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Anger and Confusion Over XM Satellite Radio's Commercial-Free Music Policy

Dateline: 06/12/06


Subscribers to XM Satellite Radio continue to be either upset, dismayed, or confused about XM’s policy concerning commercials on music channels.

Here are a few recent emails to Radio.about.com and explanations:

Sponsorships and Promos Sound Like - Ta Dah! Commercials!

I have...noticed a marked increase in little "blurbs" such as "the next hour of music is brought to you by so-and-so". This is an advertisement, no matter how you look at it, and I pay premium dollar to not hear ONE advertisement. The promos pushing their own shows on other channels irritate me also, but I can deal with those since there is no extra money funneling into XM Radio to have these promos. I'm NOT happy about the plugs for sponsors... - Andy

Andy is first referring to "sponsorships" which have traditionally been regarded as commercial content. The other announcements are “promos”, which radio stations have used for years to cross-promote other content. Since Andy didn't mention which channel(s) he heard the sponsorships on, it's hard to specifically address his concern. But, in a moment I'll explain why listeners have been hearing commercials on some music channels - which may very well include the one(s) he listens to.

Concerning promos, although some programmers publicly deny that promos are “commercials” – they are being disingenuous. Educated programmers know that research shows listeners perceive them as commercials - which makes them just as big a negative. (Please see: XM Radio: What Exactly Is The Definition of Commercial-Free? for more on this “promo” issue.)

Yes, Virginia: There Are Commercials on Music Channels

I heard a hersheys commercial and Petcare RX commercial back to back the other day on KISS XM! I paid 356 dollars for three years of commercial free radio in my already XM equipped 65,000 dollar Cadillac and I'm mad! XM won't even call me back. There needs to be a class action lawsuit against them. Just like cable TV, they never had commercials until they got you used to paying , then they trickle them in. – jermac19

I have started hearing something that can be nothing besides a commercial on XM 21. It's for Hershey's Wrapper Cash and it ticked me off when I heard it. Are there stations that aren't "commercial free?" Any idea what listeners can do to protest this? - Christy

In March of this year, an arbitration panel settled a legal dispute between Clear Channel and XM. The panel decided that Clear Channel had the right to include commercials on 4 music channels which it gained (and programmed) from a 1998 investment in XM Satellite Radio.

XM’s response was to launch 4 new music channels, in the same respective genre, to compensate for this loss of commercial-free status. As a matter of fact, it added even more than four.

A March 27, 2006 News Release from XM stated “XM added two new commercial-free music channels on March 1: Big Tracks (XM Channel 49), focusing on classic rock from the late 70's onward, and XM Chill (XM Channel 84), devoted to Chill music. During April and May, XM will bring the total number of new commercial-free music channels to 10…”

The service positions this change by stating it has “…the most commercial-free music channels in satellite radio.” Notice it doesn’t flat out state they are all commercial-free. Increasing the number of channels allowed the company to boast of quantity – which can easily be misinterpreted by an average listener to mean they are all commercial-free.

The Clear Channel/XM relationship is supposed to end in 2008. Then, XM can once again go back to real commercial-free music programming, should it wish.

XM Never Promised You a (Commercial-Free) Rose Garden

I signed up fro XM Radio only because of their "commercial-free" stance. The stations that I listen to the most have commercials, especially 150 The Comedy Channel. It was nice when it was just the station promos, but now it's commercials seems like every fifteen minutes! I hate it and it's making me not want to listen to it as much. I wish XM would make a list of which of their station are actually "commercial-free." That might help. Thanks for listening to me rant. - Jeff

Jeff misunderstands XM’s commercial-free policy. It originally applied to music channels but the service does have commercials on others and has never hid that.

For the record, I did ask a representative from XM to respond to some of the content of this article and received no response.

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  7. Anger and Confusion Over XM Satellite Radio's Commercial-Free Music Policy - Clear Channel Legal Dispute Causes Programming Split

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