HITS Daily Double
“I tell our programmers, ‘If you’re going to add a new song, put your ass on the line and play the record in a real rotation.’”


SiriusXM’s Steve Blatter Gives Us
a Satellite’s-Eye-View
You know SiriusXM has had a profound impact on the radio landscape—but it’s also affecting everything from record sales to A&R. We asked SVP/GM of Music Programming and Digital Music Steve Blatter to elaborate, though after talking with us he’d probably like to move his satellite farther into space.

The success of SiriusXM seems to have resulted in large part from taking risks terrestrial radio is reluctant to take.
It’s the way we’ve always done things as programmers. We figure out ways to satiate our subscribers’ appetite for music discovery. It’s definitely one of the key factors that makes us really unique relative to traditional radio today.

If you look at the amount of new music that gets exposed on typical FM radio stations today—in all formats—they’re not exposing as much new music as they used to. We believe that music discovery is one of the most important services we provide to our subscribers.

How big is SiriusXM’s reach?
We recently announced our subscriber base has reached 24.4 million. There are about two listeners per subscription, which creates a listener universe north of 40 million people a week in the United States. If SiriusXM were its own local market, it would be bigger than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco combined.

It’s impossible to avoid the comparison with the impact of HBO on TV.
I think there’s definitely a parallel. We’re very subscriber-focused in all the decisions that we make as programmers. Our music channels are all commercial-free, so we don’t have the pressures from advertisers. Our decisions are made purely on what our subscribers want. The context in which we serve up music makes it much more engaging, and our stations truly connect with listeners on an emotional level. This also leads to more music discovery and more overall passion for our service.

A terrestrial station in a particular market has to be terrified of people punching buttons. But you don’t mind people doing so, because they're still punching buttons within the SiriusXM universe.
Not only do we not mind—we actually encourage our listeners to dial-punch. While we’re always developing methods to improve our cross-promotion efforts, we do a pretty extensive job of encouraging tune-in across our platform. For example, if we’re about to air a Town Hall with Jon Bon Jovi on the Pulse, there’ll be promos that air on other channels like Hair Nation and Classic Rewind that encourage listeners to "tune in now."

Alternative is feeding music to Top 40 in a way it hasn’t for a long time.
I think it really started again with Foster the People, who received their first Top 40 airplay on our Hits 1 channel. Since then, alternative artists like Fun., The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons have had major Top 40 hits. Alternative is a category of music that most Top 40 programmers weren’t even considering a few years ago.

So how did you make that leap in your own sphere?
We knew what a massive hit Foster the People’s "Pumped Up Kicks" was for us on Alt Nation, which was the first station in America to play the song. As part of the regular dialogue that all of our music programmers have with each other, Kid Kelly, our head of Pop programming, added the record on Hits 1. Several weeks later, the rest of the format followed.

That brings me naturally to the issue of how you are influencing influencers across the culture.
Of the 40-plus-million people that we reach a week, there’s a subset of really influential listeners. For example, we know that for years Ellen DeGeneres has been discovering new music listening to SiriusXM, and that sometimes those artists make their way onto her television show. Ellen had Allen Stone on her show recently, and she actually introduced him by saying, "Hey, I discovered this guy listening to his music on SiriusXM, and I wanted to bring him to you on my show."

Another influencer that we influence is Rachael Ray, who did a guest DJ spot recently on our Spectrum channel. That segment aired nationally on her show as well. People who know Rachael well know that she’s a pretty big fan of music and of satellite radio.

We also know David Letterman is a regular SiriusXM listener. He’s actually a huge fan of one of our Country hosts, Elizabeth Cook. Dave’s even had Elizabeth as a guest on his show at least two or three times now. Other late-night hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel are SiriusXM listeners too.

I’m also thinking of the way in which other radio is being influenced by your choices, and also subject to a certain amount of listener pressure as a result of music that you’re bringing to light.
I couldn’t really speak to that. I don’t know how much traditional radio is watching our playlists. I think back when I started in radio 25 years ago, there was so little data available to you when it came to new music that the best information you had was charts, the "most added" each week, and maybe you’d review the playlists at a few key stations to see what they were playing. That was how we used to do things as programmers. Today we are not really looking at charts or what’s happening on other radio stations so much.

Something else that’s really, really important to us as programmers is that we are not reliant on learning about new music from radio promotion people, and that we proactively look to discover music on our own through various means. Whether an artist is signed to a major label, independent label or unsigned, it really doesn’t matter to us. I think that’s why over the last 12 months there are at least a half-dozen "unsigned" artists who got their first exposure on SiriusXM and have since been signed by either large independents or major record labels.

Let’s talk about some other bands that you got on early. You led the way on Florida Georgia Line, Atlas Genius, Blondfire, American Authors, Krewella and Capital Cities.
All the artists you just mentioned were first played on SiriusXM as unsigned artists, have since been signed by major labels, and have broken or they’re breaking now. Florida Georgia Line is probably the biggest success story we’ve had to date—the sales figures are unbelievable. Florida Georgia Line was all SiriusXM from the get-go. After our Highway channel added "Cruise" to its "Highway Find" category in May of 2012, the impact we had on digital track sales and touring was immediate and dramatic. The band members will tell you that, as will their manager and booking agent.

From a corporate perspective, how supportive is the company of your artist-development initiatives?
Our entire music programming team is very thankful that our president, Scott Greenstein, really supports our efforts in breaking new music and developing artists. Scott is a true music lover himself and allows us the freedom to take risks rarely found today at traditional radio.

Besides SiriusXM’s reach, what else contributes to your ability to break music?
One key driver to breaking music is our commitment to programming new songs in meaningful rotations. You’ll very rarely see a song added to a SiriusXM channel that only plays six or seven times a week. I tell our programmers, "If you’re going to add a new song, put your ass on the line and play the record in a real rotation." That typically means playing a new song 20-plus times a week. Otherwise, why bother?

Presumably as the recognition that you helped create grows, it exerts pressure on terrestrial radio.
I would think that’s something label people probably watch more closely than we do. It’s hard for me to really know how much influence we have on terrestrial radio. I imagine we do, but we view SiriusXM as part of a much larger media landscape.