AT&T (T) is about to get a nice 20MHz chunk of spectrum to bolster its LTE network. Per the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday approved an agreement between AT&T and Sirius XM Radio (SIRI) that will let AT&T use some spectrum that Sirius has long warned could interfere with its own services if it were used for mobile data services. The deal between the two companies will let AT&T use 20MHz of the band while leaving 10MHz open to avoid potential interference with Sirius. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski praised the two companies for coming up with a deal that resolved the issues of “a long-troubled band that has evaded easy answers for 15 years.”
A lot of of chatter was generated when the team behind StarPlayr announced it was dumping its project to bring Sirius XM content to the iPhone and iPod Touch. Naturally, is was presumed that one of the main reasons for Apple’s decision — though logic is seemingly not always a consideration when Apple rejects apps — was a Sirius XM streaming app already in the works from the Satellite Radio provider itself. Sure enough this morning’s earnings call was the forum the struggling company chose to announce a forthcoming app. Forgetting the company posted a Q4 loss of $245.8 million, Sirius XM’s radio streaming app for the iPhone and iPod Touch will be released sometime in Q2 and judging by recent changes in the company’s subscription options, expect it to cost money one way or another.
D-Day has arrived for the struggling satellite radio provider and for the time being, all is not lost. Liberty Media has indeed swooped in and pumped $530 million into Sirius XM in order to prevent the company from defaulting on $175 million in debt owed to Echostar today. Echostar’s Charlie Ergen had offered to take control of the company in an effort to “help” it avoid bankruptcy but the Sirius XM board seemingly wouldn’t even consider Ergen’s offer as a possibility. Instead, Sirius opted to work with Echostar’s biggest competitor – Liberty Media is the majority owner of DIRECTV while Echostar owns and operates the DISH Network fleet of satellites – giving Liberty 40 percent of the company and two seats on its board in exchange for the loan, $250 million of which will be funded today. Zing! Despite the fact that Ergen will get his $175 million in full today, something tells us he won’t be doing the happy dance.
This past week we gave you a brief glimpse into the nightmare that Sirius XM’s business has become and since then things have basically been a cluster… err, mess. Sirius did take a big step in restructuring some of its future debts – $172.5 million that was due in December is now due in June 2011, a move that cost the company 60 million shares of stock. Forget the fact that Sirius XM has $227.5 million of December debt remaining, it also still has $175 million that comes due to Dr. Claw Charlie Ergen and EchoStar this Tuesday and another $350 million due in May. For the time being, the only thing standing between Sirius XM and bankruptcy is Ergen’s willingness to take control of the company, a fate Sirius XM seems to adamantly oppose. But wait! What’s that? A hero emerges to save the day? John Malone and his company Liberty Media are rumored to be in negotiations with Sirius XM at this very moment and may gobble up a healthy chunk of the satellite radio provider’s debt in order to stave off bankruptcy filings or worse yet from the looks of things, Ergen. A quick look at Sirius XM’s near-future debt calendar:
- $175 million due this Tuesday (to EchoStar)
- $350 million due in May (to JPMorgan Chase and UBS AB, among others)
- $227.5 million due in December
- $172.5 million due in June 2011
That’s right folks, a shade under a billion. To make matters slightly worse, the aforementioned shift of $172.5 million that excited investors on Friday is contingent upon Sirius XM paying Ergen on Tuesday. If it doesn’t come up with the dough, no deal. In the end, Tuesday is basically D-Day for the struggling company and either Liberty or a mysterious third-party must swoop in and save the day. In either of those cases however, Sirius XM is merely looking at a band-aid until May when it will have to come up with another $350 million. We hope Mel and the gang have channel 35 programmed as a favorite – they’re going to need it.
It might not have happened exactly as terrestrial radio had planned while it was sitting in the shadows, stroking a hairless cat and plotting the downfall of satellite, but it looks like the delays it caused by lobbying against the Sirius XM merger may have ended up doing enough damage. According to a report from the New York Times, the only game in satellite radio town is preparing to file for bankruptcy. With over $5 billion in assets the company would surely be gobbled up one way or another, but its current debts of $3.25 billion – $175 million of which will be called in next week – are causing serious problems for the once-promising radio provider. As the company grasps at straws in an effort to avoid the filing, EchoStar mogul Charlie Ergen has kept his offer from last year on the table; an offer that would see Ergen gain control of the company after forking over several hundred million dollars into it. As much as we love Mel Karmazin, it could indeed be time for a changing of the guard as Ergen continues to push hard. On a related note, it appears Sirius XM may end up with the option to renegotiate or even terminate big contracts. It looks like remainder of Stern’s $6 gazillion contract will be among the first addressed which means he could finally get the out he’s been looking for. Come on, you know he’s been phoning it in for years. Oh well, he was gone in two years anyway.