XM expects Q4 subscriber growth


NEW YORK -- XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. expects retail subscriber growth to resume in the fourth quarter, but declines may occur again in the first or second quarter of 2008, chairman Gary Parsons said Monday.

XM, which lost a net 17,000 retail customers in the third quarter, now relies almost entirely on car buyers for growth, and Parsons said auto-related sales will be strong even if the most pessimistic car sales projections for this year come true.

"From our standpoint, we see a pretty solid projectable growth trajectory coming from the new car marketplace. Clearly, we want them to be successful, and we will do better in a boom time than in a depressed time ...," Parsons told the Reuters Media Summit in New York.

Even if the weak U.S. economy hurts overall sales of new cars, an increasing number of car makers are putting satellite radios into their new models, so growth for XM will be good regardless, he said. Car makers like XM because it makes their vehicles more appealing to consumers.

XM is the largest U.S. satellite radio service provider with 8.5 million subscribers. It expects a merger with Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. to close by the end of the year.

The deal is being reviewed by the FCC and the Department of Justice, and their findings may be made public as soon as this week.

"We continue to feel we have a strong case," said Parsons. Asked if the chances of approval were better than 50-50, he replied, "Obviously, we would feel that it would be greater than 50-50 or we never would have announced the deal."

Parsons said XM is not interested in signing shock jock Don Imus nor will it seek more high-priced talent when it gets approval for its merger with Sirius.

"Imus appears to have found a home that he's happy with, and he's back on the air, so I don't see any value from our standpoint," Parsons said. "I don't see any interest in that at this time."

Imus signed with ABC Radio Networks, owned by Citadel Broadcasting Corp. after being fired by CBS Radio more than six months ago due to an uproar over an on-air racial slur.

Parsons said the combined companies should have a broad appeal with channels for shock jock Howard Stern, celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart, as well as sports, music and talk programming.

"We're not actually looking to add much of any new high-priced content to the platforms," Parsons said. "We have what we consider to be a very high-quality set of offerings that cost us an adequate amount."