THE C.E.S. CONVENTION 2007
THE C.E.S. CONVENTION 2007
Just got back from the CES Convention. As usual it was a mind boggling array of everything gadget. XM had our usual “booth” which was more like a section of the enormous North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Our marketing group was in full force as the masses descended on us, looking for information, interact, or simply to schmooze. A mix of Tech guru Stell Pasiokas talking in some strange technical language with other tech gurus (Stell is Greek—he’s also extremely bright, and when he talks fast, between his intellect, Greek accent and excitable nature—it’s “interesting”), also top brass Panero, Parsons and Davis in many meetings I wasn’t invited to. Eric Logan, who has this ability to gamble and drink whatever Country fans drink all night, then look completely fresh the next day. I don’t get it…reminds me of the time I flew to Australia…14 hour flight, sitting next to Astronaut John Glenn. They guy gets off the plane and looks like he just got out of the shower, perfectly coiffed and shiny while the other 327 passengers looked like shit. Also on hand were our new CMO Vernon Irvin, press team Nathaniel Brown, Marie Farrar and David Butler, our own Bill Graham’s in Stephanie Mantelmacher and Gary Hahn, competent XM attorneys and closet Rockers Jeff Blattner and Dara Altman (Dara came from Discovery TV but I think it took her all of 8 minutes to "get" XM), Brian Shea and Dan Murphy's retail army along with a ton of others all on hand working the crowd. It was pretty impressive as we had about a dozen cars equipped with the latest XM on display as well as hardware that was pretty cool. There were some units I didn’t even know we had. Usually we have a stage with performances. Everything from a live Opie and Anthony to Snoop Dogg…and everything in between. Then in the evening, we’d take ALL the artists and the XM programming crew to a lavish dinner. Last year there was one night where it was Kevin Bacon sitting next to Donnie Osmond sitting next to Jon Anderson sitting next to Herbie Hancock sitting next to Todd Rundgren sitting next to David Coverdale sitting next to Weird Al, etc….A melting pot. More fun than you could imagine. Just listening to Todd and Donny talking, or Kevin Bacon exchanging emails with Jon Anderson—priceless. Throw in the managers and the XM crew and these were some memorable nights. This year we didn’t do the entertainment thing. I’m half hoping we do it in 08. Where else does musical madness like THIS happen other than XM? Half hoping because the work in setting these up and chaperoning is mind boggling logistically. Gotta keep the stars happy---We do. But not without some logistical craziness ranging from Snoops posse to the “should we put Derek Jeter in the same Green Room as Everclear at the same time” decisions. This is where our DJ’s and production crew really shines—Lou Brutus, Jim Mc Bean, Leo G, Kurt Gilchrist, Paul Bachmann, Bill Black, George Taylor Morris,Jayme Karp and others interact SO seamlessly and naturally with these guys. A big reason I think XM is gaining n incredibly good reputation as being THE artist friendly company. We pride ourselves on that. We try to avoid the gawking and “I am not worthy” approach and treat artists with a sense of partnership. Of course having stars around is costly. Last year my expenses were something like $32,000 as I was ringleader for the after hours…this year $9.23—coffee in the room.
This year we DID have Quincy Jones. He shared the podium with Hugh Panero at a big league “Leaders in Technology” event at the Wynn Hotel. Both Q and Hugh performed spectacular. Hugh was “Presidential in his poise and delivery, Q was telling it like it is—you sometimes forget what Quincy has done in his still young life. Gary Hahn pinned him down to ask about the Sinatra sessions at the Sands. Effortlessly, Q glides into an amazing Frank story. I'm sorry--THAT IS COOL. He is an icon that will go down in the history books---and through it all he is such a wonderful person. I’m honored to have him involved with us. All in all the Q & Hugh show was a really strong balance that impressed this hard to impress crowd. Jon Anderson, long time friend and XM supporter was in town too. Dealing with some Chinese video company. He was gracious enough to drop by and shake a few hands. Also nice to see Skunk Baxter drop by, America’s only Rock and Roller who has some secret Pentagon clearance.
As was typical, I received about 100 ideas for channels at the CES. I’m sure Eric Logan got another hundred. The reality is that while we have a ton of bandwidth there ARE limitations. Putting up a channel is one extremely complex idea. We have to be incredibly selective and while everybody says that if we put up Channel X, we’ll get 2 million new subscribers, we know better. We do a ton of due diligence. For anyone coming at us with a channel idea, it’s probably best to present a SHOW rather than a channel. A channel usually just isn’t practical from a bandwidth perspective, and NO-ONE understands how much work goes into something that is 24/7/365. A show is more realistic and is almost ALWAYS of higher quality since all the intensity can be channeled into something shorter rather than creating something 24/7 that probably can’t creatively sustain itself. Of course there’s Oprah and Fox and other 3rd parties, but these are enormous organizations with infrastructures, experience and a brand so channels while still difficult, are much easier to do and maintain a high standard. We started with 50 channels (pre launch), then 100 channels, now over 170. I’m assuming the number will grow as technology improves.
