Sirius XM: Two Companies With Single Mission To Confuse Customers

When satellite radio providers Sirius and XM merged almost half a decade ago, consumers and regulators feared that the combined company would begin to act like a fearsome monopoly with a stranglehold on the entire satellite radio market. Not quite. They’re still acting as separate companies working together to confuse the hell out of their customers. Emily’s family are longtime XM subscribers who bought a car with a Sirius receiver, assuming that since it’s all the same company, the services are interchangeable. No, not even close.

My family has had an XM radio subscription since XM first started including a radio receiver in all GM cars. When we bought our first new car that came with satellite radio automatically installed, we were thrilled. We were loyal GM purchasers, so the Sirius/XM merger of 2007 didn’t affect us a whole lot. However, my father did not support the government bailout of GM, so when it came time to purchase his new car this past summer, he went with a Ford. Ford automobiles, when they come with satellite radio, come with Sirius receivers, not XM receivers. No big deal, it’s the same company, right? WRONG.

When he tried to add his new radio to our existing XM account, he was told that since his car was a Sirius receiver and we had an XM account, he would need to start a new Sirius account and could not have all of our cars listed under the same account. Funny enough, I had been told the same thing about a new Volkswagen a few months earlier, but when I called back to add my car to the new Sirius account my father had to create, I was told that in fact, my car had an XM receiver (despite what I had been told months earlier) and that I actually could have been receiving satellite radio that entire time.

It was fine until baseball season came along, and my dad realized that he could no longer receive the MLB play-by-play channels on his new Sirius radio that he could listen to in his old car through the XM receiver. Why? According to the customer service people, because those are only available through XM packages, not Sirius packages. So he downloaded the SiriusXM radio app for his Android phone and tried to access our XM account there and play those channels over the radio. No luck. Why? Because the app is only good for Sirius packages, and even though we had an XM account, packages that are only valid through XM receivers cannot be played over the SiriusXM smartphone app.

In my thoughts, these technological difficulty issues should have been figured out five years ago when the two companies decided to merge. It’s the same company, but you have to have two separate accounts if you have both an XM receiver and a Sirius receiver. You have people who are absolutely willing to pay for the premium SiriusXM packages, but they can only access them over XM radios–if they have Sirius, they’re out of luck. If this is the same company, why can it not provide equal service to all of its customers?

Emily went on to complain that the make of car a person prefers dictates which of the evil twin satellite radio companies they’ll be stuck with for the life of the car, but that’s not really true. If you don’t mind carrying around a separate radio receiver or having an aftermarket stereo installed in your vehicle, you can have one or the other quite easily. It’s not as convenient, but at least you get to hear baseball games.

Maybe XM And Sirius Should Try Acting A Little More Like A Monopoly
Finally, You Can Get A Multi-Subscription Discount If You Have Both Sirius And XM


Edit Your Comment

  1. deathbecomesme says:

    I came here to blame the op…and chew bubble gum

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    It’s no surprise that this turned out to be a clusterfracas. Corporations wax poetic to regulators about how much money customers will save due to “synergy” and what a blessing they will be in general. In reality, they don’t merge because it will benefit the customers but because it will make the company and executives more money (Ticketmaster/LiveNation anyone?)

  3. Howie411 says:

    This pisses me off too, I had XM for like 7 years, when I got my new car (a Ford) it has Sirius, when I tried to get my (cheaper) subscription transferred over they said it was a different system. After a few nasty emails to Corporate they finally discounted my Sirius radio price, but I shouldnt have had to go that far.

  4. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Consumerist Tip: Sirius is Sirius, XM is XM, despite both being owned by Sirius XM.

    • impatientgirl says:

      Yep. That’s the way its been the whole time.

    • Conformist138 says:

      I think some naming issues get confusing for people who haven’t sat down to research the subject. From someone who has never had satellite radio, I would assume any service called “SiriusXM” would be available to both Sirius and XM.

      • Captain Spock says:

        Your operative phrase, my good sir is “people who haven’t sat down to research the subject” Any type of electronic device should be research beforehand.

