Introducing Slacker, a new kind of Satellite Radio company

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 at 5:17 AM
Debuting this week at SXSW, Slacker is sure to ruffle some feathers as they look to combine satellite radio, a digital audio player, and custom WiFi radio - all into a single sleek device.

A new satellite radio company? But how? The FCC only granted two licenses right? According to CNET, Slacker's radio service is powered by their own proprietary technology that takes advantage of unused commercial satellite signals to send data. A soon to be released car-kit enables the listener to receive the satellite signal which works together with the Slacker portable device (pictured).

Former Rio CEO turn president of Slacker, Jim Cady, said that at first, the company considered a "more satellite-radio-specific (model) as a direct competitor with Sirius and XM. But it morphed into something much broader than that."

First there's the Slacker Web radio service, which is completely free (and actually pretty cool). Rather than being supported by audio ads, they monetize on the traffic with video ads. If you rather not have ads, then it's just $7.50 per month. The Slacker Web radio service uses AAC Pro v2 to encode the audio.

Then there's the Slacker device. Little is known other than it will range in price and capacity - from $149 to $299. (The first version is expected to have 2Gb of flash memory.) The Slacker portable sports a 4-inch color display and it will support MP3, WMA, WMV and MPEG-4 files - and (unlike Zune) it supports subscription WMAs from other services, as well as video playback. With the WiFi support you can bounce in and out of unsecure connections and listen to the same free Slacker service.

The satellite radio car-kit will be available later this year. Pricing and features are unknown, other than you can connect the Slacker portable and play through your car stereo. No word on the pricing of the Slacker satellite radio service itself either.

So why's it called "Slacker"? Because the service is meant to be effortless. DJs control the broadcasts, but you can vote (using a "heart" or "ban" icon) whether you like the song or not. Free users can only ban songs six-times an hour (hearting is unlimited) while paid users - who also are spared the ads - can ban as much as they like. 

Users of the radio service can republish any of their customized music channels to any blog or Web site - an incredibly cool feature (and a smart way to appeal to online influentials). Slacker claims to be immune to the recent Internet radio royalty shenanegans, though I don't get exactly how.

This looks to be interesting, and quite ambitious, and Slacker has a repertoire of digital music veterans from both the device and subscription service side to help them on their way. Slacker's CEO, CFO, VPs and chief counsel held the same positions at MusicMatch, and the rest of its roster is filled with former Rio, iRiver and Yahoo Music execs. Slacker has, so far, raised $13 million in series A funding.

Will it be a success? Analysts seem skeptical. "Any new company, including this company, needs to come into this market with modest expectations to start with," said Susan Kevorkian, an analyst with IDC.

Then there's the iPod which gives a "a portable-CD-player-type experience--a much, much, much better portable CD player--but it doesn't give you access to radio or an on-demand experience," said David Card, senior analyst at JupiterResearch.

"You look at Rhapsody and Napster; they're subscription services that give you on-demand, (but) not much momentum on the device side. It's kind of like the supply side of things is all scrambled right now," Card said. "There are a lot more people that listen to the radio than buy music regularly. In theory, they're tapping into a very big audience. In theory, I don't know if the numbers are going to work."

But the decision to run video ads instead of audio ads leaves some question as to how sustainable the business model is. "It's kind of weird they're delivering video ads because if you're listening in the car that's seriously problematic," Card said. "Some of the pieces don't weave together gracefully."

[via CNET News and Crave]







Wow... very interesting, to say the least. I'd be curious what satellite system(s) they're using for this endeavor, and also how they plan to provide non-WiFi terrestrial coverage, for when you're driving downtown. Certainly a good looking device, though... Very Zune-ish, though with no controls on the front face of it.

I just signed up for the free account. I went to "classic rock" and The Who started playing. In the upper right, it said "up next: Heart" and I could immediately go to the next song. I also searched "Yes" and found Yes songs, as well as related artists. You can choose "send to device" (of course, it is not avaialble yet). If you can just download the songs by clicking a button without any fee, I don't see the RIAA allowing this for too long.

