Sonos @ 15

Sonos_2015-LogoSonos, granddaddy of the connected home audio marketplace, is now 15 years old. Sonos was a pioneer that was so far ahead of its time, it inadvertently found itself as one of the key early drivers of streaming subscriptions. Visionary founders John MacFarlane and Tom Cullen had some long-term inkling that streaming would eventually be a major force for them, but their near-term vision was built on getting music downloads piped around the home. Now, 15 years on, Sonos has effectively achieved two missions: deploying iTunes around the home, as well as Spotify and co around the home. But now, the outlook is less clear. Sonos’s marketplace is complex and competitive more than ever. Furthermore, the departure of MacFarlane, a round of lay-offs and having ‘missed voice’, may have left Sonos looking less vibrant than it once did. So, where next for Sonos?

These are some of the key challenges Sonos faces:

  • Battle of the apps: Sonos hardware reflects the company’s obsession with elegance and attention to detail. But, as with so many hardware companies (in fact the majority of them), Sonos’s weak point is software. Apple makes seamless software-hardware integration look deceptively easy – it is, in fact, nigh on impossible to do well. The Sonos app works well enough, certainly much better than it used to, and the networking of devices is usually relatively pain free. But in the app economy, consumers expect apps to work perfectly, not ‘well enough’. They expect high-quality user experiences, not functional experiences with lots of clicks and swipes, which is what Sonos can feel like when doing activities like building playlists. In spite of this, the biggest software threat for Sonos is the very fact that it is a standalone app. A Spotify user does not want to have one app to use on the train, or in the car, and a different one to use in the home. This is what Sonos effectively does right now. Sonos’s new CEO, Patrick Spence, knows this needs fixing but the question is whether Sonos can make the fix before Spotify and co come up with their own fix.
  • Just play: Traditional home audio just works. You press play and there’s music. Sonos stood out way ahead of the pack – an admittedly poor quality pack – for out-of-the-box simplicity, though even now it remains a marker of good practice. However, the convenience benchmark for connected home audio still falls far short of traditional home audio. Sonos works most of the time, emphasis on most of the time. Every so often there’s a network problem; sometimes this is due to a firmware issue, other times it is the network itself. The network glitches of course aren’t Sonos’s fault but that doesn’t matter to the user experience. A CD player works every time, Wi-Fi or not. That is the convenience benchmark Sonos and all other connected audio players must meet. But even without Wi-Fi issues, pressing play is not always so straight forward because Sonos’s app experience is not on a par with its hardware experience.
  • Sonos…sonos….sonos…: Ok, that was meant to be an Echo. Yes, Amazon’s Alexa vehicle has totally shaken up the connected home audio space. And with Amazon Music integration, it sets a standard for what an integrated hardware-software service experience should be. One voice command pulls up a song in an instant, no having to select which music source to choose. Yet Echo is far from the end game. In fact, voice is not an ideal interface for music. It’s fine for when you know exactly what you want to play, it’s also pretty good for when you want to select a lean back experience e.g. ‘play me music to work out’ – but it struggles with the more nuanced use cases that lie in between. Voice is another thing that Spence knows needs fixing.
  • Good enough: And of course, the Echo is not a super high-quality audio experience. It’s a decent audio experience. Sonos might grumble at otherwise sophisticated users tolerating modest audio playback, but ever since the advent of MP3s and iPod earbuds, convenience trumps quality for most when it comes to music. Even Sonos is guilty of playing the convenience game. Though its speaker quality has improved, Sonos speakers are still a long way off the audio specs audiophiles seek. And yet, even this isn’t the biggest challenge for Sonos. The core problem Sonos faces is that the likes of Amazon, Google and even Apple are not focused on winning the home audio race, instead they view smart speakers as a beachhead for controlling the smart home. That is the war, home audio is the first battle. Just as Apple used the iPod as the first step towards winning the personal digital life war, smart speakers are being used in the same way in the home.

Under attack from all sides

There are countless other challenges too. Sonos’s mission of filling rooms with audio might not actually be what most people want. A smart speaker in the kitchen and a sound bar under the TV might be enough for most, and those may be best served via a native hardware / software / content ecosystem like Amazon’s Prime. At the bottom end of the market, cheap Bluetooth speakers are flooding the market, while for those consumers who do value audio quality over convenience, incumbent audio companies like Bose, Panasonic and Sony are all upping their games. (In virtually all markets MIDiA tracks, Bose wireless speakers are more widely adopted than Sonos.)