        • Virga says:

          How much research? If you look up XM, you’re redirected to If you look at the channel lineup, there is no indication that there is anything different for XM.

          I agree it’s important to do research before buying electronics, but it’s stupid if that research needs to extend to corporate finance documents to determine what service is which.

          • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

            OP’s Father – “Mr. Ford salesman, can I use my Sirius subscription on this XM?”
            Ford salesman – “No.”

        • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

          Aside from doing research, the OP’s father could have simply asked the Ford saleman if his XM subscription can be played on the Sirius radio. He had a professional right there to answer questions. If the salesman said “yes”, then this would have been a very different story.

      • Yomiko says:

        That’s like assuming you can use either a Sprint or a Nextel phone anywhere on the Sprint Network. The fact that they are still running parallel networks with varying coverage and it’s amazing to me that they are doing this. When AT&T bought Cingular, they pushed a software upgrade and suddenly everyone’s phones worked with both sets of towers. Sprint/Nextel… not so much.

        • kc2idf says:

          I can’t speak to whether or not this is the case with Sirius/XM, but in the Sprint/Nextel case, the two networks don’t look anything like each other, even remotely. The modulation is different (QAM vs BPSK), the frequency band is different (850MHz vs. 1900MHz), the multiple-access technique is different (time division vs. code divison), and the addressing scheme is different (US-style vs. European style).

          On top of all of that, Motorola holds the IP rights to the system used on the Nextel network and isn’t licensing. Qualcomm owns the IP rights to the system used on the Sprint network, and is licensing. Ever notice that all Nextel phones are Motorolas except for the occasional Blackberry?

          Even the basic idea behind each network is different. The iDEN protocol used on the Nextel network was originally designed to be used for two-way radios, and was extended to support telephones. The CDMA protocol used on the Sprint network was originally intended to be a telephone protocol, and was extended to support two-way-radio functionality.

          Even in the eyes of the law, they are different. The Sprint network is a cellular telephone network; the Nextel network is a Special Mobile Radio network. One amusing side-effect of this is that Nextel phones can use a higher transmit power than Sprint phones. Unfortunately, the other shortcomings of the network cancel out the benefit of this most of the time.

        • soj4life says:

          But I am sure that you can have a single plan to cover both, which is what this person wanted.

      • kimmie says:

        Agreed. They’re still two different technologies that are incompatible. They shouldn’t have merged the names, IMHO.

    • Boehme417 says:

      That would have been fine. It would have been perfectly fine if they had stayed that way – separate. When my Sirius channels started disappearing and getting “merged” with XM channels, we had a problem.

  5. jvanbrecht says:

    Actually, you can easily switch out the satellite modules in any car… Well most cars anyways. The module is separate from the stock head unit, and the head units use a standard interface to talk to those modules.

    So while it is an added cost, you could change the sirius module for an XM one, and it will work just fine… well in most cases. I cannot say for every case because it has been a few years since I worked with aftermarket car audio (3rd time my car got broken into and a loss of $3k worth of equipment… now I just stick with the stock crap in my car).

    • mikedt says:

      I doubt that switch is easy to do on an OEM sound system. Even more so nowadays since the entire car’s electronics is bundled up together.

      • kethryvis says:

        It’s not. i have a friend who has a lifetime subscription to Sirius. She got a brand new Scion, which came with XM, which also has a brand new radio… as in that type of radio has only been on the market for a few months. When she took it in to get a Sirius box put in, it screwed the radio up where it wouldn’t pull any data from anything: bluetooth, satellite, nothing. Took it back, and it turns out that there *is* no Sirius box that will work in her radio… because it is so new. So now she’s got XM, kind of, because her lifetime subscription won’t transfer over, and the guy on the phone was incredibly confused… so she’s not sure if she just has the demo turned on permanently or what. It’s just asinine.

  6. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Lots of corporations own more than one brand with similar services. Think about Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic. Just because they are owned by the same company doesn’t mean that they have an obligation to make the brands interchangeable.

