Sonos Rolls Out Radio Channels for Smart Speaker Owners

Sonos just debuted ad-supported Sonos Radio, which splits offerings into three categories: Sonos Presents, which is curated music and original programming; Sonos Stations, a collection of 30 genre-based music listening stations; and Local Radio, which lists thousands of streaming radio options. Napster streams the music for the first two options. Sonos director of business development Ryan Taylor noted that Sonos is experiencing a “New Year’s Eve-level of engagement” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wired reports that Sonos Presents is hosted by its DJs “and will include guest radio hours hosted by artists like Thom Yorke and Jamila Woods.” Sonos Presents also “seems to include entire ad-free stations that are created and inspired by people like David Byrne, Brittany Howard, and Yorke.” Sonos Stations’ genres include “Cocktail Hour, Indie Gold, Workout Remix.”

Taylor would not comment on “the specifics of the licensing partnerships that make this all work … except to say that Napster is powering the underlying licenses and catalogs.” Sonos Radio has limitations: it is only available on Sonos speakers and doesn’t work via voice control with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and their ilk. (Sonos is currently involved in a “contentious lawsuit” with Google over third-party voice control.)

Sonos Radio is available in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, and Ireland for now, and the company stated that the service “will work on both newer Sonos speakers and older ones, even though it is splitting its operating system — and effectively creating a split between ‘old’ and ‘new’ speakers in peoples’ home systems — later this spring.”

The rationale behind the creation of Sonos Radio is that, with 120 partners, customers can have a hard time finding what they want to listen to. “Learning what’s available on Sonos is actually kind of hard today, if I’m being honest,” said Taylor. “Sonos Radio was designed in a way to highlight content from our services for our users, right out of the box and free for them.”

Reticle Research founder/principal analyst Ross Rubin reported that, “Sonos is following a few good examples, including Apple with Beats 1 Radio and Roku with the Roku Channel.” “The latter is a particularly good comparison because it’s leveraging the content of partners, but putting its own value-added spin on it,” Rubin said, adding that, “it’s possible that Sonos could eventually offer a subscription service, if Sonos Radio is successful enough to justify the model.”

But, he warned, “it’s one thing to compete for listener time with your content partners … It’s another thing to compete for subscription dollars with them.”