The first is curated music and original programming, including something called Sonos Soundsystem. This is a channel hosted by Sonos-hired DJs (who were recording out of New York City until the pandemic hit) and will include guest radio hours hosted by artists like Thom Yorke and Jamila Woods. It’s a little confusing—again, I haven’t used the updated app yet—but 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 is a roundup of more than 30 genre-based music listening stations—think Cocktail Hour, Indie Gold, Workout Remix. And finally, the Local Radio category will point users to the thousands of streaming radio options Sonos users already have, whether those are dedicated to music, news and talk radio, or sports.
At launch, the music streamed through Sonos Presents and Sonos Stations is being served by Napster.com. Taylor declined to talk about the specifics of the licensing partnerships that make this all work—or how deep Sonos’ direct conversations have been with music publishers—except to say that Napster is powering the underlying licenses and catalogs for what Sonos is calling its “owned and operated” radio services.
Sonos Radio is launching with some limitations. It’s only available on Sonos speakers, which means you can’t listen to the service when you’ve taken your phone out on your daily walk, or if your current role as an essential worker means you’re in the car a lot. You can’t use voice control, like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, to launch or control Sonos’ radio stations; third-party voice control is something that Sonos has worked years to set up business deals around, and more recently it’s resulted in a contentious lawsuit between Sonos and Google. And Sonos Radio will only be available in the US and the UK, as well as Australia, Canada, and Ireland for starters.
Sonos says that the radio 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.
Part of Sonos’ reasoning behind launching this new service is that it is trying to solve a problem that’s not unique in this era of massive streaming media libraries and never-ending scrolls: discovery. Sonos believes a certain portion of its customer base just doesn’t know the best way to find good stuff to listen to in the current version of the app. As its streaming partners have ballooned over the past several years—it currently claims more than 120 partners—and as Sonos has started to integrate things like voice control, support for Apple’s AirPlay 2, and soundbar-specific features, it has had to find ways to simplify its app.