    You guys should have checked out the situation before buying instead of making assumptions. assumptions are rarely a good thing.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:


    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      I agree. This whole article would have been VERY different if the OP’s father asked the Ford dealer if the subscription can be applied to the Sirius vehicle, and the dealer said yes.

      While I’ll say it’s a easy assumption to make, it’s still an assumption.

    • xantec says:

      You mean my Gap shirt is incompatible with my Old Navy pants and Banana Republic tie?

    • Nikephoros says:

      My expectations of a fair deal have now lead me to conclude that I ought to be able to return Old Navy items at a Banana Republic… without a receipt and no tags. How dare they refuse that.

    • thebullfrog says:

      If you’re a SiriusXM customer, it’s EXTREMELY easy to think the systems and subscriptions are interchangeable.

      Upon merging, all channels (that weren’t eliminated or premium) were available to both types of radios but with different channel numbers. So, for instance, if you were listening to shitty, generic, lite‚Ñ¢ pop songs, they’d say: Up next, classic Manilow on The Big Bland, Sirius 69 / XM 666.

      After a year or so, they made a big deal about how the channel numbers were unified. So on either type of radio, Always Right Wing was always channel 185.

      Unless you pay extra for Stern, NFL, MLB, etc., all the content is the same. Even that premium stuff appears on the same channel numbers when you do have it. The announcers refer to the channels, the service, the smart phone app, and the company as SiriusXM.

      Even if the radios are different tech, it’s natural to think your subscription, billed as, ta-da!, “SiriusXM”, would be for a service, not a particular network.

  7. jsweitz says:

    I ditched XM when they said they wouldn’t raise rates after the merger and did anyway.

    Getting baseball is easy and cheaper WITHOUT XM/Sirius.

    MLB At Bat 2012 premium app is $15 in the android market. This gets ALL radio feeds for all MLB teams for the entire season. No monthly fees. (I think the apple version does have a monthly fee)

  8. ToddMU03 says:

    I think you can pay additional for a “best of” package that includes baseball. I know I did it when I had XM and wanted to listen to football games. Of course, the company kept screwing up my billing and I cancelled.

  9. d0x360 says:

    Its like that because the government made it that way as a stipulation. They can’t combine into.1 service for a few.more years that way older radios still work
    . You can however swap the “brain” of a sirius radio to xm and vice versa.

  10. Goatweed says:

    the only thing keeping me subbed to satrad was the 1/2 price for a year special (which they tend to pass out when you threaten to leave) and baseball games. I used to order the Extra Innings package every season but when I saw that MLB.TV gave me the same games with more of them in HD and for less $$, I jumped on board and haven’t looked back. Along with the cheaper sub price, I also get all audio of games on either my smartphone or ipod. That being said, I now have zero use for satrad.

  11. Cat says:

    Just one of the many reasons I will never pay for radio.

  12. DJ Charlie says:

    And this is why I have a computer installed in the Lady, with a 1tb music drive.

  13. Virga says:

    I disagree. When the two merged, they ruined the content I was getting from XM, thus forcing customers to be interchangeable. Unlike your analogy, there is no clear label distinction. If you want info on XM, you get re-directed to In fact, every aspect of their media emphasizes the combination of the two. There is no info on what to expect from XM and what to expect from Sirius.

  14. tasselhoff76 says:

    I often feel like satellite radio wants to fail.

  15. AldisCabango says:

    Howard Stern tells his listeners almost everyday they are separate companies.

    • oldgraygeek says:

      Yeah, they’re paying him like they are separate companies (as in, they’re f***ing him out of millions of dollars).

  16. AldisCabango says:

    There is limited bandwidth in the transmission. To totally integrate the service into 1 service. Some channels would probalby have to go.

  17. steam says:

    Just try calling them to give them a new credit card for payments. They seem to have a foriegn based telephone support system that is bent on selling a years service in advance and anything that will make you pay them a lot more money than you should. The technical support is equally sales oriented with excuses that are what you would expect from a box of hammers. Forget about writing to them…they seem to be avoiding all written communications.

