After scoffing for months at the suggestion that satellite radio firms Sirius and XM should merge, Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin admitted this week that it’s something he’d like to see happen but expressed doubts about the antitrust authorities permitting the deal to go through. See stories here and here.
Karmazin is right that the proposed Sirius/XM merger presents some antitrust issues. But he may be wrong in thinking that the issues are insurmountable.
Take the issue of product market definition. Karmazin appears ready to concede that the relevant product market is satellite radio and that Sirius and XM are duopolists who by merging would become a monopoly. But why concede that? Satellite radio competes with regular radio for listeners. And many cars are now equipped with television and dvd players, which passengers (though not drivers) can watch. iPods can be hooked up to car speakers. And it is only a matter of time before Internet content (including audio streaming) will be widely available via portable wireless devices that are usable in cars. Satellite is just one medium among many through which it is possible to transmit content. And the market for audio content is quite thick, with Sirius and XM holding only a small combined share.
Even assuming that the agencies will define the product market narrowly to include only satellite does not end the inquiry. Neither XM nor Sirius nor a combined Sirius/XM can stop anyone else from supplying content via the satellite medium. There isn’t a discernible barrier to entry here. So if Sirius/XM raises prices unduly, one would have reason to expect entry into the satellite medium by other firms.
Another point to emphasize is the efficiencies associated with the merger, which would create an entirely new product for which there is clearly some demand. There are doubtless many Sirius subscribers who would like to hear some XM content and vice versa. Now the only way to do that is to buy two sets of hardware and subscribe to both. For these consumers at least, things would be better if they could buy all the content they want from a single provider. And in this sense at least, the merger would be unambiguously pro-consumer.
One final point: even short of a merger, it may still be possible for the two firms to facilitate “one stop shopping” for content by means of cross-licensing agreements permitting each firm to sell the other firm’s content to its own subscribers. But if this is permitted, then wouldn’t it be pointless to block a full blown merger?