Liberty mulls options as it nears control of Sirius XM Radio

Thu Sep 13, 2012 7:04am IST

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(Reuters) - As Liberty Media Corp (LMCA.O) inches closer to full control of Sirius XM Radio Inc (SIRI.O), the media holding company said on Wednesday it may hang on to its shares of the satellite radio provider for the long term and not pursue a spinoff.

"We are in no rush to get out of the Sirius stake," Liberty Media Chief Executive Greg Maffei said on Wednesday. He said that Sirius XM, which has more than 22.9 million subscribers, could one day make up the core of Liberty.

Liberty owns stakes in a variety of businesses, including book retailer Barnes & Noble Inc (BKS.N) and concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment Inc (LYV.N), and smaller stakes in others including cable television company Discovery Communications Inc (DISCA.O). It is known for engineering complicated deal structures that minimize taxes.

Speaking to investors at a conference in California that was broadcast over the Internet, Maffei said a tax-free spinoff -- an event that Wall Street had been expecting -- could be further off on the horizon.

"At some point (a spinoff) may become logical but I don't see that as something we need to get done in the near term," Maffei said.

Liberty, controlled by billionaire chairman John Malone, acquired an initial stake of about 40 percent in Sirius in 2009 as part of a deal in which it loaned the satellite radio provider $530 million to help stave off bankruptcy.

It acquired more shares in the open market in recent months and said it plans to boost its stake above 50 percent. As of this week, it held at least 49 percent of Sirius XM shares, according to regulatory filings.

In August, Liberty Media filed a new application with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to take control of Sirius XM. The FCC has so far not responded to Liberty's application.

Maffei said on Wednesday that Liberty is seeking a hearing at the FCC as soon as possible.

Maffei's comments come just hours after Sirius XM Chief Executive Mel Karmazin told investors at the same conference that he may leave the company when his contract expires at the end of the year.

"I am certainly open to having a conversation but certainly my instincts today are that Liberty does not need me at the company," Karmazin said.

He added that he would be more interested in staying if Liberty spins off Sirius XM to public shareholders and does not remain the controlling shareholder of the satellite radio company.

As for Liberty's plans once it gains control of Sirius XM, Maffei said his company would push Sirius to use the technology it has developed internally.

Maffei said that Liberty Media Corp is still planning to spin off its premium pay-TV network Starz LLC into a separate public company. Starz, which runs the eponymous movie and TV channels as well as Encore-branded movie channels, will become a separate listed company with about $1.5 billion of debt.

Regarding a sale of Starz, Maffei said on Wednesday that "we're are a long way down the road from somebody approaching us."

Sirius shares closed down 3 percent at $2.43 on Wednesday, while Liberty shares slipped 0.75 percent to $102.52.

(Reporting By Liana B. Baker; Editing by Ron Grover and Chris Gallagher)

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