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New York sues SiriusXM over “burdensome” cancellation process

Satellite and streaming radio company deliberately makes it difficult for subscribers to cancel their subscriptions, New York's Attorney General alleges.

Satellite and streaming radio company deliberately makes it difficult for subscribers to cancel their subscriptions, New York's Attorney General alleges.

A car entertainment system displays a channel broadcast on SiriusXM satellite radio. (Still frame courtesy SiriusXM, Graphic by The Desk)
A car entertainment system displays a channel broadcast on SiriusXM satellite radio. (Still frame courtesy SiriusXM, Graphic by The Desk)

The state attorney general in New York has filed a civil lawsuit against satellite and streaming radio provider SiriusXM, alleging the audio company makes it difficult for customers to cancel their subscriptions online and over the phone.

In a complaint filed in New York state court and obtained by The Desk, New York State Attorney General Letitia James claims SiriusXM provides its customer support staff with a “lengthy, six-part script” that is designed to create a “lengthy and burdensome cancellation process” when customers try to end their service.

“As part of its cancellation process, Sirius requires its live agents to present a series of renewal offers to retain the consumer as a subscriber,” the petition reads, with the attorney general using SiriusXM’s former name. “But when a consumer declines an offer, or refuses to hear further offers, Sirius instructs its agents not to take no for an answer; instead, agents are instructed to think of every no simply as a request for more information, and to press forward until the consumer accepts an offer or abandons the cancellation effort, hounding them with additional questions and information.”

Customers encounter issues with the cancellation process before they are ever connected to a live agent, James alleges, with SiriusXM making subscribers wait more than 10 minutes when they try to connect with a customer support representative by phone. That time frame exceeds 25 minutes when they try to cancel via online chat, the attorney general claims, citing internal data provided by SiriusXM.

The overall time spent trying to cancel service winds up being longer because of SiriusXM’s purported process of making things convoluted for customers.

In a statement, a spokesperson for SiriusXM said the company offers “a variety of options for customers to sign up for or cancel their SiriusXM subscription.”

“Upon receiving and reviewing the complaint, we intend to vigorously defend against these baseless allegations that grossly mischaracterize SiriusXM’s practices,” SiriusXM’s Jessica Casano-Antonellis told reporters on Wednesday.

New York prosecutors say the accusations outlined in the lawsuit are based on information provided by SiriusXM representatives earlier this year, including an affirmation from one executive that the company “believe[s] strongly that a good conservation regarding cancellation requires a lot of back and forth with the consumer.”

“Sirius subscribers must devote inordinate amounts of time, patience, and stamina trying to cancel a subscription they no longer wish to pay for, and that they have a legal and contractual right to cancel anytime using a process that is simple and efficient,” the petition said. “Sirius deliberately wastes its subscribers’ time, even though it has the ability to process cancellations with the click of a button. The only reason Sirius requires cancelling subscribers to interact with a live agent at all is to maximize its opportunity to retain them as subscribers.”

Prosecutors say SiriusXM’s cancellation process “violate[s] state and federal laws concerning subscriptions that renew automatically by failing to provide subscribers with a cancellation mechanism that is simple, timely, and easy to use.”

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, described as “full restitution for all impacted subscribers nationwide, including compensation for the time SiriusXM wasted by putting its subscribers through a deliberately lengthy cancellation process.” Those who have encountered SiriusXM’s cancellation processes and who wish to file a grievance against the company are asked to fill out a complaint online.

SiriusXM has faced numerous business-related challenges over the past few years, including stagnant growth in the number of customer additions. As The Desk reported in August, SiriusXM’s paid subscriber count has hovered around 34 million customers over the past three years.

Executives have been quick to point out that the company’s churn rate, particularly with its satellite radio product, has been relatively low over that same period of time. Earlier this year, SiriusXM CEO Jennifer Witz said on a conference call that the company had “record high revenue and record low churn” during its prior financial year, which ended December 31, 2022.

“Our strong operating and financial performance in 2022 are a testament to our resilient business model and growing contribution from streaming,” Witz said, suggesting that the company’s compelling offers across satellite and streaming radio — and not its apparent strategy of making subscribers jump through hoops to cancel their service — was the reason behind its low churn rate.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).