Friday, February 10, 2006

Satellite Wars: will Oprah kick Howard's ass?

As you may have heard - the way this woman makes news, it's amazing - Oprah Winfrey has signed a $55 million, 3-year deal with XM Radio. While Business Week sees this as a potential knockout blow for Sirius because "Oprah's marketing appeal far exceeds Sirius's radio jock Howard Stern", Rick Munarriz of The Motley Fool points out:

"Sure, Oprah is great. According to Nielsen, her TV talk show attracts nearly 50 million viewers a week. That's more than the audience that Stern was commanding on terrestrial radio. But there's an important distinction here, in that Stern's radio show replaced his popular show on Viacom. Oprah has no plans to give up her prime TV gig. Folks who need an Oprah fix will still be able to check her out for free on the tube every weekday."

The use of the word "fix" is right on the money, because the issue here is about junkie-dom. Howard's hardcore fans are Howard-junkies; Oprah's hardcore fans are Oprah-junkies. Howard removed himself from terrestrial radio, so the only way his junkies can get their fix is to buy a Sirius radio. Oprah has no intention to leave television, and will actually only be on XM's air for a half-hour a week (which is why Oprah's many friends will be there to fill in the rest of all that airtime). Howard - despite his denials - promoted Sirius relentlessly on his FM radio show since his deal was announced; it's not certain how much Oprah will mention XM in upcoming months, although even a handful of mentions by her can do wonders for any company's product. (Look at Random House's "A Million Little Pieces"! Oops.)

To me, Oprah's new radio channel - filled with "topics such as current events, self improvement, health, nutrition, fitness and home" - will be an awful lot like Martha Stewart's channel on Sirius, and will be as fascinating (which is: not very. Then again, I'm not in the demographic.). Now Martha is certainly important and promotable for Sirius, and Oprah is definitely important for XM, a far bigger star than Martha. (A far bigger star than anybody at this point, it seems.) But I think the deal has more to do with corporate posturing and promotability* than it has to do with a bloody battling for audience.

Now - if Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity removed themselves from terrestrial radio and went to XM, that would be a fight. But those guys don't have the FCC-punching-bag impetus that Howard did.

* don't get me wrong, that's very very important stuff at this point for satellite radio.

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