Starbase is now available at $169.95.
Clayton said the company is broadening its own “Sirius” branded products to help build the general Sirius “entertainment” brand and because it can sometimes move more rapidly to introduce new technology than when partnering with a separate hardware brand. Clayton said the Sirius Sportster with features linked to NFL programming was a case in point. The plug and play unit has become the leading Sirius product, with over 200,000 units sold, he said. “It's our best selling unit because of the NFL tie-in.”
Clayton also commented on the recent media attention given to Sirius following the announcement that Howard Stern will come to Sirius in January 2006. “We haven't had to pay him anything yet and we're getting exposure such as the David Letterman Show and in Union Square,” he said referring to a rally Stern held in New York. Clayton added, “Our unaided brand awareness was 30 percent, and in just 60 days it went to 50 percent. But let's give some of that credit to the NFL,” Clayton added.
In home audio, Sirius said Directed Electronics will distribute the first Sirius-brand dedicated home tuner, the SRH550, joining a model each from Kenwood and Audiovox and a tabletop radio from Tivoli. No model name has been determined.
Home audio supplier Rotel will also offer a dedicated Sirius tuner later in the year.
Directed also said a Sirius Connect tuner will be available for car audio units from Kenwood by the end of the month, and for JVC and Pioneer around February. A Sirius Connect tuner is currently available for Alpine.
On the OEM front, Sirius announced just prior to CES that Ford Motor company said Sirius will be offered on up to 21 Ford and Lincoln Mercury vehicles as a factory installed option this summer. Ford said it expects to generate up to 1 million Sirius subscribers during the 2006 and 2007 model years. A free Sirius subscription of six months or more will be offered on the Ford vehicles.
XM is currently available in more than 60 General Motor and Honda vehicles with GM recently announcing that it signed up over 1 million XM subscribers.
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