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Revenue soars for XM Satellite

Subscriptions to the digital radio service grew by 70 percent over the fourth quarter, fueling an almost 16-fold increase in revenue--but the company still widened its net loss.

XM Satellite Radio reported an almost 16-fold increase in revenue in its fourth quarter, in which subscriptions to its digital radio service grew by 70 percent.

The Washington-based satellite broadcaster said Thursday it added more than 145,000 new subscribers to its radio network in the last three months of 2002. That brought the yearly total to more than 347,000, just shy of the 350,000 it expected to have signed up. The company expects to add another 130,000 members in the first quarter and to more than triple new sign-ups this year.

The subscriber growth helped fuel a jump in fourth-quarter revenue to $9 million from $532,000 in 2001. The company's net loss for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31 grew to $155.9 million, or $1.76 per share, from $144 million in the year-ago period. For the full year, XM Satellite reported a net loss of $495 million, or $5.95 per share, on $20.2 million in revenue.

The company expects to break even on a cash-flow basis by late next year with the help of recent financing arrangements totaling more than $475 million. The financing was needed to offset XM Satellite's growing debt from the $1 billion construction of its complex radio networks. The company has said it needs to have four million subscribers to become profitable.

The availability of XM Satellite's services in new General Motor and Honda cars, has spurred subscription growth, according to the company. Toyota is also planning to ship cars with so-called XM radios this year, and Wal-Mart is planning to sell them for the car and home by June, the company said. Another source of growth are 'SkyFi' home and portable stereos equipped with special satellite radio receivers, available at retailers such as Circuit City and Best Buy.

XM Satellite Radio and rival Sirius Satellite Radio sell satellite radios and programming as alternatives to broadcast radio. Both companies offer similar services: Dozens of stations that offer original and repackaged music, news, sports and talk programming are beamed by satellite to repeater stations throughout the country. Car stereos designed for either company's service and outfitted with special antennas can pick up the signals anywhere in the country.

In addition to having a vastly larger selection of content than broadcast radio--XM has stations specializing in everything from African music to NASCAR racing--both XM Satellite and Sirius services promise few or no commercials, almost CD-quality sound, and steady signals.

XM Satellite launched its nationwide service in 2001 and charges $10 a month for each XM-compatible receiver.