This Week in Sirius XM Radio

Things never get dull for the country's lone satellite-radio provider. Shares of Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ: SIRI  ) revisited the prior week's high of $3.19 -- a four-year high -- as investors continue to warm up to the media giant's potential.

The biggest news of the week was that Liberty Media (NASDAQ: LMCA  ) finally gained majority control of Sirius XM, though a few other things happened that investors should notice:

  • Pandora (NYSE: P  ) struck a deal with a music publisher for higher royalty rates.
  • Sirius XM announced the time and date for its next quarterly earnings call.
  • The end of the NHL lockout earlier this month means Sirius XM is resuming its coverage of live pro hockey, starting with this weekend's busy slate of season openers.

Let's take a closer look.

Liberty for all
Ever since the FCC gave its blessings in Liberty Media's plan to take majority control of Sirius XM earlier this month, it was merely a matter of time before John Malone's odd media empire would boost its share of the satellite-radio behemoth from its effective 49.8% stake.

Well, that happened on Tuesday, when Liberty Media spent an average of $3.156 a share to buy 50 million more shares of Sirius XM. The move pushes its ownership stake to roughly 50.5%.

There was little reason for Liberty Media to wait. Time is money, especially when it comes to Sirius XM as an investment. The stock has climbed sharply higher for four consecutive years. Once regulators gave Liberty Media the clearance to assume control of the company, the smart move was to buy now instead of waiting to pay more later.

There's still plenty of speculation as to exactly what Malone and Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei will do here, though the most popular theory is that Liberty Media will now spin off its stake in Sirius XM to stakeholders -- just as Liberty Media spun off its premium movie service provider Starz (NASDAQ: STRZA  ) to investors earlier this month -- in a tax-advantaged transaction. Since Liberty Media acquired its original 40% preferred-share stake in Sirius XM four years ago for free, arranging for a tax-advantaged distribution is huge, given the company's ridiculously low cost basis.

There are other possibilities. Liberty Media can just enjoy its position of control, and that starts right now with deciding whether it wants to keep interim CEO James Meyer or look for somebody else. There doesn't seem to be a good reason to replace Meyer. Sirius XM continues to be a well-oiled machine.

Liberty Media can also acquire the rest of Sirius XM, but that may prove to be costly. It already has majority control, so it's not as if the company has to pay much of a premium, but why buy all of the cow when it already has secured all of the milking rights?

Panned aura
Remember when Pandora was testifying before Congress last year, trying to lower the music royalties that it pays out to major label and artists by backing the Internet Radio Fairness Act?

Well, Pandora's royalties will actually be going higher, not lower, on one front. Pandora struck a royalty deal with Sony/ATV -- the joint-venture between Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) and the estate of Michael Jackson -- that will increase publisher royalties by 25% for Pandora.

Pandora's stock took a hit on the news.

Is this good news or bad news for Sirius XM? Well, it's a mixed bag. On one hand, ad-supported streaming music services will have a harder time staying in business. If Pandora's struggling to remain consistently profitable with 67.1 million active accounts, what hope do smaller players have?

The bad news is that Sirius XM does want to be a bigger player in streaming audio. As a premium service, it's in a great position to absorb the higher royalties, but this is not an ideal situation.

Circle Feb. 5 on your calendar
Sirius XM will report its fourth-quarter results on Feb. 5. The report will go out shortly before a morning conference call, and there probably won't be too many surprises. Sirius XM already announced that it closed out the year with 23.9 million subscribers.

Sirius XM has even already initiated its guidance for 2013. Just in case you've forgotten, let's go over the figures again.

  • Revenue will top $3.7 billion.
  • Adjusted EBITDA should be more than $1.1 billion.
  • Free cash flow will approach $900 million.
  • Sirius XM is targeting 1.4 million net subscriber additions this year.

The outlook calls for modest growth, but just remember how Sirius XM kept revising its conservative outlook higher as 2012 played out. As long as auto sales remain strong and churn stays in check, the media giant is in a great position to build on those metrics as the year plays on.

These are interesting times for Sirius XM. They always are.

Rock on
Even though Sirius XM has been one of the market's biggest winners since bottoming out three years ago, there's still some healthy upside to be had if things go right for it -- and plenty of room for it to fall if things don't. Read all about Sirius in our brand-new premium report. To get started, just click here now.


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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2013, at 9:36 AM, zukerman wrote:

    When in history did you hear where a company had such a flawed business model they initiated the help of congress to make the barriers of entry to their sector easier? For years I've been frustrated with the Sirius's inability to improve technology and join this century, not this time. The problem is Sirius (does) want to be a bigger player may be true, but they are smarter than ( build it, they will come), which is more than you can say for many. I for one would like to see how much of an investment was made in the (cloud) and how much of a return was the result. There is no end to the number of people with the ability to convince others they must have the latest toy with the new and improved button that allows you to be just a little better than the guy across the table. These (people) are like the ones that railroad deals involving new stadiums for overrated over payed teams that you'll pay for whether you want to watch them or not. I give Sirius credit for not being a follower and recognizing that there exists a resistance to join the in crowd. What many expect of Malone is to advertise Sirius everywhere possible but have no realistic thoughts on how to pay for it. We've just increased to $14.49/mo. and systematically instituted a policy where if you call to cancel you'll get a much cheaper deal. Now we expect to see millions of ad money spent yearly with a saturation campaign?

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2013, at 10:08 AM, zukerman wrote:

    We all have our favorite cartoon from when we were kids, I'm no exception. I now have a new favorite and it's called WALL-E. While I'm no tree hugger I'll have to admit the similarities to our world are well thought out and show how shallow we can be. In this children's plot are hidden gems that poke fun at the things we at one time thought we couldn't live without. Absent are the automobiles from days gone by, however, the hub cap does make a fine improvised hat. I thought the rotating spare parts rack was genius in that it held a hoard of useless trinkets. I noticed how in order to view a fifty year old movie the character used a cassette player and a tethered I-pod but to view it a magnifier was necessary, priceless. So grab some youngsters from your immediate family so as not to let on what's really going on and see if you can count the number of silly things we worship today. Try blue, it's the new red, and dinner in a cup are so today.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2013, at 3:13 PM, duze54 wrote:

    Malone has said through LMCA-CEO that they wouldn't do a Morris reverse trust for at least 2 years. So, that is off the table for now.

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