Foundations for success

Sonos is also upping its game and tweaking its strategy. The recently launched PlayBase shows both high-quality product design and a recognition that TV is the next big battle Sonos needs to fight, having already made good ground with its PlayBar. Sonos needs all the strategic nous and product excellence it can get. It has the low-end and high-end squeezing it in a pincer movement, while the big tech companies carpet bomb its heartland simply to gain a foothold in the smart home. Five years ago, Sonos was the golden child of its market. Now it is a company with a very strong brand in need of some laser focussed positioning in a remarkably competitive field. Sonos has enviable foundations, it now needs to build a new house.

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Why 2014 Will Be the Year of Taking Digital Content into the Home

2014 is shaping up to be the year that the chasm that separates consumers digital content experiences and their home entertainment is bridged.  Amazon, Apple and Google have all embarked on a quest for the lower end of the market with Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Chromecast respectively.  Meanwhile a host of interesting new specialized music entrants are making waves, including Pure’s Jongo and forthcoming devices such as Fon’s Gramafon and Voxtok.  And then of course there’s the granddaddy of them all Sonos, that continues to go from strength to strength with an ever more diverse product range and list of integrated music services.

Regular readers will know that I have long held that the living room (along with the car) is one of the two final frontiers for digital music.  The great irony of digital music’s brief history to date is that it has transformed music from a highly social one-to-many experience across speakers into a highly insular and personal one delivered through ear buds on phones, MP3 players, tablets and PCs.  It is no coincidence that streaming music services desperately attempt to artificially recreate the missing social element with the blunt tool of pushing play data into people’s social streams.  To be clear this is not to take away from the personal consumption renaissance, but instead to illustrate that music is disappearing out of the living room and other home listening environments.  When the CD player disappears out of the home – and it is doing so at an accelerating rate – for many households music amplified music playback disappears too.  This is why digital music needs bringing into the living room, the den, the kitchen, right across the home.  It is a concept I first introduced in 2009 at Forrester, and revisited for Billboard early last year and again here later in 2013.

We Are Entering the Fourth Stage of Digital Content

Getting digital content into and throughout the home is the next stage of the evolution of web-based content.  The first stage was getting it there (Napster), the second was getting it onto consumers’ portable devices (iTunes), the third was providing frictionless access (YouTube, Spotify, Netflix) and now the fourth is getting it into the home.  This fourth stage is in many ways the most challenging.  All of the technology that underpinned the first three stages was computing related technology (PCs, MP3 players, smartphones, tablets).  All of those device types are a) highly personal and b) have evolved as computing enclaves within our homes.  Besides the niche of households that have smart TVs or web connected radios, the majority of the devices that the majority of households spend the majority of their prime media consumption time with (i.e. radios and TVs) remain separate and disconnected from the computing centric devices.  The fact that the computing devices are heralding a new paradigm of consumer behavior – media multitasking – only highlights the separation of the two device sets.  Indeed the vast majority of multitasking time is asynchronous (e.g. checking Facebook or email while watching TV) rather than being an extension of the primary media consumption behavior.

Efforts are Focused on the TV

Chromecast et al are all designed to bridge that divide, to turn our key non-computing home device – the TV – into a quasi computing device, so that we can bring our digital content experiences into the home entertainment fold.  This, as Amazon, Apple and Google all know, is where the battle for the digital entertainment wallet will be waged.  The downside for the music industry is that the TV device focus will naturally skew the dialogue to video content, which is why Sonos and the growing body of specialized music home devices are so important.  If the industry relies too heavily upon TV centric devices to lead the home charge, it will be left fighting for scraps rather than being centre stage.

Context is Everything

However labels, music services and hardware companies (including Amazon, Apple and Google) already need to start thinking beyond just getting digital music into the home.  They need to think about what extra relevance and context home music experiences should deliver.  The likelihood is that the rich UIs of PC, tablet and smartphone apps will have to recede, in the near term at least, to allow simple, elegant device experiences.  In effect they will need to almost get out of the way of the consumer and the music.  In some respects this echoes the ‘zero UI’ approach of app-of-the-moment Secret.  Which in turn means that curation and programming will become the key differentiation points.  Not in the sense of ‘here are three artists we think you’ll like based on your prior listening’ but real programming of the type that has helped radio remain the single most widespread music consumption platform throughout the digital onslaught.

