By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
XM and Sirius, in a race to distinguish their services from each other and from traditional radio, announced initiatives into traffic and weather broadcasting, 5.1 surround sound and satellite video.
XM said it will launch on March 1, 15 new 24-hour regional traffic and weather stations to cover 15 specific top metropolitan markets, increasing its lineup to 115 basic channels. More traffic/weather stations will be added in the future to cover additional markets, said the company. At CES, XM also demonstrated satellite video and 5.1 discrete surround sound using a compression system by Neural Audio.
XM president/CEO Hugh Panero announced at a press conference at CES that the company expects to reach a base of 2.8 million subscribers by the end of 2004, compared to Sirius' plans to reach 860,000 subscribers. XM said it added 430,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter for a total of over 1.36 million for 2003.
At a separate news conference on the same day, Sirius president and CEO Joe Clayton announced that Sirius added 110,000 new subscribers in the fourth quarter, reaching 261,061 subscribers at the close of 2003.
Sirius said it will begin displaying text readouts of NBA and NHL game scores (in the song title display field, or other fields) as it broadcasts sports live. "If I tuned into a hockey game tonight, the display on the radio would just tell you the two teams playing. Now, we're putting in real time score information on the play-by-play channels, so you can choose which game you want to listen to by the displayed score," said a spokesman.
The service will be extended to NFL games in the future and is backward compatible with current Sirius radios, said the company. In addition, Sirius will display stock market indices and the top three stocks for each index on its CNBC channel.
Both XM and Sirius played some promotional football of their own at CES, with XM announcing it will convert in early February to 100 percent commercial-free music — matching one of Sirius' key selling points. Similarly Sirius took a shot at an XM marketing advantage by offering three months of free service with the purchase of a one-year subscription, for a net monthly fee of $10, similar to XM's pricing.
Sirius also showed satellite video and a national traffic channel that would allow users to scroll to their particular geographic region. Real time incident reports would be delivered via text readouts. By 2005, Sirius expects to offer a premium service that adds weather reports and route guidance around traffic jams (when combined with a navigation system). Sirius also said it will begin broadcasting in 5.1 Dolby ProLogic II surround sound as recordings become available in that format. It is currently airing all live performances on Sirius in ProLogic II.
Both companies displayed new products for their services with a focus on portable audio, plug-and-play and custom home audio models.
XM announced a new plug-and-play SkyFi boombox from Delphi that adds a CD player and MP3. It is expected to ship in February at under $200. It also showed distributed home audio systems from five brands, including Russound.
From Sirius are new boom boxes (with plug-and-play capability) by US Electronics under the XAct brand, and new plug-and-play models from Clarion and Blaupunkt. Sanyo and Eclipse also showed new Sirius head units. Sirius displayed a new Tivoli "retro"-style radio and distributed audio products from Creston and Niles.
XM further announced that JetBlue and AirTrans airlines would make XM available this year to all passengers and Sirius announced changes in programming that included a classical pops station, a family-oriented comedy channel and a Dow Jones news channel.
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