They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, but in the case of Sirius XM Radio, it's hard times that is the mother of its reinvention.
It's no secret that satellite radio heavily relied on auto sales to reel in new customers. That source has recently become drier than the Mojave Desert. But its not just the lack of auto sales that's gotten their bottom line all in a bunch. It's the shredded economy which is forcing cash-strapped consumers to keep their money firmly in their pockets. Shelling out dough for a shiny new car is difficult enough. Adding in discretionary items like subscription radio is equally difficult for a consumer to consider when his job is on the line and the kids need to be fed. But no one is tossing their iPod or their iPhone out with the bathwater, and those are absolutely just as discretionary as anything can be (though there are many who may politely argue that point), and that's gotten Sirius CEO Karmazin thinking. It's the access stupid.
Part of iPod's success, in my opinion, has been its user accessibility. If people were going to pay money to download music to enjoy, they were going to want to enjoy it at their leisure, and at the place of their choosing, just like they would be able to do with a regular CD. So iPods now can be played almost anywhere, thanks to compatible playing devices that you can plug the thing into. It's also given an enormous boost to record company sales, and its made it less popular to bootleg downloads via file share programs. To be sure, it's been a win, win situation.
And by the way, while we're on the topic, let me point out that Apple's stock is still a fantastic buy right now, and part of that is due to the ongoing reach and usability of the iPod and the expanding popularity of the iPhone.
And that makes Sirius XM attractive as well, as it looks to integrate and bundle its services with popular devices like the iPod and the iPhone. They may also provide its services through it's relationship with Direct TV, of whom Liberty Media has a controlling stake. Hooking up is just plain smart business thinking, in my opinion. I also think that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
I said a long time ago that I thought that satellite radio, in general, would eventually have to consider some form of advertising in order to generate revenue sufficient to carry them to profitability. Nowadays, I think that all Sirius XM needs to do is to present value to the consumer. Broadening the delivery system for their service is certainly going to offer much more in the way of value to the consumer than is currently the case. The more one can do with the service, the easier it is to access and enjoy the service, the more valuable that service becomes to the user. If Sirius XM can pull that off successfully, then I think the company can see its way to becoming profitable sooner rather than later.
Conversely, that profit is a long way ahead, and the company still may face some difficulty meeting debt obligations down the line. Liberty Media also needs to continue to be attracted to the company in order to stay on board. Certainly there is a considerable amount of risk in owning this company. That aside, I think Sirius may be well on their way to something, and for that reason, I think the company is a buy.
Full disclosure: Jim Bauer currently owns shares in both Apple, Inc., and Sirius XM Radio Holdings.
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