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radio or subscription radio (SR) is a digital radio signal that
is broadcast by a communications satellite, which covers a much wider
geographical range than terrestrial radio signals.
For now, satellite radio offers a meaningful alternative to ground-based radio services in some countries, notably the United States. Mobile services, such as Sirius, XM, and Worldspace, allow listeners to roam across an entire continent, listening to the same audio programming anywhere they go. Other services, such as Music Choice or Muzak's satellite-delivered content, require a fixed-location receiver and a dish antenna. In all cases, the antenna must have a clear view to the satellites. In areas where tall buildings, bridges, or even parking garages obscure the signal, repeaters can be placed to make the signal available to listeners.
Radio services are usually provided by commercial ventures and are subscription-based. The various services are proprietary signals, requiring specialized hardware for decoding and playback. Providers usually carry a variety of news, weather, sports, and music channels, with the music channels generally being commercial-free.
In areas with a relatively high population density, it is easier and less expensive to reach the bulk of the population with terrestrial broadcasts. Thus in the UK and some other countries, the contemporary evolution of radio services is focused on Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) services or HD Radio, rather than satellite radio.
There are two important characteristics that recommend satellite radio as a service most people would like to have in their vehicles or homes: quality and content. When talking about quality we mostly refer to how clear the sound output is from satellite radio when compare to terrestrial radio broadcasts. Content, on the other hand, refers to the quality of the transited material.
This is where the two giants in the satellite radio industry – Sirius and XM Radio – battle it out. The quality of the receivers and the technologies they both use are similar, but the difference can be made when it comes to exclusive high quality content.
Let’s have a look at both the satellite radio quality and content characteristics:
The broadcast quality is, when put in numbers, of 128kb/s 44.1khz for both digital radio service providers. This is the equivalent of CD quality. Although the coverage of satellite radio, which is far superior to what any terrestrial radio station can deliver, is an important factor, the quality of the sound is what brought Sirius and XM Radio more subscribers. There are many similarities to the way digital television worked or how cable TV has over 80% of the US population as subscribers, although they can receive free programming using UHF and VHF antennas.
It’s the same with satellite radio – although one can get free terrestrial radio, satellite radio comes at an affordable price and offer a broadcasting quality that is superior to analog radio. Also keep in mind that satellite radio is commercial free – and this is huge selling point.
The high analog-to-digital conversion quality means that there will be no sound interferences, hissing sounds and other audio disturbances characteristic to FM and AM transmissions. This is mostly obvious when listening to music on your satellite radio system. The bass is much stronger and accurate, while the high sound levels are crystal clear.
There is also a stronger mid range of sounds that you will consider to be more robust and accurate than what terrestrial radio produces. Although someone with a trained ear will tell you the music quality is not exactly as good as CD quality, it is extremely close and for the largest majority of users this difference is not even noticeable.
So now that we know how good the technological side of satellite radio really is, let’s have a look at how broadcasters are trying to improve the quality of the content they provide. One of the most interesting approaches was to fight for obtaining exclusivity over some transmissions.
For example, negotiations have been carried out between XM Radio and MLB in order for the satellite radio provider to obtain exclusivity rights to broadcast all MLB games. In an interview to WSJ, Edison Media Research's President Larry Rosin declared that "it is probably inevitable that baseball radio broadcasts will go to a 100% subscription model...
It will happen because there's too much money in it not to do it." Today, around 23% of XM subscribers are signed up to receive the MLB transmissions, so there is real potential in such a venture. Of course, this would be a terrific blow against terrestrial radio and the two sides are engaged in combat while you are reading this. Of course, content quality can also be increased by having the best people in the industry work with satellite radio.
Both Sirius and XM Radio know that someone who pays $300 for a receiver and $10 - $12 each month for a radio service wants to get the best content out there. Surprisingly, when it comes to music channels, the difference in content quality between satellite radio and terrestrial radio is made in one main topic – commercials (or rather, lack of commercials on satellite radio).
Since most of XM Radio and Sirius channels are in-house productions and only a small percentage are retransmits of terrestrial radio, this becomes an interesting aspect to consider.
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