The audio entertainment landscape has morphed more in the past 5 years than it had in the few decades prior. We have literally gone from AM and FM to satellite, to widespread availability of Internet radio. In addition, we have gone from simple cell phones to smartphones, and easy dashboards in cars to virtual computers.
With all of the changes that have been happening, it can be hard to gauge which company is at the top of the heap. Certainly various services will all have their own passionate fans, but in the end, it likely boils down to numbers.
Slacker has fewer listeners than Sirius XM (NASDAQ:SIRI) and Pandora (NYSE:P), but that does not mean that the company does not have a compelling service. Personally, I am a huge fan of Slacker and Sirius XM and to me both of these services offer the most compelling service on the market at this point.
With Sirius XM getting ready to launch its personalized radio service, MySXM, at some point this year, the consumer offerings of the satellite radio provider are finally catching up to some of its Internet brethren. In fact, once MySXM launches, Sirius XM will indeed have a well rounded and compelling content offering that gives subscribers some great capabilities that they used to go somewhere else for.
Slacker is not sitting back, and in fact is not even waiting for Sirius XM to release personalized radio. Slacker is taking the offensive and has dubbed itself as "THE WORLD'S MOST COMPLETE MUSIC SERVICE."
I can already see the flame wars happening, but let's take a look and see just what has Slacker making this claim. Here is what Slacker claims:
- Slacker is available on the web via iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry.
- The best content: 10 times the music of Pandora plus news, sports and talk from ABC and ESPN.
- Expert curation: More than 200 expert-curated stations, making music discovery fun and easy.
- Endless personalization: New features include the ability to "Fine-Tune" stations. Prefer deeper cuts? Want more artist recommendations? Prefer the new stuff? You're in complete control.
- Three tiers of service: Stream it for free. Subscribe for on-demand access. Listen from anywhere - online or off. It's the only complete digital music service.
o Slacker ((NASDAQ:FREE)) - Stream millions of songs and hundreds of expert-programmed stations on any device. Enter a song, artist or genre and let Slacker entertain you!
o Slacker Plus ($3.99/mo) - Enjoy a commercial-free experience with unlimited song skips. Customize and download your favorite stations for offline listening.
o Slacker Premium ($9.99/mo) - The ultimate experience with on-demand access to Slacker's library of million songs and albums.
- Slacker works directly with record labels to offer a massive music library of more than 13 million songs, with new tracks added daily.
Slacker makes some valid points, and the company does have attributes that simply are not offered anywhere else (promotional Video). Should Sirius XM and Pandora worry? The answer is more complex than a "Yes" or "No," but at a minimum, you can bet that both companies will pay attention. What Slacker has done was stake a claim. That is an important thing to consider. Other companies can sit back and allow Slacker to make these claims, or they can respond. Depending on what happens, the audio entertainment sector could get very interesting. Here is what Slacker CEO Jim Candy had to say:
"Slacker is the most complete music service on earth, with 10 times the music of Pandora, expert-programmed stations Spotify can't touch, and personalization that satellite services only dream of," said Jim Cady, CEO, Slacker. "We've quietly built a scalable business with more than a half-million paying subscribers and more than four million monthly average users. 2013 will be a blockbuster year for Slacker as we ramp up our marketing efforts and take the service to a broader audience."
Those are fighting words. That is a challenge being laid down. Slacker distinctly named Pandora, Sirius XM, and Spotify. Slacker has also hinted that it will not be the "quiet one" any more. As stated, this could prove to be interesting.
In my opinion, Pandora has more to fear right now than Sirius XM. Slacker can do virtually anything Pandora does and more. Unlike Pandora, Slacker has news, talk, sports, and full On Demand as well as a bigger library. Sirius XM has less to worry about, but there are still some things to watch for. With Sirius XM costing over $15 per month, will consumers find the full on customization of Slacker at a less expensive price point more appealing? Slacker has deals with cell companies as well as auto makers. It has developed apps across all platforms, and puts up a compelling service that consumers may find appealing.
Up until this point, none of the big players really claimed ownership and called out the others in the way Slacker has. This could create a virtual PR battle and ramp up the audio entertainment sector in a way that we have not really seen since Sirius and XM were separate companies and battling it out.
If you are invested in Sirius XM or Pandora, it's probably worthwhile monitoring what Slacker is doing this year. Was this Press Release a singular event or the beginnings of a Slacker marketing campaign that will necessitate other companies to step up efforts in that area as well? As an investor, whether you feel that one company is better than the other is not really the issue. The potential issue here is that if Slacker markets more and gains traction, other companies will need to respond. Responses usually cost money.
Out of Pandora, Sirius XM, and Slacker, the satellite radio has the deepest pockets. The downside is that it is also the most expensive. The challenge for Slacker is to garner more share. It has to come at the expense of another company. Investors will want to monitor to see exactly how successful Slacker is in making 2013 its banner year.
Additional disclosure: I have no position in Pandora