Some of its thunder may have been stolen by YouTube Music’s free, ad-supported launch on Google Home and other smart speakers, but Amazon has nevertheless launched its own free tier for Alexa-enabled devices. As reported prior to the launch, the tier is supported by advertising, and can be used by people without a Prime membership.

“Customers now have access to play a station based on a song, artist, era, and genre, and to hear some of Amazon Music’s top global playlists including Country Heat, Fuego Latino, and more,” explained Amazon in its announcement. For now, the new free tier is only available in the US: we’ll be interested to see how quickly it rolls out to other key markets for Amazon like the UK, Germany and Japan – bear in mind that the advertising element may require a bit more localisation.

In the initial promotion, Amazon is positioning its new free tier as a gateway product to both its Prime membership and its standalone Amazon Music Unlimited service. But as Music Ally noted last week: what’s most interesting about Amazon and YouTube’s new ad-supported tiers is whether they’re new and potentially-powerful funnels towards subscriptions, or simply something that will cater to casual music listeners who are never likely to pay.

Meanwhile, our big-picture conclusion remains the same: the fact that Echo and Google Home speakers both now ship with an ad-supported free-music option from their manufacturers, out of the box, is a competitive challenge that Spotify, Pandora and other services will be keenly aware of, and responding to in the months ahead. This isn’t quite as big a disruption as Spotify’s famous pivot to allow free listening through its smartphone app in December 2013, but smart speakers shipping with free streaming tiers is still a significant moment.

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