This Week in Sirius XM Radio

It was another eventful week for the only satellite-radio provider in town. Shares of Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) were essentially flat on the week, going from $2.78 to $2.77, as the major market indices inched slightly higher.

Aside from a few content-programming notes, this was a surprisingly quiet week on the news front for Sirius XM. However, there were some notable events on the digital music and Internet radio fronts. Pandora (NYSE: P  ) pleaded its case for lower royalty rates on streaming, and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) finally rolled out its new iTunes software.

Let's take a closer look.

Dog Star attracts stars
As Sirius XM grows, it has an easier time getting musical artists and other celebrities to come on the air. It's not just that Sirius XM now has 23.4 million subscribers. We're talking about a juicy chunk of the country that has the disposable income to pay for premium radio, making them ideal candidates to buy concert tickets and MP3s and head out to the local multiplex for a movie.

This week, the media giant expanded on its Town Hall events of chats with notable celebrities, announcing powwows with Quentin Tarantino and Jane Fonda. Sirius XM also went public with plans for an acoustic performance by boy-band sensation One Direction and a private concert by punk vets Dropkick Murphys.

Yes, a private concert. These one-time events are important, and throwing a wide net to cover different genres and generations shows that the company wants to offer something for everybody.

However, the better programming notes involve getting permanent or at least limited-run shows on the slate. Sirius XM got that this week with Dave Grohl Presents Sound City. The Foo Fighters singer who rose to fame as Nirvana's drummer began hosting a weekly show on Thursdays, showcasing the many artists who have recorded at the legendary Sound City Studios in Los Angeles. The show will run from now to the end of January.

This isn't the kind of programming that will attract millions or even thousands of new subscribers, but it will help with retention. It also reminds paying subscribers that there are clear advantages to premium radio over terrestrial.

Pandora rocks the vote
Pandora CEO Joseph Kennedy went to Congress this week. Pleading his case in favor of the Internet Radio Fairness Act on Wednesday, Kennedy is trying to convince legislators that Internet radio stations aren't on a level playing field by having to shell out music royalties that can't be easily paid off with advertising alone. More than half of Pandora's revenue is going right back out for performance royalties to the artists and record labels.

Sirius XM has an interest in this battle. It plans to roll out its own Pandora-like service later this month. The key difference is that Sirius XM will have no problem paying the pennies required for every song that's streamed because it's a premium service. Sirius XM already passes on music royalty fees as a standalone bill item to most of its subscribers.

However, anything that can make streaming music cheaper should benefit Sirius XM in the long run.

Apple goes to 11
iTunes 11 was supposed to roll out to users of the digital-music standard in October. When Apple bumped the release to late November -- at the same time reports began circulating that Apple was in licensing talks with major record labels for a streaming service of its own -- it was easy to wonder whether the two decisions were related.

Was Apple delaying iTunes 11 so it could put the finishing touches on a streaming service that would compete with Pandora and what Sirius XM will introduce in December? Even Apple's longtime rival Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) had recently raised the stakes in digital music with the October debut of Xbox Music. Microsoft's update creates a three-headed attack, offering playlist streaming along the lines of Spotify, music discovery like Pandora, and the ability to purchase downloads a la iTunes.

Well, iTunes 11 finally rolled out just as November was coming to a close. The newest version marked an evolutionary step from its earlier incarnation, but Pandora can rest easy for now, as there is no personalized radio component. Sirius XM is now likely to beat Apple to that service.

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. Click here to check it out now.


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