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How Beats 1 can take on SiriusXM

Michael Simon | July 14, 2015
Apple Music has exploded out of the gate. Thanks to a generous three-month trial period, music lovers all around the world rushed to take the newest streaming service for a spin, and there isn't much not to like. Tens of millions of songs, hand-picked playlists, offline listening, and easy integration with your existing music library put it at least on par with its big-name rivals, if not slightly ahead.

Beats 1 is anything but. The usual genre stations are still available in Apple Music's Radio tab, of course, but Beats 1 offers something that you won't find on any of the SiriusXM channels. In its first week we heard genre-defying selections picked by Elton John, Run the Jewels, Dr. Dre, and St. Vincent, and it's been a fascinating reinvention of what radio can be.

Pay to play

Beats 1 is certainly good enough to be included as a perk for Apple Music subscribers, but Apple made it free, essentially acting as an advertisement for the paid service. But as Apple Music evolves, I expect Beats 1 to expand into a whole radio network.

I'm willing to bet that Beats 1 will always be free, but Beats 2 might not be. Apple has put so much energy and effort into its radio station I find it hard to believe that there isn't a plan in the works to expand the lineup. There may never be quite as many channels as SiriusXM offers and quite frankly, that's probably a good thing but I could see a dozen or so different stations eventually being offered, with at least a few of them only available to subscribers.

There's an inherent value in exclusivity, and Apple has already partnered with the likes of Pharrell Williams and Eminem to generate buzz. Similarly, SiriusXM routinely adds special channels devoted to the music of certain artists (most recently a James Taylor channel popped up to promote his new album), and it seems like a logical direction for Apple, too.

Don't forget live concerts and events. As part of the Taylor channel, for example, Sirius simulcast an exclusive show from the Apollo Theater. Apple already holds in-store performances and records iTunes Originals, and I have to assume this year's iTunes Festival will stream live on Apple Music. The Eminem interview was a good start, but if Beats could regularly stream live shows and performances, there's no telling how popular it could be.

There's a huge potential here, and with the influence Apple wields in the music industry---which has only gotten stronger by bringing Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre, and Trent Reznor into its camp---Beats radio could be a place for both major and undiscovered artist to promote, experiment and, most importantly, reach their fans. Where SiriusXM largely follows the transitional radio format without ad breaks (at least for music channels), Apple is forging a different path with Beats 1, offering an eclectic mix of programming that doesn't try to fit a specific musical taste.

Supply and demand

The smartest move the satellite radio providers made was to partner with automobile makers. Not only is there an easy way to stream SiriusXM built into just about every new car that rolls off a lot, it also comes with a generous trial period that gets customers hooked on the product. Apple is already making inroads with car manufacturers, and it's only a matter of time before an Apple Music app is front and center on the CarPlay dashboard. That alone would begin to chip away at satellite radio's in-car dominance.


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