I have to say, it is an interesting idea.

Two of the FAQs:

Q. Will I still be able to maintain my free music experience even with a Slacker portable device?
A. Yes. While a Slacker device will be able to take great advantage of the premium radio service features, you are not required to upgrade your service to take your music with you on a Slacker portable music player.


Q. Are there premium upgrades to the free radio service that will give me more features and less limitations?
A. Yes. Soon we will have a premium radio service that will eliminate the skip limits of free radio, eliminate any advertising, and allow you to play the tracks you mark as 'favorites' whenever you like, either on your PC or on your Slacker device. Please check out our Products section.

It's interesting because if they have even a small chance of succeeding that provides a competitor to Siruxm, bada boom, bada bing, what monopoly?

They might have to revise their ad strategy, but given no satellite launch startup costs they actually end up in a good position.

However, the new streaming royalties might kill them quickly.

Hold on a minute here--Doesnt this mean that there is another player in the sat field? Combining XM/Sirius wouldnt be a monopoly then, would it?? hmmm

WOW! The times.....they are...a changin!

this is very interesting. i would also like to know what system they plan on using, and what they plan to offer from the product side as far as kits/accessories. so much for no competition, i guess....

While I'm not sure whether this service will work out or not the device is very advanced compared to what Sirius and XM offer. Both Sirius and XM are behind where the rest of the industry is with technology and this receiver makes theirs look like crap.

BTW, their FREE web stream appears to be at 128kbps. Again, showing that Sirius and XM could offer that. The banning and love feature is really cool as well.

While the Stilletto and Inno are very nice, this unit is a notch better. I will follow this one and see how it works out. Love the size of the screen, the shape and everything it has to offer.

Is it possible that XM and Sirius had a heads up on this device and that is the reason they decided to merge? Will this end the "Monopoly" cries of the NAB? I think things just got alot more interesting but then again thats "just_my_opinion"


Just what I was thinking. The XM/Sirius admin must have contacts in the industry, so they probably heard about this long before now. Very interesting timing with the merger...

I just checked it out, if it works how it works online in the car unit.. I will have to get rid of my XM!! WOW!!! I love talk radio, but crap, to have access to music like that, and have an on demand feature, that's genius!

I think this service sounds great. I love the online Slacker stations. Taking my Slacker stations on the go + big hard drive for my music + wide screen movie viewing = the one I've been waiting for.

I was just about to buy an ipod nano or something for jogging - or even considering a portable satellite radio - but neither seem to fit my style. I think the satellite would lose reception constantly where I jog - and it costs a considerable amount per month. On the iPod - I think I'd get very bored of my own collection of music - no matter how vast (hundreds of CDs) - or I'd have to buy a ton of iTunes.

My real issue is that I like live radio sometimes- - I want someone to break in if there is some important world event - or national news - or some local catastrophe - or sometimes i just want to listen to NPR/WNYC.

None of these solutions thus far seems to satisfy my needs - except maybe... basic old radio... which gets crappy reception where i live - especially in the woods.

Oh well.

Slacker seems like sort of Tivo for radio - but it's still not live radio - it's like pre-recorded radio. Right?

I guess there really isn't any great solution until someone comes up with wimax coverage or satellite radio that can give people local stations.

My favorite radio station on earth is still - but then again- - nothing local there.

I sometimes live with 107.1 The Peak - which has excellent rock AND is local - but it's FM.

Again - not a real solution unless you have a huge antenna or are pretty clear and close to the source.

so - I guess it's a pretty good solution for someone like me who has never bothered to buy an iPod - didn't want to have to program it with my old junk or spend big bucks on GB's of iTunes downloads.

I'd love to see if it works - I'd be willing to try one... I'd love to see if it works well for someone who jogs a lot! (me)

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