With the advent of Satellite Radio 2.0, I am frequently asked what this means for those that have a lifetime subscription from Sirius. Lifetime subscriptions were once made available to Sirius subscribers, and depending on how long your receiver lasts, might have been a good deal. The most frequent misconception with the Sirius XM lifetime subscription is the definition of the word "lifetime".

The first thing readers need to understand is that with Sirius XM and nearly anytime you hear the term lifetime, it does not really mean lifetime. Lottery winners often learn that lifetime is defined as about 20 years. In our legal system "life in prison" does not always mean someone will be behind bars until they die.

Smart companies often clearly define what "lifetime" means. There are occasions where some companies offer "lifetime" subscriptions without very much of a definition. Consumers run the risk of thinking they have a certain level of service without much of any recourse if the party selling a "lifetime" subscription decides to limit their level of service, walk away from the business, or simply coast along giving the subscriber less and less over time. An undefined lifetime subscription can cause mass confusion. Services may get added that suddenly are not included in the lifetime subscription. The consumer is left wondering exactly what they bought.

With Sirius XM the lifetime subscription is clearly defined, but even with that many people are still confused over what they do and don't get for service. Below are some points that may help people understand what their lifetime subscription will be going forward:

  • The first thing to understand with a Sirius Lifetime subscription is that it is for the lifetime of the receiver, not the person.  If your receiver lasts you 3.5 years, you are slightly ahead of the game.  If not, you paid more than you perhaps should have.  Lifetime subscribers can transfer their subscription to a new radio 3 times for a transfer fee of $75 each time.  This only applies to a plug and play radio, and not a car radio.  The problem is that Sirius XM is moving things over to the XM platform and Sirius branded radios such as the new Starmate 8 do not feature content like Satellite Radio 2.0.  This could mean that you will be paying more to get certain content, like Howard Stern if you switch.  Lifetime subscriptions come with Internet Radio included.  The good news is that you will receive all of the new Internet Radio channels inclusive of the recent channels added via the Satellite Radio 2.0 technology.  The bad news is that if you are trying to listen in your car you can not receive Satellite Radio 2.0 over the satellite feed.  People who use the Sirius XM app to get their content are typically using the Internet feed (unless you have a SkyDock).  The Lifetime subscription gives you versatility, but you are reliant on a data feed.
  • Sirius XM only owes you certain content with a lifetime subscription.  The user agreement does not guarantee you that you will receive premium content.  For example Sirius Premier costs about $4 per month and allows users to access some content available on the XM platform.  Lifetime subscribers do not get this content as part of their lifetime subscription.  Let's assume for a moment that Sirius XM lands a deal with Rush Limbaugh.  The company can make that a premium channel, or put it on the XM platform, and Sirius subscribers may not receive the channel.  Another example is that during the merger process Sirius lost the NBA and it went top XM.  The only way a lifetime subscriber now gets the NBA is through paying more money.  Sirius XM is not bound to give you all of the specific content that was offered when you signed up.  They must only give you similar levels of content.  You lost the NBA, but gained some soccer.  Sirius XM was well within their rights to make that change, and a Lifetime subscriber must accept it.
  • Satellite Radio 2.0 capabilities may never be available to Sirius Lifetime subscribers.  The company is under no requirement to make your satellite radio experience the same as consumers with newer and more capable radios.  If a new radio offers "On-Demand" features, but is on the XM platform, Sirius Lifetime subscribers will most likely be left out either with all or some of the new capabilities and channels or have to make the switch to the XM platform which will mean some Sirius content will not be available.

The lesson here is that while many received good value for their lifetime subscriptions, they may not get all of the bells and whistles going forward.  As frustrating as this may be, it is simply the way it is.  Sirius XM is in the business of trying to make money.  If they had their druthers they would probably wish that the lifetime subscription no longer existed.  One way to pare down the number of these subscriptions is to simply let the "lifetime" receivers die off and have consumers move over to subscription plans that generate revenue on a long term basis.

The bottom line is that consumers need to be a bit cautious anytime they hear the term lifetime.  Before buying anything "lifetime" read the terms and understand them.  Lifetime typically does not mean until the day you die.  Sirius XM may change some of these policies, they have the right to modify them at any time, but I would not hold my breath.  There are simply not enough lifetime subscribers to make a material difference in the "complaints" department.