SiriusXM Lowers Price, Reboots to Take on Streaming Music Rivals With “Human-Curated” Focus

The satellite radio giant SiriusXM is planning an aggressive push for a larger slice of the streaming music space, launching a new version of its platform on mobile devices and in cars; lowering its subscription price; and debuting a slew of new channels and shows as it seeks greater market share among younger consumers.

Focusing on the “next generation” of subscribers is a focal point of SiriusXM’s strategy, the company’s CEO Jennifer Witz tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. A big part of that is shifting the company’s streaming strategy from being a complement to the in-car offering to something that is compelling in its own right.

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“We have a lot of our consumers, our subscribers streaming today outside of the car, and the app was originally designed basically as a companion to what you have in the car,” Witz says. “This is really our first chance to nail something that stands on its own, and can really be a complementary audio service to whatever other music service you might have, because of the breadth of content we have.”

The company rolled out its new platform and a number of new deals at an event in New York City Wednesday, with Witz citing “fundamental shifts in the marketplace have created a paradox of choice and has resulted in a growing consumer demand for human-curated audio.”

Among the biggest changes is a new price: $9.99 per month for the all-access streaming service, a price that is $1 cheaper than before, and also undercuts streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, which have adopted the $10.99 price point. As Witz noted, it could also make SiriusXM a good complement to those services.

The new platform is sleeker and faster, with more an effort to combine algorithmically-driven suggestions with human-curated channels and playlists. The new streaming app will launch Dec. 14 with the in-car experience rolling out beginning next year.

And the company announced a number of new deals, well beyond the James Corden talk show announced earlier in the week.

On the content front, SiriusXM announced a new Kelly Clarkson channel (Clarkson also performed during the event, and expressed enthusiasm in “going live” on the channel at random moments from her home. Other new channels in the works include offering curated by John Mayer, a true crime channel led by audiochuck’s Ashley Flowers, year-round channels from Shaggy and Smokey Robinson, and a limited-time channel from Dolly Parton.

Clarkson, Flowers and Shaggy all appeared live, as did comics Kevin Hart and Conan O’Brien, and Bravo’s Andy Cohen, among others, in a push to show the breadth and depth of the company’s programming.

Also making a rare live appearance was Howard Stern, arguably the host most closely associated with the brand.

“I’ll be honest with you, I said no, I did not want to be here. And Jennifer and Scott and everyone associated with the company they said you’re gonna be here if you want to stay here,” Stern quipped to the crowd, before getting a bit more serious. “I am the biggest fan of satellite radio, even if I suck on the air one day, which is almost impossible but let’s say I’m having a bad day and it’s not funny: I know that any listener there can tune over and hear Mad Dog, they can hear Kevin Hart, they can hear hear Conan, there’s enough content there — good content — that our subscribers feel fulfilled. To me SiriusXM was a it was an oasis in the desert of censorship, the technology that I dreamed of.”

“What you saw today is a little bit of it, but it really is a diverse set of genres, brands, personalities, of all walks of life, of all different types,” SiriusXM chief content officer Scott Greenstein says in an interview. “And we do that because we want people to have what they want, we want people to have what they think they want, and we want people to have what they don’t know yet they might want.”

On the distribution front, SiriusXM cut a deal with Hilton to make its content available in the chains hotel rooms, and with Amazon’s Audible to bring its audio content to SiriusXM, and some SiriusXM content to Audible subscribers.

And there will be a renewed focus on content discovery in the refreshed app, Witz says.

“Even for me, discovery is really challenging,” the CEO says. “I have my playlists on Pandora for instance, but if I want to find something new, I go to my favorite channels on SiriusXM because there are either the hosts that are helping to curate the various music they’re playing, but they’re also doing interviews with artists, live performances with the artists. It’s also a packaging of all of our content, all by humans.”

Greenstein argues that it’s their secret sauce.

“As you show interest in certain things, whether music or otherwise, we will do our best both from a human point of view and an algorithmic point of view, to be in a position where we’re going to try to figure out what your audio DNA is and what my audio DNA is, and consistently refine that to serve you that unique mix,” Greenstein says. “Because people don’t listen in vacuums to just music, just talk, just comedy at any moment in any given day. They may want their sports, their news, their music, they may be in a mood for certain music.”

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