This Week in Sirius XM Radio

The market in general may have tanked this week, but leave it to satellite radio to buck the trend.

Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) moved higher -- coasting along to hit a fresh four-year high -- after a busy week that began with a bullish analyst note that was quickly followed by the revelation of strong third-quarter subscriber acquisitions, a boost in the company's subscriber forecast for all of 2012, and a well-received presentation by CEO Mel Karmazin before Liberty Media (Nasdaq: LMCA  ) investors.

A timely bullish call
ISI Group analyst Vijay Jayant kicked things off with an upbeat note, when he propped up his outlook for net subscriber acquisitions for the third quarter that ended last month.

Jayant was perched at 336,000 net additions but thought that healthy auto sales and encouraging conversion and retention trends would have Sirius XM reporting the addition of closer to 456,000 net subscribers during the three-month period.

He made the right call. Sirius XM chimed in on Wednesday afternoon with a press release preannouncing that it had closed out the third quarter with 445,921 more subs than it had three months earlier.

The good news didn't stop there. The media giant is now expecting to gain 1.8 million subscribers for all of 2012.

Sirius XM loves to issue conservative guidance that it can inch higher along the way, but this is a metric that even some ardent bulls didn't see coming.

A year of upticks
Back in February, when Sirius XM closed out 2011 with 1.7 million net additions, investors weren't necessarily put off by the company's target of just 1.3 million net subscribers on its rolls in 2012. Between the iffy economic recovery, the growing popularity of Pandora (NYSE: P  ) integration in new car dashboard interfaces, and a the 12% price increase that rolled out in January, it was easy to fathom that subscriber growth would decelerate.

Well, 2012 has been a year of refreshing upside surprises.

Pandora itself has certainly been successful. The music-discovery service closed out September with 58.3 million active listeners, 49% ahead of where it was a year earlier. These users -- while largely free ad-based accounts -- are spending more time with the service. Listener hours are up at a heartier pace -- 67% -- than the active user count.

However, this hasn't gotten in the way of Sirius XM's success. Churn didn't spike, and new user conversion rates held firm, suggesting that the market was more than willing to pay $14.49 a month for Sirius or XM.

With all of these dynamics in place, it's been simply a matter of seeing Sirius XM push up its account targets. From 1.3 million in February to 1.5 million in May to 1.6 million in July to 1.8 million now, Sirius XM will now probably surpass last year's net additions.

Into the belly of the whale
It was easy to be concerned when Karmazin was invited to speak at Liberty Media's annual investor meeting. Karmazin and Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei seemed to be volleying choice words concerning Karmazin's role at Sirius XM after his contract expires at the end of this year.

Well, Wednesday's meeting went well.

Karmazin was able to sell investors on the upside of Sirius XM, touching on the benefits of satellite radio in terms of revenue per user compared with Pandora and terrestrial radio. He pointed out how Sirius XM's 22.9 million subscribers now makes it larger than any single satellite or cable television provider. Among media business, only Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) -- with 23.9 million domestic streaming customers -- is larger.

Oh, and Karmazin wasn't afraid to take a shot at Netflix by pointing out that Sirius XM's monthly churn rate of 1.9% was half of Netflix's rate (until Netflix stopped reporting that metric last year).

The week ahead isn't likely to have the same kind of fireworks that investors experienced these past few days, but Sirius XM certainly earned its fresh highs this time.

Running of the bulls
I recently put out a premium report on Sirius XM Radio, detailing the challenges and opportunities that await investors that are both long and short the dynamic media giant. A year of updates is also included with the report. Check it out now.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz owns shares of Netflix and Liberty Media. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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