Sonos Debuts Sonos Radio Streaming Service
Sonos rolled out a new streaming service called Sonos Radio this week. The free, ad-supported streaming service gives the popular audio tech maker a platform for providing original content to go with its speakers and software platform.
The new streaming option is built into the Sonos app, coming as part of a new software update. Sonos describes the more than 60,000 stations as complementary to the streaming options already available through its platform such. The stations include those provided by partners like TuneIn and iHeartRadio as well as local and global radio. For its part, Sonos is offering a few dozen Sonos Stations, designed by the company by genre using Napster’s catalog. The stations include location-based ads targeted based on the listener’s ZIP code. Whether or not they have ads, all of Sonos Radio operates like listening to an actual radio in that the tracks and ads can’t be skipped. Sonos refined the listening in some ways, though, applying artificial intelligence to the audio so that the transitions smooth and the volume doesn’t drastically change from track to track.
Where Sonos brings something new to the table is with its original content under the Sonos Sound System heading. The content is being produced at a new recording studio built in the company’s New York outlet. Sonos Presents includes a mix of musical acts and performers, along with commentary and artist-hosted shows. Relatedly, Sonos has signed up musicians to curate their own stations for listeners, starting with Thom Yorke of Radiohead, with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, Third Man Records, and Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard to follow. Sonos is making the original content and artist-run stations ad-free as an extra enticement to try them.
“Sonos has always made it easy for customers to discover the riches of streaming music services by building premium products that sound great and by giving customers the freedom to use the services of their choice,” Sonos CEO Patrick Spence said in a statement. “Sonos Radio brings together streaming radio services and a select set of curated radio stations in a simple, elegant way. This is just a beginning as we work to deliver services that provide our customers a better experience, and provide our music streaming service partners an opportunity to highlight their best content.”
There’s a large potential audience for a new audio streaming platform, especially a free one. Sonos claims that streaming accounts for half of the time people spend using the Sonos app. There’s even an uptick in radio use right now, despite the COVID-19 pandemic keeping so many people at home. That said, there are some glaring gaps in Sonos Radio, namely that there is no Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice control, for now at least.
There’s no reason given, but it’s hard to imagine the current legal and regulatory fight Sonos is in with Google and Amazon is unrelated. Sonos recently filed a lawsuit against Google for patent infringement, claiming the tech giant use Sonos patents without permission or licensing in its smart speakers, leveraging its size to escape consequences. Sonos has levied similar charges against Amazon, but said the risk of retaliation led to choosing to sue only Google for now. Spence took the argument to Congress in hearings where he testified that tech giants like Amazon and Google are unfairly pressuring companies like Sonos to limit competition and force them to do whatever the larger company wants.
Sonos doesn’t mention voice control at all in its announcement, but it’s unlikely that the question never arose. Sonos bought voice assistant developer Snips last year for $37.5 million, citing improving voice user experience as the reasoning. Google Assistant recently making Sonos speakers a default option suggests the two companies can still work together. Still, it’s easy to imagine a Sonos Radio-specific voice control if accommodation with an existing platform is impossible.