Women in Music 2016

SiriusXM Defends Months-Old Latin Programming Decisions Following Criticism from Latin Labels

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Pitbull performs at Univision Studios on Feb. 23, 2016 in Miami. 

On Tuesday (June 1), the Wall Street Journal reported dire news for Latin music in a story headlined “SiriusXM Cuts Several Latin-Music Channels From Its Satellite Radio Service.” SiriusXM had “cut” eight of its Latin music channels from its satellite radio service, leaving them accessible only online, where far fewer subscribers tune in. Not the greatest scenario for Latin music.

But, while SiriusXM's shift may not be anything to cheer about for Latin music enthusiasts, the company currently has 17 Latin-oriented channels across satellite and online ranging from music to talk to sports. Of those 17 channels, eight shifted to online and app listening.

Of the nine channels that have remained on the satellite broadcast, two are music channels: Caliente, which programs more tropical and urban music, and En Vivo, which programs pop. Pitbull’s channel, which programs a broad variety of music, both Latin and non-Latin, also remains available on satellite.

“We often make adjustments to our programming lineup with the goal to better satisfy our subscribers and attract new subscribers,” said SiriusXM spokesperson Patrick Reilly in a statement.  “Despite reducing the number of Latin music channels on our satellite platform, we still deliver one of the most comprehensive offerings of Spanish-language music, talk and sports programming available.”

Moreover, Sirius confirms, the shift in medium happened last year, between late summer and December.

So, why is the story being reported now?

According to the Latin Label Coalition (LLC), a group of 15 independent Latin labels that includes Del Records and Six Degrees, most of its artists and labels didn’t learn of the SiriusXM switch until April, at which time they gathered information to share with the Journal.

“Most Latin labels in the coalition were unaware [of the shift] until they learned in April that the stations didn’t exist on satellite anymore,” says Josh Norek, a spokesperson for the coalition. However, Sirius did inform its listeners, on air, about the change. When regional Mexican station Aguila was moved to online in December, for example, listeners were told of the shift two weeks in advance in on-air promos that ran every few hours. 

But if SiriusXM was so important to labels, why were they unaware of the shift until so many months later?

Norek says many of the stations weren't widely available to begin with, and could only be listened to on radios with advanced technology. Which would seem to make the whole argument moot. However, the shift affected revenue.

 “In some cases, labels saw a drop in their SoundExchange statements,” says Norek, referencing the government organization charged with collecting statutory digital broadcast royalties. “Initially, some labels thought it was an isolated thing until they realized it was widespread. Everyone was shocked that even genres like regional Mexican [the most listened to Latin genre in the U.S.] had been taken out of satellite broadcast.”

SiriusXM has tried to reach the regional Mexican contingent. In 2013 the company hired popular radio host Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo to anchor a daily, four-hour morning show. It was canceled less than a year after its launch.

The brodcaster's current offering of two Spanish language music channels on its satellite service is the same as it was in 2008, prior to the Sirius and XM merger.

“We have found that our Latin base predominately has interest in our broad array of English-speaking programming, complimented by our variety of Spanish-language programming,” says Reilly. “To date, we have not seen demand from our current and potential subscribers to add more Spanish-language programming to our satellite platform.”

SiriusXM would not reveal Latin-specific company statistics. But, while Spotify and Pandora report extremely healthy Latin music listenership, their business models are very different and allow for free listening. SiriusXM, on the other hand, is a paid-only service with no parallel in Latin America.

Norek sees it differently.

With 50 million Latinos in this country, “They should at least try to give Latin genres a shot,” he says.