Howard Stern: Attractive At Any Price
What is Sirius XM (NASDAQ: SIRI) without Howard Stern?
The answer: not much, unless there are more Oprah, Eminem and Martha Stewart fans out there to create a large enough draw to take his place. Too bad there aren't.
Who else is going to ask Katey Sagal about whether or not Gene Simmons tried to sleep with her while she worked on his solo album? Or get Bryan Cranston to divulge the story of how he lost his virginity to a Danish prostitute that offered her services for the money in his pocket?
The “King of all Media” has had a loyal following since he went viral on terrestrial radio over three decades ago. Stern is also loyal to his fans, bringing callers on as regular show participants and even working through Hurricane Sandy, showing up to work both Monday and Tuesday despite the hazardous conditions in New York City.
He has the freedom to criticize his employer openly -- especially evident after he trashed Sirius XM over its refusal to pay him his $300 million bonus. Stern argued that he fulfilled his obligation by contributing substantially to the company's subscriber base, but the company cited the merger with XM, and Stern had his case dismissed by a New York Judge Barbara Kapnick.
But what does the future hold for satellite radio?
An estimated 60 percent of new vehicles sold are equipped with satellite radio compared to just 20 percent five years ago. But now, with the presence of wireless internet (think Cadillac (NYSE: GM) Wi-Fi and Chrysler's (OTC: FIATY) Uconnect) becoming more common in new vehicles, and services like Pandora (NYSE: P) offering other alternatives to traditional radio, Stern may no longer need Sirius XM.
Stern could feasibly create his own service -- perhaps even his own network -- to broadcast his show to the masses without requiring his listeners to cover the cost of 120 other channels that they will never listen to.
Or, if Stern was not inclined to become a free agent, he could take his service, followers and loyalty to the next level and become a viable and attractive option to wireless internet providers and telecommunications companies. Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), Verizon (NYSE: VZ), AT&T (NYSE: T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S), Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) might all conceivably have interest in Stern's content.
Sirius XM already has plans to provide internet and television content to vehicles equipped with Wi-Fi, but it isn't likely to be the only one. It is logical that soon enough services from Google and Apple will appear in vehicles. The need to place a satellite into orbit was once a limiting factor on radio alternatives, but the shift to the internet means options are endless for Stern's next venture.
Although Sirius XM does not release numbers on listener statistics, estimates put Stern's following anywhere from between 1.2 and 1.7 million listeners each week. Analysts predict that as Stern is on contract (slated to end in 2015), Sirius XM will remain attractive to subscribers.
Sirius XM closed Friday at $2.82, down 3.42 percent. Year to date, the stock is up 54.95 percent, a trend that could continue assuming Stern remains with the company and no more lawsuits are filed. Sirius XM reports its third quarter earnings on November 1, and the company is expected to report $873 million in adjusted revenues for an increase of 14.1 percent from the year ago period.
Analysts at Citigroup anticipate the focus of the earnings call to cover use of cash, Certified Pre-Owned car markets, untaxed free cash and the search for a new CEO.
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