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10 Online 'Radio Stations' Taking on Sirius XM

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- The coming weeks will see a continued push by online radio stations, music services and app-based content aggregators looking to take a bite out of satellite-based Sirius XM (SIRI). It is also facing a challenge from cloud-based music services offered through such major tech players as Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG).

Sirius XM is not taking the ongoing, but still intensifying, wave of competition lightly. For months, it has been teasing an initiative it is calling Satellite Radio 2.0, a hardware upgrade about which there has been a lot of speculation, though not much detail. The beans were spilled last week when the FCC made various documents related to the initiative (due to be launched this quarter) public on its Web site.

Satellite-based Sirius XM radio pays Howard Stern more than $100 million a year as part of its 135 commercial-free channels. But there are still challengers chipping away at its more than 21 million subscribers.

Hardware features for the project codenamed "Lynx" are detailed in the documents. Among them is "universal docking capability," the ability to "add accessories for your home, office, additional vehicles or even outdoors." Upgrades also include connectivity options using satellite, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB.

The broader range of connectivity offerings are likely a response to the growth of Internet radio stations, HD radio and the use of smartphones and tablets. The portability to move a receiver from the car and into a home or office could help boost retail sales and, perhaps, sway on-the-fence subscribers.

Other, aesthetic improvements may be a selling point for the all-important automakers Sirius XM courts to broaden its listener base. Among the vehicles that can include satellite radio are those made by Ford (F), GM (GM), Toyota (TM), Nissan (NSANY) and Infiniti.

Sirius XM aficionados maintain that the growing number of "radio" competitors don't even come close to competing with the breadth and variety of content available on the service, which offers up 135 commercial-free content channels to more than 21 million subscribers. A case can also be made that they pose more of a threat to traditional, terrestrial radio than the sought-after paid service offered by satellite radio.

Nor can these relatively new ventures spend the way Sirius XM has. Sirius said it spent nearly $306 million last year on content (and that doesn't even include music). Notably, Howard Stern is paid more than $100 million a year and the NFL and MLB add up to another $90 million.

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