    • scoosdad says:

      I recently renewed with Sirius, and used my tried and true method of asking right off for the retentions department (i.e. cancellations). Those reps are US-based and one of them confided in me that they alone are given the power to make deals. The frontline reps don’t have the authority to give discounts or offer freebies. Only the retention reps can do that. The retention reps can offer discounts as much as half off the rack rate if you ask nicely and have been a good customer.

      He also give me a direct number to the retention department to use in the future so I can bypass jumping through hoops, but I don’t want to give it out here for fear they’ll pull the plug on it if it gets around.

  18. Dr.Wang says:

    Yes, and then they can enjoy the horrid sound quality of XM or Sirius and all the wonderful for the same stuff you get in spam email (Viagra, bankruptcy, penis enlargers, credit repair and all the other scams)

  19. taaurrus says:

    “If you don’t mind carrying around a separate radio receiver or having an aftermarket stereo installed in your vehicle” – exactly what I was thinking through the whole article. Just go out and get a separate receiver – it’s not that hard. Us unfortunate folks who cannot afford to buy NEW cars all the time, as it sounds like the OP’s family does, have to do this all the time. Stop whining and just go do what we (those who can’t afford a car that has receiver already installed) have to do.

  20. ophmarketing says:

    Here’s the most interesting part to me:

    The OP says that her family members “were loyal GM purchasers.” She then claims that her father “did not support the government bailout of GM, so when it came time to purchase his new car this past summer, he went with a Ford.”

    So…the OP’s father was so loyal to GM that he couldn’t stand the fact that it wasn’t allowed to go out of business (and was, instead returned to profitability), so he decided to show his loyalty even more by buying a Ford. Okaaayyyy…

  21. TVGenius says:

    This is pretty much what I knew was going to come from that merger, and why I bailed on XM as soon as they started making changes. I still miss the ‘old’ XM, but don’t regret jumping ship to Slacker one bit.

  22. vastrightwing says:

    My new car came with a Sirius receiver, which I enjoyed for 3 months as part of the deal.
    After a month went by, I researched getting a full subscription and wow, was I disappointed. My car receiver had all kinds of features like weather, traffic, etc. but the cost was mind blowing. I looked into negotiating with them for a better price. No luck. In the end, the value I got from the service just didn’t live up to the actual cost and hassle. The website makes you believe Sirius and XM are the same, yet depending on the brand of the receiver you have, they are still treated as separate but equal.
    This separate but equal image is probably part of their strategy to pretend there is competition to the consumer, yet obviously there is none. On a good note, there is Pandora and mp3s. My car can play mp3s and use Bluetooth so my phone can use the audio system. This is what I decided to do. I have a 16gb sd card in my phone loaded with mp3s.
    From a technical stand point, here are a few problems I have with the service:
    The sound quality varies greatly from station to station. At its best, I could definitely hear compression artifacts in almost every case. Talk radio compression artifacts were expected to some degree, but often the artifacts were so annoying, I found listening to the stations fatiguing for more than an hour. If you listen to a song on satellite and then on a 128kbs MP3, the MP3 sounds magnitudes better. I used to have Sirius on the Dish (TV satellite). And for some unexplained reason, the DishNetwork feed sounded great! The actual Sirius receiver feed? Not so great. Can anyone explain that one?
    Drop outs were pretty common for me. If I drive in cities without terrestrial repeaters, the radio went silent quite often. In the mountains, forget it! The radio didn’t buffer enough content to listen to. It was useless.
    The radios are not allowed to record anything, so forget trying to time shift or record anything. Yes, you can hook your computer to the radio, but why should you have to go through all of that?
    Why can’t they design the system so I can pull a small card out of a socket like SIM cards in a phone? That way, I could have a subscription and then merely move the card from device to device? Possible? Sure, they just don’t want to implement it.

    • scoosdad says:

      Yup. The reason Sirius sounds so much better on Dish is probably that the feed comes to Dish via a different method than just Dish receiving it off the satellite like normal consumers. For Dish’s purposes, that’s not good enough or reliable enough. They probably have a fiber optic line to Sirius and get the audio delivered with very little processing or compression. When you’re a big customer like that, you get special arrangements.

