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What the Sirius-XM merger means for drivers Add to ...

While it was merely a formality, last week’s announcement solidifying the merger between Sirius Canada and XM Canada means that drivers who subscribe to either service will eventually be able to listen to exclusive channels on both platforms.

The new entity, predictably called SiriusXM Canada, is an immediate change in name only, since operations at both companies still need to go through the process of bringing the two services together. The merger combines 1.8 million subscribers across Canada, most of whom have units in their cars.

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Drivers who subscribe to either service will see “absolutely no negative effects” to how either service operates during the transition period, says Mark Redmond, the new CEO of SiriusXM Canada, who was previously CEO of Sirius Canada.

Indeed, the experience Canadians will see in this marriage is likely to be along the same lines as what’s happened in the United States since the two satellite radio providers joined together in 2008.

“The short-term challenge we have is certain conditions and licences we have to meet relating to the number of Canadian and foreign channels,” Redmond said in an interview. “It's kind of similar to what the U.S. was able to do, and our objective is to be able to do the same thing. We just have to get through some of the regulatory and technical hurdles of being able to do that.”

This means current Sirius and XM subscribers will continue to listen to either service’s content as if nothing’s happened. Moreover, the two services won’t be merged into one package because that also never happened after the U.S. merger.

Since channels with both services are almost entirely identical, save for those with exclusive agreements to one or the other, there isn’t all that much to consolidate when it comes to content, Redmond says.

Sirius had exclusive rights to Howard Stern, the NFL, Martha Stewart, Playboy and a few others, while XM had NHL Home Ice, the PGA Channel and some extra music channels. Aside from those, the lineup is the same with both platforms.

The exclusive channels will be called “Best of”, like they were in the United States after the merger. Down south, paying an extra $4 premium a month would give an XM subscriber the exclusive Sirius channels, or vice versa with a Sirius subscriber paying the same to get the exclusive XM channels as add-ons. Redmond couldn’t confirm pricing for Canada, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was in the same ballpark anyway.

Pricing is unlikely to change otherwise. A subscription with either platform is currently $14.99 per month.

Subscribers with in-car installs, regardless of whether they’re factory or aftermarket, will see a “seamless transition,” so there will be no need to upgrade or buy new hardware. In other words, once the “Best of” content is ready and paid for, subscribers will hardly notice when it’s pushed to the subscriber’s unit.

“Our subscriber satisfaction rates are in the mid-90s when it comes to the in-car experience,” he says. “It’s just going to keep getting better when we find ways to improve our programming, and continue to improve the technology and the ability to deliver enhanced features and functionality in the vehicle.”

He wouldn’t elaborate on what those improvements entail, but since the new merged company has partnerships with all the major auto makers, integrating the service more with in-car entertainment platforms is probably on the agenda. Factory installs are expected in more than 800,000 vehicles sold in Canada this year, he says.

As for the mobile side, XM and Sirius smartphone apps will continue to run as usual, with multitasking support for Sirius coming before the end of the summer. There are currently apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Blackberry devices (Curve, Bold, Storm and Tour) as well as phones (and soon to be tablets) running on Android.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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