Howard Stern May Be About to Change the Media Landscape Again

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Should the notorious ‘shock jock’ defect for another company, look for radio broadcasting to change drastically in his wake.

TV-Americas Got Talent-SternCharles Sykes/Invision via AP  Howard Stern arrives at “America’s Got Talent” 10th season kick-off in New Jersey last March.

 

Howard Stern loves to work himself into fits of righteous anger.

Not long ago, the management of his present employer, Sirius XM (SIRI) satellite radio, became the target of his ire. Stern was upset that, according to him, they had agreed to a later start for his regular live broadcast, but then conditioned this upon his renewing his current contract with them.

Since then, Stern has strongly hinted that he won’t do so. What’s inconvenient about that, as far as Sirius XM is concerned, is that the agreement expires at the end of this year. And Stern hasn’t only been arguably its top attraction, he’s one of the main reasons for its success.

The company isn’t as dependent as it once was on the controversial DJ’s audience. Nevertheless, it goes almost without saying that his departure to another media outlet would hurt its results. But more broadly, it would almost certainly reshape the industry the company operates in.

Changing the Dial

For evidence of how much broadcast media has changed in a short space of time, look no further than the part of it that made Stern (in)famous. When he was coming to prominence in the early 1980s, the only choice for talents like himself — gifted of voice but not handsome enough for TV — was terrestrial radio.

It’s no stretch to say that Stern was a key figure responsible for taking that medium out of this world — literally. Satellite radio came into its own near the end of the 20th century, but it wasn’t really a viable business until he became part of it.

He signed his first contract with Sirius Satellite Radio (as it was then officially known) in 2004, and for several years was one of its few bankable stars in the years before the company acquired other big-name voices (such as Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Laura Schlessinger).

In that time, the company grew its revenue to over $4 billion last year from $242 million in 2005, and has been consistently profitable on the bottom line for years. Total subscribers over that stretch of time grew to 27.3 million from 3.3 million.

The Many Stations of Broadcast MediaStern has even more of a chance to shift the industry’s gears today.That’s because a wide range of media is readily available for talents like his. This includes podcasts, internet broadcasters such as Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, and websites custom-built for any purpose a talent like his might require.If he were to ditch Sirius XM, Stern would have no shortage of venue choices for broadcasting his show. He’d likely want a rich patron to shell out for it — it’s estimated to cost Sirius XM around $100 million per year.
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