Sirius XM is at it again. The company that has faced numerous financial issues over the past few years has finally released its much-anticipated app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. There's just one problem: it leaves out much of the good stuff.
The new app allows users to access some of the service's sports, talk, comedy, and music channels. The available channels include, Oprah Radio, MLB Home Plate, NFL Radio, NHL Home Ice, Mad Dog Radio, The Foxxhole comedy channel, and NPR.
Users will also have access to a variety of Sirius XM music channels, including E Street Radio, The Grateful Dead Channel, Eminem's Shade 45, Radio Margaritaville, Siriusly Sinatra, and others. All told, users will be able to listen to 120 channels. Any music track can be purchased in iTunes while listening to it in the Sirius XM app.
But it's the omissions that will undoubtedly sway public opinion. According to Sirius XM, "some select programming, including MLB Play-by-Play, NFL Play-by-Play, Nascar Radio, and Howard Stern, will not be available on the iPhone and iPod Touch."
In its press release, Sirius XM didn't provide any reason why some of its most popular channels aren't included. But after some digging, I found that those omissions may be due to "mobile-performance rights."
"Sirius and XM offer all of the channels for which we have mobile-performance rights," the company wrote on its iPhone app's FAQ page. "For that reason, certain channels which may be available on your satellite radio or online radio service may not be available on a mobile device like the iPhone."
Sirius XM is giving users a free seven-day trial with the app. After that, it's charging a fee to access the content. I called a Sirius XM customer service representative to see how much it would cost to get that service. He told me that as a current Sirius XM subscriber, I would need to pay an additional $2.99 per month after the seven-day trial. Those who currently do not subscribe to the service will be forced to pay $12.95 per month for access.
According to Howard Stern on his radio show Tuesday, 60 percent of Sirius XM's subscribers--about 20 million, at last count (PDF)--listen to Stern's two channels. That means 12 million people who currently have satellite radio won't have any use for its streaming app.
And considering that subscribers won't be able to listen to games or races from the three most popular sports leagues in the U.S.--Nascar, Major League Baseball, and the National Football League--where's the "must-have" channel that would make us want this app?
The main problem with Sirius XM's app isn't that it doesn't provide good content; indeed, a lot of great music channels are included. Rather, it's that nothing is really so uniquely compelling that it would make us want to pay for it. Will Chris "Mad Dog" Russo get you to pay more every month for a Sirius XM app? Does Oprah Radio really justify that additional cost? I don't think so.
We also can't forget that there are countless free apps already in the App Store that will play the same songs as the Sirius XM app, with added personalization. Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker, and many other mobile-music apps provide our favorite music at no cost. (Disclosure: Last.fm is a part of CBS Interactive, which also publishes CNET News.) We can listen to Bruce Springsteen on Pandora. We can catch all our favorite Jimmy Buffett tunes in Slacker. Furthermore, all the songs we really like are probably already sitting in our iTunes library within the iPhone or iPod.
So what's the catch? What's the Sirius XM app's redeeming quality that would make us want to pay $2.99 or $12.95 more a month to have it? Without Howard Stern and live sports commentary, I just don't know.
I had high hopes for the Sirius XM iPhone app. And now I'm disappointed. Its programming isn't compelling enough to make me want it. It leaves out many of the channels most subscribers care about. And for what it's offering, it's a bit overpriced.
Sorry, Sirius XM. This app isn't the way to profitability.