Sirius XM in 2015

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I've been having a blast with this new time machine I got, darting in and out of the future to check in on some of the more exciting stocks that I cover.

I've already hit up the country's favorite premium video streaming service and the undisputed leader in home-based carbonated drinks. Today, I turn up the volume by taking a look at what Sirius XM Radio (NAS: SIRI) looks like come 2015.

Yes, satellite radio still matters. Connectivity in cars is faster and more reliable, but premium radio still trumps anything in the mold of an ad-based streaming model.

The view from 2015
The news isn't all good from the future. Howard Stern really is hanging up his headphones, though the two networks bearing his name will live on into 2016 under some of the personalities that he helped raise in his farm club system. Obviously, the programming costs will be lower for Sirius XM.

Sirius XM also has just 24 million subscribers in 2015, as growth has decelerated. This may come as a shock since Sirius XM already had 21.9 million subs heading into 2012, but the average account in 2015 is paying a little more than $20 a month for plans that combine satellite radio, streaming Sirius XM stations, and personalized streams. Worrywarts concerned about the 12% price hike early in 2012 missed the possibility that Sirius XM could add value to its service.

The slowing subscriber growth isn't necessarily Sirius XM's fault. The urbanization trend continues, and the youth continue to eschew auto ownership and living in the suburbs, joining the more than 1.1 million Zipcar (NAS: ZIP) members in revitalized metropolitan downtowns. In other words, the automotive slowdown is a bigger culprit for the deceleration than anything that Sirius XM has done. Folks are changing the way they consume cars, derailing some of the growth that would have otherwise materialized. Sure, Sirius XM has a big deal with Zipcar in 2015, but it's not a game changer for either company.

The upside to all of this is that sharply higher average revenue per user paired with shrewd cost controls is delivering healthy levels of free cash flow and profitability.

Liberty isn't the belle
Liberty Capital (NAS: LMCA) never lived up to the buyout speculation that was building through early 2012. Liberty continues to enjoy the 40% preferred share stake that it acquired as a lender perk in 2009. It just doesn't have the means to swallow Sirius XM whole, especially as shares of Sirius XM continue to appreciate in beating the market from 2012 to 2015.

CEO Mel Karmazin also never had to resort to a reverse stock split. Shares of Sirius XM are in the mid-single digits on their own.

What else do you want to know about the state of premium radio circa 2015? Oh, Pandora (NYS: P) is now routinely profitable. Most of the other streaming upstarts of early 2012 have vanished. A few just died, while a couple were gobbled up by dot-com giants that now use music subscription services to woo smartphone owners into embracing their operating systems.

24 million listeners march
Sirius XM 2.0 was a major buzzword as 2011 came to a close, but it was slow to catch on. The two retail receivers that were introduced in 2011 were mostly ignored by consumers, even the once seemingly promising Lynx.

General Motors (NYS: GM) -- an early Sirius XM investor -- became the first automaker to install Sirius XM 2.0 receivers that can pick up nearly two dozen more stations and incorporate some updated features. The cars didn't hit the market until late 2012.

Most automakers have the new receivers in 2015, and this has opened the door for more interactive satellite radio experiences. It's easier to purchase digital tracks that are playing on the air. Advertisers pay more because listeners can immediately opt in to receive more information. There's even a 24/7 game channel that's popular because listeners compete for prizes in live contests.

Sirius XM is certainly more relevant in 2015 than it is in 2012, and the satellite radio giant has had no problem plucking terrestrial radio franchises and giving them a new home in 2015. I'd mention The Motley Fool channel that rolled out in 2014, but attorneys have asked me not to.

The moral of the story here is that Sirius XM remains popular. Since I've already called it to beat the market over the next three years, it should come as no surprise that I'm promoting the CAPScall initiative for accountability by reiterating my bullish call on Sirius XM for Motley Fool CAPS.

If you like traveling through time but 2015 is too far out there, check out Motley Fool's top stock for 2012. It isn't Sirius XM Radio, but the special report will be free for a limited time so check it out now.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Zipcar. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of General Motors and Zipcar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story except for Liberty Media and Zipcar. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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