      Coming off the Sirius satellite, lots of processing and digital compression. That’s the difference.

      • vastrightwing says:

        I suspect you are correct. So basically what Sirius is selling is convenience and quantity (lots of programming) with very little quality. And for most people this is good enough. My issue is the cost. Why pay a premium for quantity when the quality is so bad? I’d be willing to pay $36 Р$50 per year for the current offering and no more.

        • AldisCabango says:

          There are alacarte options so you can pick the stations you want for about 8.00 a month.

    • AldisCabango says:

      Only coment I have about your post, is with the XM3Pi portable radio you can record content and listen at a later time. I have that model, I’m happy with it about 80% of the time. The other 20% is just my complaints about batter life when outside listening in the yard or walking in a park.. But I can easly move it from office to car to home where I have different docking stations and not need multiple radio.

    • tmc131414 says:

      That’s very strange that they wouldn’t let you negotiate down the price. I have an XM radio that came with a trial subscription for a car I bought about three years ago and they have continued to offer me nice deals every few months (5 months for $25 or something like that) each time I tried to cancel. I actually renewed again under their 5 months for $25 deal today. I imagine you didn’t have as much luck because you had Sirius instead of XM (which seems to have much better programming anyway) and ,as the OP mentioned, the two radio systems operate like they’re run by completely independent companies.

      • vastrightwing says:

        No, the problem was two fold 1) I called them instead of them calling me 2) They negotiated down to a degree, but wouldn’t offer me a price I could live with.

  23. scoosdad says:

    The reason why they’re not behaving like one big company is pretty simple. The technology used for Sirius is not compatible with XM, and vice versa. They are still operating two separate fleets of satellites, and the receiving hardware uses proprietary chips and digital algorithms to pull in the signals. It’s not like these are two different FM radio stations that combined and you just have to re-tune your radio to the new frequency. Totally different scenario.

    You do see some of each’s popular channels running on each other’s equipment, but that’s only because they’re piping the audio signals back and forth between the two sets of satellite uplinks, kind of like what happens when a big fundraising telethon or concert is carried on more than one TV network.

    Until they can finally get all their customers unified onto one platform or the other, they’re going to just keep running these as if they were separate companies. And that is going to be a long, long time down the road. The only way that will happen is when they finally decide that retiring one of the sets of satellites and uplinks will save them enough money to be able to pay for new receivers for roughly half of their subscribers. The subscribers alone won’t sit still and pay for that, it will have to come as an offer from the company.

  24. bnceo says:

    Oh how an aftermarket radio rules most factory sets. I have an XM receiver box for my Pioneer stereo. When I get a new car, one of things I will look for is easy of getting another aftermarket pioneer stereo in there to match with my receiver box so I don’t have to switch to Sirius or even mess with my subscription.

    Once again, someone missed the research on this part of their car buying purchase. So it’s a minor blame the op.

  25. drdroo says:

    You can get what’s known as a “Cross Platform Discount” and have Sirius and XM radios on the same account. Basically they put two accounts in the system because the billing systems aren’t merged, but you would still get the discount.

    It’s also mentioned on their website.

  26. drdroo says:

    I believe the MLB issue is two-fold. On one side there’s the existing MLB contract. On the other, the older Sirius network simply doesn’t have enough bandwidth to cover all of the games (and the other sports) at the same time.

    Many older receivers (especially ones that came with vehicles, even recent years) cannot support the additional channels used for the Premier plan either. Even if MLB were provided on Premier, it’s possible that the user wouldn’t be able to get these channels.

    I admit, it is a bit of a mess and some things could’ve been done differently. Hopefully these vehicle manufacturers will all end up with SiriusXM tuners (on the XM network) in the future. The SiriusXM product is the future of the SiriusXM service.

    As it sits, I work for a satellite radio retailer and we have plenty of XM to Sirius conversion kits, but few Sirius to XM conversion kits. There are no SiriusXM conversion kits yet at all.

  27. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Two words…HD Radio

  28. Libertas says:

    I was an XM subscriber from day one. My XM went in the trash the day of the merger.