Of the more than 120 channels offered by
Sirius Satellite Radio, about 55 do not broadcast music. On those,
you can listen to sports, raw dog comedy (dont ask), news for
truckers, patriotic talk shows, English soccer games, programming
especially for Catholics and the BBC in Spanish.
Coming soon, Martha
What you wont get
-- or not in appreciable amounts -- is travel talk. One of the two
examples of travel content programming unearthed by Sirius press
office at my request is called Travel Secrets, which lasts two
minutes. The other, which focuses on adventure travel, is called
Expedition Adventure. It lasts five minutes. Both are on Discovery
Travel is a $265
billion industry in the U.S., and consumers spend considerable free
time as well as all that money on travel. It has broad appeal. But
of the 79,200 minutes of nonmusic programming beamed down from
orbiting Sirius satellites each day, it would appear that there are
only seven minutes (thats .0000883%, for those without a
calculator) of content dedicated to travel.
In reality, its
probably a bit more than that -- its likely you could move the
decimal point over one or two spots to the right if you included
the ambient travel content thats embedded in some of the other
channels they offer (NPR and ABC, for instance) and the possibility
that Travel Secrets may air more than once a day. Still, travel
appears to be seriously underrepresented on Sirius. And the reason
may lie not with programmers at Sirius headquarters in New York but
with its distributors in and around Detroit.
This came to my
attention because the host of a New York-area travel radio show
contacted me after meeting with Sirius. He had noticed the absence
of substantive travel programming and thought he saw an
opportunity. He wanted to be the voice of travel on
But he was told
that there would likely never be a voice of travel on Sirius.
Sirius depends upon automobile manufacturers for distribution.
DaimlerChrysler, Ford and BMW are exclusive partners for
factory-installed Sirius equipment, and Sirius has nonexclusive
agreements with about 20 others manufacturers, from Aston Martin to
auto industry regards the travel industry as a competitor and does
not want to hear travel content coming out of car speakers, luring
discretionary dollars from new car budgets to vacation
This all sounded
vaguely familiar, and I finally remembered why. Bob Dickinson, CEO
of Carnival Cruise Lines, has for some time now been preaching the
message in reverse -- that the car dealer down the block is the
competitor of a local travel agent.
I called Dickinson
for a recap of his thoughts on the subject. We in the industry tend
to think linearly -- that vacation budgets are vacation budgets,
and we all compete with one another for that budget, he said. But
all high-ticket expenditures compete with travel. If someone delays
buying a new car for six months, he may spend some of the money hes
still holding on a cruise.
industrys focus on travel products as competition may be especially
apropos at this point in time.
The pendulum is
swinging in a direction thats good for travel products and bad for
automobiles, Dickinson believes. Americans have always had a
love-hate relationship with their cars. For the past few years, its
been love. The SUV was their cocoon, complete with CD, TV, DVD,
satellite radio, providing security and comfort. Especially in
contrast to air travel.
But now that gas
costs are high, were back in the hate phase. Add to that traffic
congestion and the lamentable state of our national parks --
overcrowding, lack of government investment -- and you can see that
a driving vacation has deteriorated just as its alternatives --
hotels, resorts, Las Vegas, Orlando, cruises -- are being enhanced.
The hate phase bodes well for the alternatives.
One cant really
blame Sirius for trying to protect the hand that feeds it. And, as
its press office pointed out, travel content is not completely
absent -- Sirius features the Vacation Channel, which plays music
that programmers believe people might enjoy while lying on a
sitting in a traffic jam.