2014 will be the year that the divide between the computing devices and the traditional entertainment devices in the home will start to be bridged.  But that is simply the enabler not the end game.  It is once the divide has been bridged that the real fun begins.

Sonos and the Digital Era Music Customer

Sonos recently announced its Play1 wifi speaker, a product that could be a great asset for the music industry if it is utilized properly.  Sonos have been pioneering the multi-room digital audio market for years now and continue to have a fairly clear run at things with neither Apple nor Google showing any truly concerted intent, nor any of the traditional CE companies sufficiently upping their games.  But for all its innovation excellence Sonos has predominately remained the domain of the higher spending tech enthusiast (though significantly below the audiophile segment).  With the Play 1 priced at $199/£169 Sonos is making a play for a much more mainstream flavor of customer and in doing so could help the music industry create a revenue beachhead among a new generation of music customers.

The Digital Era Consumer

We sit on the cusp of what will be a crucial five years, a period that will determine whether consumer music revenues will return to long term growth or instead migrate downwards to create a smaller market concentrated around high spending enthusiasts.  The first wave of digital music revenue growth was all about monetizing the highly engaged early adopters.  Revenues still shrank because, among many other reasons – not least piracy, these consumers were shifting their spending from albums to tracks. But at least it was a clear transition path.  Now streaming subscriptions are doing a solid job of migrating many of those same consumers back up to higher spending.  What they are not doing such a great job of is bringing new buyers into the fold.

Consumer recorded music revenues are facing a demographic pincer movement with older customers falling out of the habit of buying music (and not going digital) while many younger digital natives simply never acquired the habit of buying music.  Subscription services can, and should, be the natural entry point for these consumers but 9.99 remains a key stumbling block.  Now a new opportunity is emerging as these customers age, their lifestyles change and their disposable income increases.  The first cohort of Digital Era Consumers (i.e. those born since the late 1980’s who have had digital experiences since their teens) are now in their mid twenties and beginning to settle down with steady jobs, move in with partners, get their first apartment etc.  All of which most typically corresponds with spending less time out and more time at home.  Enter the opportunity for subscription services and devices like the Play1.

While older consumers have been abandoning the living room hi-fi in favour of spending ever more money on the TV and various boxes below it, Digital Era Consumer have less entrenched relationships with the TV and linear programmed viewing.  Get the timing, product mix and pricing right and there is a fantastic opportunity to persuade these consumers to start investing in next generation home hi-fi.  The sweet spot for music spending is the intersection of two lines: music engagement on average declines with age while spending power increases.  Digital Era Consumers represent that point where the two lines meet.  This is the time to ensure some of that spending is diverted from home TV technology to home music technology, thus establishing the foundations for future music spending.

The Play1 is such a good fit for this strategy because it delivers  a genuinely high quality experience (especially when used in a sensibly positioned stereo pair) for an eminently affordable price.  Bundle that device with 3 or 6 months worth of a free trial of a music subscription and suddenly you have a highly compelling holistic music solution for the home.  Of course this is not just a Sonos opportunity, bundling music subscriptions with affordable digital home audio equipment simply has to be the next step of digital music product strategy.  (And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that Beats will most likely bundle their service with headphone sales).

Just Press Play…

The simplicity of user journey will be key though.  Relying on a consumer to buy a device, then go home and register for a subscription and then to hook that service up to the device just won’t cut it.  Retailers will need to be given allocations of subscription accounts that will be auto associated with a device at point of sale, where the consumer will also give their email address.  The subscription service will have to be natively integrated into the controller app (though not necessarily the circuitry of the hardware as Spotify has been doing as this limits future consumer choice). When the consumer gets home and hooks the device up to power and wi-fi the music service starts automatically.  The experience really should be as simple as ‘play’.

