Jim Meyer, Sirius XM Radio’s chief executive, may be slowly coming around to podcasting. In the past year he’s called the medium an “audio flea market” and an “evolution” of audio consumption rather than a “revolution.” But speaking at an investor conference Wednesday in Los Angeles, Meyer seemed more open to podcasting and how SiriusXM could leverage its ownership of Pandora.
“You’re going to see a lot of focus from us in the space. We absolutely need to be in that business,” Meyer told investors. “Podcasting is clearly a preferred way with younger consumers… how they want to consume spoken word content.”
By any measure, SiriusXM already is. It now owns Pandora, which has already picked up about 3,000 podcasts and, according to executives, will have 5,000 to 10,000 by year-end. One of the most often-asked questions is whether satellite radio’s star personality—Howard Stern—may become available as a podcast. For now, Meyer would only speak in hypothetical boasts. “If we were to put Howard in a podcast format in a paywall, it certainly would become one of largest podcasts,” he said.
For now, Meyer said SiriusXM is approaching podcasting with caution. “We believe that curation and brands are going to matter in podcasting,” he explained, echoing comments earlier this year when he said he believes the biggest role for Pandora will be to act as a “gatekeeper” for the kinds of podcasts that it believes will catch fire with listeners. Meyer has also talked of branded podcasts as a way that SiriusXM and Pandora could make the business work for them. He has said that he believes it’s still “very hazy” how podcasts will be monetized with both ad-support and subscription models up for grabs. “We’re going to stay with that at the forefront—but we are not going to overpay for this,” he said. “It remains unclear how it’s going to be monetized, so we’re not willing to pay to get exclusive content or make a dramatic move, overspending, as we figure it out.”
It has been less than a year since Pandora began embracing podcasting, and on-demand audio is part of Meyer’s strategy in what he says is his goal to “stabilize Pandora and stop the bleeding.” Pandora has been shedding users to Spotify. In the second quarter Pandora’s Monthly Active Users (MAUs) fell 9% to 64.9 million. Meyer said having the combination of satellite radio and a streaming platform with nearly 100 million combined listeners will be an advantage. “To be competitive in this game, you need to have a big platform,” he told investors. At the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch media conference at the swank Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Meyer said they’re looking at leveraging more content across both platforms “to see what might energize (Pandora’s) free base. We’ve been very aggressive on synergies in the company.” He added that Pandora’s app needs more features and better ease of use, as well as improved marketing, and an increased presence in the vehicle. “It’s a hard problem, but it is a huge focus for me and our management right now.”