source orbitcast The annual shareholder meeting is only a couple days away, and Sirius XM Radio Inc. is facing a trifecta of negativity surrounding the company. Shareholders are angry. Subscribers are angry. And pundits are opining over the death of a medium. A recent article in BusinessWeek underscores the negativity. Not only is the economy in the toilet - causing strains on revenue streams from OEM and retail channels - but the company still needs to refinance $1 billion in debt that's coming due in 2009. And that includes $210 million in February. Add to that the threat of being delisted from NASDAQ, and the oh-so-popular reverse stock split. So now you have analysts and pundits questioning the entire business model - from the use of expensive satellites to high-priced programming agreements. "They made a mistake in their programming contracts," says Paul Gallant, senior VP at Stanford Group. "It's like an albatross around their neck." "There are lots of ways to distribute programming, and satellites may not prove to be the ideal way," says Max Engel, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "Sirius may be artificially limiting its scope by relying on satellite technology as a delivery vehicle," says Susan Kevorkian, a program director for researcher IDC. But wait, there's more. It's not just "experts" that are negative about Sirius XM, angry subscribers continue to fester negative sentiment over the combining of channels. It's been a month since the switch was thrown, and the unhappy narrative continues. In the middle of the Holiday season nonetheless. I don't think the company expected the backlash it received, or that it would continue the way it has. But during a period of much-needed retail sales, it's crucial that satellite radio is part of a positive word-of-mouth conversation, and all it's getting right now is negativity. Reality check: not all subscribers are unhappy. Another reality check: the online population of subscribers doesn't necessarily represent the entire population of subscribers. But you know what? Most people don't think about that. More importantly, potential subscribers don't know that. And even if it's the vocal minority (is it?), it's still vocal - very vocal. When entire articles are written about how unhappy subscribers are, guess what the general conclusion is? At Thursday's shareholder meeting, Mel Karmazin doesn't need to just address the fear and loathing spawning from investors and analysts, but he needs to address the disheartened subscribers. And wrap it all with open and honest candor. We all know the economic climate is bad right now. We understand that Mel isn't happy with the shareprice. We get that there needs to be a lot of belt tightening in order to get through this mess. And that means jobs, and shows, and channels. But it shouldn't be at the expense of simple communication. What people are looking for isn't acknowledgment, it's vision. A plan. Clear, and concise leadership. And open communication at all the touchpoints. Companies always try to "control the message" to shape themselves in a positive light, but when you're pushing 20 million subscribers (and over 40 million listeners), you can't control the conversation. The only thing to do is to be part of it.