Siriusly?

Today I decided to partake in Sirius’ online streaming for my daily musical entertainment. The standard free service sounds pretty good, and the premium subscription sounds even better. I’ve got the premium service thanks to a class action settlement that I knew nothing about before getting a letter from Sirius telling me I was getting free premium online listening for the rest of my subscription year. Fabulous! Now I can stream CD-quality music online anytime. Very helpful when one finds the need to work under a cone of silence.

While the service sounds great, I do have a couple complaints. One of my favorite things about satellite radio is that you always know what song you are listening to because it’s displayed right on your receiver at all times (I believe HD radio does this as well). As someone with no capacity to remember song titles or artists, that feature helps me figure out what I’m listening to. This is also something we have all gotten used to for internet radio stations. In fact, I can’t think of any online music services that don’t tell you the current song. The good news is that you can sign up for an internet-only Sirius subscription for just $13/month! (Yay?)

I had noticed this failing before, and never really looked into the reason until now:

4. Why don’t I see a song title or artist name in the player?

Song title and artist name data is married with the stream of music by the Windows Media Encoder. When this data arrives at your PC, it is displayed using an ActiveX control. However, because all Macintosh browsers and PC browsers other than Internet Explorer do not provide ActiveX support for the Windows Media Player, that information cannot be displayed when those browsers are utilized.

So, it’s not that they don’t know how to provide useful metadata, it’s that they can’t be bothered to provide that data to 50% of internet users — that’s much better! Somehow every free internet radio station on the planet can support a variety of browsers, but a satellite monopoly with a $4.29 billion market cap can’t manage it.

Another problem with online streaming is that some stations aren’t available online. This is apparently because much of the talk programming is actually syndicated programming produced by someone other than Sirius. This is out of their control, I suppose, but it does make one think about why they are paying to hear syndicated content that is available elsewhere.

I think Sirius is really missing an opportunity with their online streaming. There are all kinds of value-add features that can be included in the online player. Why can’t we rate the music right from the player, letting the programming staff know what we’d like to hear more of? Why isn’t there a “Buy on iTunes” or “Buy on Amazon” (or both) link right in the player? Why can’t I see what is playing on other channels without leaving the current channel? Taking it even further, why can’t I subscribe to programming a la Radioshift? This would be particularly useful for talk programming. Sirius doesn’t seem to be against time shifting — they even offer a receiver that has TiVo-like features (much to the chagrin of the RIAA, I understand).

Step up your game, newly minted Sirius XM Radio, and give your subscribers an online listening experience that lives up to the car and home experience.

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