Stern's new deal with Sirius Satellite Radio will pay the self-proclaimed King of All Media $100 million per year for five years starting in January 2006 - way more than the $20 million Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting currently pays him.
The question journalists have been asking is: Will people pay $12.95 a month for Stern and will that be enough to grow Sirius' business way past its current 600,000 listener universe or even that of its competitor XM Satellite Radio, which has 2.5 million listeners?
But a better question is: Could anyone do the same for TV, for its pay TV, pay-per-view, or the new video-on-demand services? Stern himself - uncut and unedited - is a draw. In the past, Stern produced some funny and racy pay- per-view events that didn't break PPV records but made lots of money.
As audiences become more fragmented and advertisers chase those niches, TV executives need to ask the question -- who is the next wave of talent that will keep people coming back to new TV technologies? The quick answer is that there isn't much high-profile talent around.
Controversial or super-talented performers such Madonna or Britney Spears or Michael Jackson have done pay TV events on HBO, and on the broadcast networks as well. But pay TV channels such as HBO don't seem to grow much as a result. The network is still at only 25% of the country, about the same level it has been at since the late 80s.
Howard Stern for Sirius or Conan O'Brien - as NBC's designated future talent of late night television starting in 2009 - can drive business to a certain degree. But not that much. Future networks won't be paying lots of money to big name TV news anchors such as Tom Brokaw (or his successor Brian Williams), Peter Jennings, or Dan Rather anymore.
For viewers -- as well as advertisers -- it is increasingly all about niche television, without the glam. Viewers who want The Fur Network, The Plastic Spoon Network, The Sisal Network, and The Apricot Pit Network won't need Al Michaels or Mary Hart or Larry King presiding.
Maybe Stern should think about doing more TV. Viewers like reality TV, like stripped-down entertainment -- which is something Howard Stern does very well.