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 Sunday, 12 January, 2003, 10:19 GMT
Stations gamble on satellite radio
XM Radio display
XM Radio makes a splash in Las Vegas
The BBC's Neil Curry reports from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on how digital radio could come to the rescue of American stations.

For the past 30 years radio in the US has been defined pretty much as a medium for listening in the car. That is what has driven most sales.

The young of today are focused on other sources of audio, whether it is CDs or downloaded MP3 music files.

They do not tend to spend much of their time listening to traditional network radio. They increasingly like to have control over what they listen to.

Digital radio may be a way of salvaging the role of the radio in the American home.

If it is not, then a whole heap of money will have been invested in a lost cause.

'Added value'

XM and Sirius are the two main players in the newly emerging satellite radio market in the US.

On top of this, you have companies like Motorola and Ibiquity that are developing digital radio for America.

Both of them are relying on the market to respond to the delivery of higher quality audio and a bunch of other "added value" bits of the package, like interactivity and information about the music.

All of these players have high profile presences at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The digital radio service will offer features like the ability to buy the CD of the track currently being played on the radio by simply pressing a buy button on the set.

A visual display on the receiver will also tell you what track is playing and other kinds of information like the weather, traffic or whatever.

Endless radio

XM radio is the current leader of the pack in the satellite market.

This past year, they have recruited 350,000 subscribers to their service and aim to top one million by the end of 2003.

They were launched on the basis of delivering masses of radio channels to in car users who would be able to listen to their chosen station right the way across the country, something you cannot do with traditional radio in the US.

Over the past months though XM and Sirius, who follow a similar model, have become increasingly convinced that people will want to use their service in the home too.

The idea is a huge range of channels of different kinds of music and speech programming that can cater to practically any taste.

The fact that it a subscription service means that many of the channels are commercial free and both companies see this as a potential marketing advantage.

Testing times

But the test will be just how many people will be convinced that they should invest in this kind of service when, at the same time, you have got many channels of video and audio being pumped over the internet.

The XM service costs for $9.99 a month per receiver. Their latest unit is a small panel that can move from a cradle that sits on the dashboard of your car to a slot in the front of a boombox.

This means you can access the radio stations both in the car and in the home or even at the beach.

It is going to be interesting to see if the market will respond and boost radio in the American home or if the alternative media will take over.

Consumer Electronics Show 2003, Las Vegas

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