Howard Stern's radio programs are among the crown jewels of SiriusXM's… (Mark Seliger / NBC )
Liberty Media has raised its stake in SiriusXM Radio to 48.8%, bringing the Englewood, Colo., media company closer to majority control of the New York satellite radio company.
The increase in ownership, from 48.1%, was reported in a regulatory filing late Tuesday by SiriusXM.
Liberty's steady march toward full control of SiriusXM is not surprising. The company has publicly stated its intent to acquire a majority share of SiriusXM and is now attempting to follow through with its promise.
When Liberty crosses the 50% threshold, it will need to apply for a transfer of operating licenses from the Federal Communications Commission to fully take control of SiriusXM.
Liberty had tried, and failed, to obtain those licenses in March, when it had 40% of SiriusXM's stock. The FCC responded that Liberty needed to have at least a majority share.
A media and entertainment conglomerate, Liberty owns Starz, a digital pay-TV company, and the Atlanta Braves baseball team, and it holds shares in Barnes & Noble, Time Warner, Viacom and Live Nation Entertainment, among other companies. SiriusXM was formed in 2008 with the merger of two struggling satellite radio companies -- Sirius and XM Radio.
Once on the verge of bankruptcy, SiriusXM has become a cash machine in recent years. It posted a $427-million profit last year, up tenfold from 2010. Revenue of $3 billion was up 7% from 2010, thanks to a steadily growing number of subscribers. SiriusXM currently has 23 million customers who pay anywhere from $8 to $18 a month for access to its 140 specialty radio channels.
Liberty's executives have said they plan to combine SiriusXM with another property, likely its Starz pay-TV business, and spin the combined entity off as a separate company in order to avoid paying taxes for acquiring SiriusXM.
Eddy Hartenstein, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and chief executive of its parent, Tribune Co., is chairman of the SiriusXM board.
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