Was Sirius' Bankruptcy Inevitable?
from the possibly,-but-it-had-help dept
Back in 1999, when plans for satellite radio were first talked about, I thought it was destined to fail. I had two reasons for why: I didn’t think there really was that much demand and having just closely watched the disaster known as Iridium, I was intimately familiar with the massive and business-strangling capital costs associated with running a satellite-based business. It just seemed so capital intensive that any underestimate in terms of demand would kill you. And, in fact, Sirius has a pretty long history of being on the verge of failure.
With the news of Sirius XM preparing for bankruptcy, it’s worth revisiting those original thoughts. While I’d love to claim credit for calling this a decade ago — I think my reasoning turned out to be wrong. I vastly underestimated the number of folks willing to sign up for satellite radio (though, I think I was correct in recognizing that the number of subscribers would need to be massive and that would be difficult to achieve). And, while the capital expenditure costs were large, it seems like they, by themselves, may have been imaginable. What I hadn’t fully expected, was the massive expenses the companies (now company) would ring up trying to lock up “talent” to drive subscriber numbers up. Also, I didn’t expect ridiculous regulatory restrictions. The 18 months it took federal regulators to approve the merger between XM and Sirius, combined with the ridiculous restrictions that were put on the combined company significantly contributed to satellite radio’s troubles. And, finally, additional competition in the form of internet radio and podcasts/portable media really have put pressure on satellite radio — none of which I foresaw at the time.
While the company is clearly looking to restructure and keep going, you have to wonder if it even makes sense at this point. With those alternatives increasingly becoming popular in the market, it’s difficult to see how satellite radio can possibly provide enough excess value to pay for the increased capital costs compared to the competition. Even if the company restructures and comes out of bankruptcy, who’s willing to bet it will have to through this whole process again in a few years?