Expected Q4 totals lowered by 105,000.

A new study by research firm Bridge Ratings says it has detected a "softening interest by Stern listeners" in the idea of following Howard Stern to Sirius Satellite Radio and plunking down money to hear him on the satcaster's service. The lowered expectation still shows Stern helping to bring well over 1 million total new subscribers to Sirius, but the new totals expected for the fourth quarter are lower by 105,000.

This revised forecast, completed on Dec. 12, updates a Bridge survey conducted in late September and now forecasts 875,000 new subscribers will join Sirius during the three months of October-to-December. Previously, Bridge said it expected 980,000 individuals to sign up.

The softening in Stern interest is more pronounced in the researcher's new forecast for January 2006 sign-ons: Instead of the 504,400 previously expected, Bridge now sees 390,000 taking the plunge.

In total, that's 219,000 fewer new subscribers projected to make the move to Sirius by the end of January. Bridge said in a release that its projection for the period October 2005 through February 2006 "is now less than 1,300,000 new Sirius subscribers by the end of February 2006. This estimate is over 1 hundred thousand subscribers lower than our initial estimates due to a softening interest by Stern listeners."

In terms of raw numbers, Bridge now expects Sirius to add a total of 1.265 million new subscribers instead of 1.484 million by the end of January.

Bridge surveyed 3,000 adult Stern listeners (aged 18 and older in 10 former Stern markets) and asked them why they were opting out of subscribing to Sirius. Among the reasons that related directly to Stern, Bridge reported that some of these listeners said they "aren't as passionate about Stern as I once was" and "will get my Stern fix on pay-per-view TV."

The other reasons cited by Bridge were more directly related to the general cost and value-proposition of subscribing to a satellite service.

While this latest research shows a weakening in the interest to follow Stern over to satellite, the number of subscriber additions still seems impressive--and profitable for the satcaster.

With Stern's deal costing a total of $100 million per year for each of the next five years, a general rule of thumb has been that Sirius needed to add 1 million subscribers for the satcaster to afford the hefty payout to Stern and company.

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