Sirius XM (SIRI) stock might get a slight bump in value in the next few weeks because John Malone of Liberty Media (LMCA) appears to be buying up a lot of it. The Los Angeles Times reported that Malone's company now owns over 45% of Sirius. The paper reported that Liberty had managed to buy up at least 45.2% of Sirius's stock by May 8.
Mr. Malone has been trying to get control of Sirius for quite some time. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stopped his previous effort by saying that Liberty needs to own at least 51% of Sirius to be able to take over the satellite radio network's licenses. Since he's been rebuffed by the FCC, Malone is trying to take control of Sirius the old fashioned way, by buying it. Liberty can make another request to the FCC to take over Sirius's licenses on June 4. It's not clear if Malone's organization will make that move or not. One obvious possibility is that Liberty is attempting to have as much as Sirius stock as it can get when it returns to the FCC.
That could mean good news for Sirius stockholders because values should go up as Malone tries to take control. Another added benefit to this battle could be that Sirius's current management team, led by Mel Karmazin, will start buying up stock in an attempt to block Malone. This does not seem likely because Mr. Karmazin recently sold $22 million worth of Sirius stock.
Another possibility is that Karmazin may try to bring in a white knight to buy up stock and keep it out of Malone's hands. It could be that Karmazin sold his stock so he would know it would end up in the hands of somebody that would not sell it to Malone. It's hard to know who that would be, but one dark horse possibility is Charley Ergen, the CEO of Dish Network (DISH) and a long time rival of Malone's. Dish has tired to buy Sirius in the past.
The impact of a Liberty takeover on Sirius's stock prices would be hard to determine. Other than firing Karmazin and his management team and adding Sirius to Liberty's existing programming offerings, it is hard to see what Malone plans to do with the network. One strong possibility is that Sirius's stock prices could go down after Liberty moves in.
It is also unclear if Liberty would operate Sirius as a separate company or fold it into Liberty. If that were to happen, Malone could buy up Sirius stock or switch it for Liberty stock. Since Liberty capital stock was trading at around $89.62 a share on May 11, 2012, that might not be such a bad deal for stock holders.
Having a giant corporation like Liberty on its side could also benefit Sirius and increase its stock value. Liberty could have the clout and the bucks to lure more big name talent to Sirius, such as Rush Limbaugh. It could also give it more resources for the growing competition with aggressive rivals, such as Pandora (P), which now appears to the most popular internet radio service.
It looks like Pandora is attracting more competition than just Spotify, which is also planning an internet radio network. The startup Senzari, which claims to have over 11 million songs in its database as opposed to Pandora's 900,000, has succeeded in raising in at least $3 million in venture capital. More importantly, Senzari, which is privately headed up by entrepreneur Bill Hajjar, has an alliance with MTV and VH1.
Senzari is a direct challenge to Pandora and Sirius because it is a streaming music service and not a play list. Unlike Pandora, which concentrates the U.S. market, Senzari seems to be aiming at Europe and Latin America as its markets.
Services like Senzari and Pandora are a direct challenge to Sirius. Sirius's stock value has been falling since the news broke that Pandora could be the most popular radio station in Los Angeles. broke. Increased media coverage of internet radio could push Sirius lower, particularly as the online services take over the music business.
This could be to the Sirius buyers' advantage because Sirius has sports and talk programming that those services lack. The huge amount of sports programming that Sirius has should be enough to boost its stock value.
It goes without saying that Liberty Media's plans for Sirius could be to use it to enter the online radio market. Sirius, which already makes its programming available online and as an App, already has the programming and the network to be a huge player in the growing streaming radio market.
This could make Sirius more attractive to advertisers than Pandora, which could translate into more advertising revenue and higher stock prices. Although it should be noted that Sirius does lack one vital ingredient for success in advertising: a nationwide network of advertising sales people.
It goes without saying that Liberty could provide such a network. It already has a nationwide cable operation and a stable of television programs.
Sirius is also taking the digital music challenge very seriously, according to the Los Angeles Times. It is making a serious effort to create its own play lists that are tailored to fans' tastes. More importantly, Sirius is trying to form close relationships with music industry players, including DJs and musicians, by giving them programming.
Even if these efforts don't succeed, they could have some effect on Sirius's stock value because of the credibility that they add. Such efforts show that Sirius is capable of developing its own unique programming, which is what it will need to compete in the digital marketplace.
Such programming, particularly proprietary programming that fans cannot find anywhere else, should also add to stock value. The biggest effect on stock value will, of course, be advertising revenue lured in by such programming.
One kind of programming which Sirius has that still seems to be very viable is talk radio. Rush Limbaugh, the biggest star on Clear Channel Communications (CCO), biggest star Rush Limbaugh is still doing very well despite yet another boycott effort. Even the leftwing website Politico.com reports that the boycott only cost Cumulus Media (CMLS) about 1% of the advertising revenue it gets from its broadcasts of Rush. Cumulus runs Rush on 38 stations. During a first -quarter conference call with analysts, Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey admitted that efforts to boycott Rush cost his organization two or three million dollars. For its part, Clear Channel saw its revenues increase by 6% in the first quarter of 2012 despite boycott efforts.
This obviously means that Clear Channel has more incentive than ever to keep Rush onboard. Any talk of Rush jumping ship could lower Clear Channel's stock. A move of Rush to Sirius would probably result in some in at least some increase in Sirius's stock value, but don't expect that to happen anytime soon. Rush's current contract with Clear Channel does not end until 2015.
The one person who might make the move is Rush himself. Limbaugh might want to distance himself from a sinking old media such as over the all the air radio and move into satellite or online broadcasting, which has more potential for growth. Sirius, which would probably see a bump in stock value if Rush were to join up, would be the logical one to try and lure him in.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.