Sonos launches its own ad-supported radio service


Connected-audio firm Sonos has always taken a Switzerland approach to supporting the various music streaming services, but it’s easy to forget that radio has been a big use case for its devices too, thanks to integrations with the likes of TuneIn and iHeartRadio as well as individual radio groups’ apps. “Today, nearly half of all listening time on Sonos is dedicated to customers’ favourite stations and DJs,” revealed the company yesterday, as it announced its new service Sonos Radio.

It’s a free, ad-supported streaming radio service that will be available via Sonos’ own app (and through that on its devices). At launch, it will offer live streams of more than 60k radio stations from around the world, through expanded partnerships with TuneIn and iHeartRadio, with European group Global and US aggregator Radio·com to follow. But just as interesting are Sonos’ plans to offer its own original stations too.

Sonos Sound System is the company’s equivalent of Apple’s Beats 1 – a “signature ad-free station” recorded in its New York studio. There will also be a range of ad-supported Sonos Stations focusing on genres and themes: Hip Hop Archive, 80s Flash, Alternative Energy, Hot Country (Spotify may have something to say about that, though) and so on. There will also be stations curated by artists, and featuring songs that have inspired them. Thom Yorke, Brittany Howard and David Byrne are the first three examples.

Sonos’ original stations will be available in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland and Australia for now, but the roster of existing radio stations is available worldwide. There are tech partnerships behind all this. The Sonos Station will be powered by Rhapsody/Napster, while startup Super Hi-Fi’s technology is being used for “volume leveling across songs and ads, song blending, and seamlessly mixing in voice commentary”. That makes Sonos Radio the deepest integration of Super Hi-Fi’s tech so far, we think: you can read more about it in our profile of the company from last year.

Analysis? It’s an interesting time to be launching a new ad-supported radio service, to say the least: Sonos will be hoping that the Covid-19 pandemic (and the accompanying hit to brand spending that’s been hitting digital services and broadcasters alike) will ease sooner rather than later. For a company so focused on hardware and software in its history, moving into ad-supported content is a bold move.

We also wonder what music streaming services will make of Sonos Radio as a competitor (“As a platform, Sonos Radio will continue to feature and celebrate new stations and featured programming from the 100+ services available on Sonos,” stressed the announcement) and also how the music industry will react to the prominence of TuneIn in the new service, given labels’ recent legal tangles with that company.

Sonos will be reporting its Q1 financial results on 6 May, with an accompanying earnings call with analysts that’s likely to see the company talking in more depth about its new content strategy.

Written by: Stuart Dredge