There’s a REAL good book that just came out called “Something in the Air”---by Marc Fisher from the Washington Post. It covers the history of Rock n Roll Radio better than any book in memory. Really dives in and captures the reality of how it all came together, accurately reporting on the history of Music Radio avoiding the popular myths in favor of what REALLY came down.
Howard Stern got a 68 Million Dollar bonus. Not bad. Speaking of our competition, they had a press release saying that Yusef Islam was doing this first Performance on Sirius. Huh? XM did one the SAME day AND did Artist Confidential with him TWO years ago. I’m not going to bash them because in many ways we’re all in this together and they have a good product, but this press release made the think---huh? C’mon guys!
One REAL cool thing is that when Cal Ripken was told he made the hall of fame—he got the call LIVE on XM—THAT’S magic!
We’ve been having some cluster meetings lately. Part of the purpose is to review the original architecture. It was almost 9 years ago since we first put the blueprints for the channels together. I think some may have forgotten the original plan, or came in later and need a refresher. I don’t sense any major issues, but as we get bigger it becomes important to recognize what we’re all about…and remember. WE started very idealistic about “revolutionizing radio”---It is too easy to lose that sprit as life becomes more complicated and as we become a more mass appeal product. Can’t happen. Certainly we need to evolve and adapt, but we can’t let ourselves lower our original standards...And it’s easy to do…way too easy. Look what happened to FM. It started creatively tanking when it got successful. We have to avoid that. Get successful but maintain the idea of moving things to the next level. Some channels will never be incredibly revolutionary as they are ultra mainstream by design…but we should try.
One thing that bugs me is Tune out paranoia. Tune out is fine—as long as listeners come back. Tune out paranoia creates SUCH a tightly wound sound that you do NOTHING even remotely experimental of interesting because you are scared of tune out. Guess what. Tune out happens…can you imagine if HBO never ran an edgy show because Star Wars fans night tune out? Give me a break. Do great things in the big picture and people WILL tune out…but they’ll be back! If a channel has to rely on EVERY second being air tight, you lose the potential of doing something unusual that just might resonate. Go ahead…make mistakes…a channel might be better in the BIG picture for trying. Kind of like baseball, it’s the creative batting average. You gotta swing for the hit, and you WILL strike out in the process…then again you might bat 300. Same thing with music…same thing with EVERYTHING creative. Pull out the experimentation gene that’s in MOST of us….and don’t be afraid to make a mistake every now and then. If your channel is SO vulnerable that it can’t withstand taking a few shots—the channel inherently is doomed to a future of sucking. There’s a big problem with sucking—because it’s so easy to do. Just do what is already being done on 99% of radio stations. THAT’S WHY RE-INVENTING/RE-THINKING is SO bloody important. Status quo sucks. In some things, status quo is great, but in a medium that is dated like terrestrial radio, now is the time to do everything you can to re-think and re-invent. Does XM do that? Not always. We do it a lot more than everyone else, but we STILL need to re-invent, or at least TRY to re-invent. There’s a problem with re-inventing for re-inventions sake. Not good. That’s where you just screw yourself. But the “exercise” of assuming everything sucks and it’s our job to make it right…now THAT’S the exercise that forces change. GOOD change. What gets me nuts is “assuming” that the status quo is best and simply not TRYING to re-think things. A formula for….sucking. As a consumer I admire ANY product that challenges themselves weather its radio or airplanes---if done right---Everybody wins. Winning can be done for the right reasons, you know…
I’ll never forget when I bought a Cirrus Aircraft. Picked up the plane in Duluth. In December. It was SO fucking cold that I’d make up problems so it would stay in the hangar all night while they fixed them during the delivery week. Part of the acceptance is a factory tour. The tour was the EXACT same tour we give at XM—just exchange “radio” for ‘airplane. This company threw away the rulebook and took what is a 1950 basic aircraft design for private piston aircraft and completely changed it to meet the 21st Century. Composites, modern electronics, and a distinctly non macho cockpit that’s more like a Lexus than a 1955 Cessna. They soared to leadership in planes produced….the other “big name” piston aircraft manufacturers are now playing catch up. Funny thing happens when innovation is more than a marketing term and you actually AFDI it (our internal slogan for actually Fucking Doing it).