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Sirius, XM expose Canadian acts to Americans
TORONTO (Billboard) – Canadian acts picking up airplay on the country’s new satellite-based subscription radio services are also getting much-coveted U.S. exposure.
Sirius Canada launched December 1, with XM Canada following December 12.
Sirius Canada is a partnership among Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Toronto-based Standard Broadcasting Corp. and New York-based Sirius Satellite Radio. It offers 100 channels for a monthly subscription price of $14.99 Canadian ($12.85).
Its package includes 10 Canadian-produced channels, with four of them dedicated to music: English-language Iceberg Radio and CBC Radio 3 and French-language Rock Velours and Energie 2. The music channels are all available to Sirius subscribers in the United States.
XM Canada is operated by publicly traded Canadian Satellite Radio Holdings with a minority stake held by Washington, D.C.-based XM Satellite Radio Holdings. Its $12.99 Canadian ($11.14) monthly package contains 80 channels, eight of them Canadian-produced.
All of its Canadian channels can be heard on XM’s U.S. service. They include three music strands: the English-language outlet Unsigned and French-language Air Musique and Sur Route.
“XM and Sirius are being aggressive in seeking domestic content,” says Derrick Ross, EMI Music Canada VP of national promotion and media relations.
Among the acts being heard on XM’s triple A-based Unsigned are alternative acts Broken Social Scene, the Novaks, Metric and Luke Doucet. Sirius’ triple-A/Americana-styled Iceberg has been playing roots-based Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and singer/songwriters Feist and Colin Linden.
“XM Canada has really gotten behind the Novaks, and, to a lesser extent, Luke Doucet,” Warner Music Canada VP of radio promotion Steve Coady says. “These are acts on labels we distribute that we were struggling to get airplay on.”
With Unsigned, XM Canada VP of programming Ross Davies says he is “discovering this incredible depth of music that hasn’t been played before on Canadian radio.”
Sources at XM and Sirius say that subscriptions at both Canadian operations are running ahead of expectations, but the companies decline to provide details.
“In Canada, there aren’t many people listening yet,” Standard Radio president Gary Slaight admits. “Most of the people listening to us are in the U.S. The big benefit right now for Canadian acts is in the United States.”
Coady says, “I suspect the effect in the U.S. will be apparent as artists start getting hits on their Web sites from Oklahoma City or elsewhere.”
But according to Iceberg program manager Liz Janik, Canadian labels are not yet taking advantage of the two satellite companies reaching “over 3 million subscribers on Sirius in the U.S. and almost 6 million on XM there.”
With a few exceptions, she says, “the Canadian labels are asleep at the wheel” with servicing.
Broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission granted the two satellite licenses in June 2005.
Under their license terms, the satellite providers can carry less Canadian content than commercial radio overall, but must offer at least eight Canadian-produced channels with 85% Canadian programming. They can also have a maximum of nine U.S.-based channels for each Canadian channel.
That ruling looks likely to be a central topic at hearings during the review of commercial radio slated to start May 15 in Ottawa. The Canadian Assn. of Broadcasters has said it will push for modifying Canadian content quotas at the review.
“Heading into the review of radio, we’re very concerned how the satellite decision will (have an) impact on Canadian content levels,” says Cori Ferguson, executive director of the Canadian Independent Record Production Assn.
Sources say that media spillover from Howard Stern’s launch on Sirius in the United States has increased awareness of the satellite broadcaster in Canada.
However, Sirius Canada does not carry Stern, and it seems unlikely he will be heard in Canada anytime soon.
Under the satellite licenses, XM Canada and Sirius Canada’s programming falls under CRTC radio regulations dealing with abusive comment. Both services also have to abide by the standards and codes of the Broadcast Standards Council.
“If there was complaint over Stern, and the Broadcast Standards Council found the programming in contravention to their codes, Sirius would have a big headache,” one source notes.
“I don’t think it would be a problem,” Slaight counters. “People have to pay for service and can opt out of a channel. We’re still evaluating the channel lineup and how Howard is doing in the U.S.”