For CE retailers this is an opportunity to drive a new era of music hi-fi sales (particularly as the docking station segment seems to be struggling).  For music retailers – those that are left – it is a chance to create a new relationship with consumers.  Take the example of HMV in the UK who are currently locked in a Quixotic battle with Apple.  Trying to compete as a download store is fighting yesterday’s battle.  The traditional retailers lost that fight and reopening hostilities now is only going to serve to expend scarce resources. But a bundled hardware-subscription offering could bring in swathes of new Christmas / Holiday season customers, baked into a long term relationship not a one-off transaction.

It is time for the record labels and music services to invest in retailer partnerships to ensure that devices like Sonos’ Play1 deliver exactly that proposition to Digital Era Consumers: Play. For a device to be able to play unlimited music out of the box is a compelling proposition and a genuine opportunity to drive subscriptions out of the early adopter niche they currently occupy.

Spotify Connect: First Take

Spotify today announced an in-home strategy called Spotify Connect.  Spotify will be built itself into the chipsets of a number of digital home audio manufacturers’ audio systems and speakers, including Argon, Bang & Olufsen, Denon, Hama, Marantz, Philips, Pioneer, Revo, Teufel and Yamaha.  Integrated devices will have a Spotify Connect logo, sort of like Intel Inside for music.  It’s a smart move of the sort that I have been advocating for years.

The living room is in many ways the forgotten front in the digital music equation, and ground is being lost at an alarming rate, particularly consider it is also the home front. It was once the case that people used to focus most of their living room hardware spend on music audio equipment, changing their hi-fi simply because the manufacturer had changed the in-vogue colour from chrome to black etc.  Now though, that spend has migrated to the TV, which has got progressively bigger with an ever bigger pile of boxes underneath it.  The hi-fi is typically either a dusty old midi system, a docking station or nothing at all.  Music is disappearing out of the living room, and for all the possibilities connected TVs may present, the music industry does not want to rely upon a device that is designed for watching – not listening – as its prime living room device.

Back in 2009 I wrote a report at Forrester that laid out a theoretical concept for an in-home music service-integrated device.  I argued that this device needed to be able to deliver music even when offline; an extensive catalogue as soon as the device was turned on; and great discovery tools.  Spotify Connect ticks all of those boxes.  I also argued that the device should leverage telco partnerships, integration home audio into subsidized routers – I still want to see that happen.

This appears to be being seen as something of a competitor to Apple’s AirPlay home streaming technology but in reality they’ll not be overly concerned as paying Spotify users are such a tiny subset of iTunes customers (approximately 1% of the total iTunes customer base in fact).  And for as long as 9.99 remains the leading price point those proportions will hold largely true.  Besides, Apple have never shown the greatest appetite for AirPlay as a music play (though they should).

Sonos is the company who should be more concerned at this.  Sonos has done an incredible job of creating and building the in-home streaming audio market and continues to go from strength to strength.  However key to its longer-term value proposition is streaming music service integration.  (It first integrated Naspter back in 2007.) Now the biggest on-demand subscription service on the planet has just become native on a plethora of competitor device portfolios.   Sonos has always prided itself on being service-agnostic.  We are about to find out just how much consumers consider that to be an asset, particularly when many of the Spotify Connect devices will pushing at a slightly lower end of the market.

From the device companies’ perspective this is an interesting move: they’re making the bet that Spotify is going to be around for a long time.  Hardware R&D and marketing cycles are much longer than for software, so these companies will have been working on this for some time and will be planning years ahead.  Spotify will obviously have made assurances and guarantees to their partners, but as today’s news that Microsoft acquired Nokia shows, the technology company landscape can change in an instant.

All in all though, a welcome move, and hopefully the start of a wider industry push for reclaiming some of the living room.  I say ‘some’ because much of that ground is lost for good.  This is a window of opportunity that is closing fast.  Now is the time to seize the remainder of the opportunity.

View From the Top: 10 Streaming CEOs on 2012 and 2013

A special feature for the end of what has a been a big and often controversial year for streaming.  Here are the views of 10 CEO’s of of the top streaming services and of the leading multi-room streaming system, on the following two questions:

1 – What was the most important thing to happen to the streaming market in 2012

2 – What is the most important issue that the streaming market must address in 2013

daniel-ekDaniel Ek, CEO and Founder – Spotify

2012: Growth – both in terms of the number of people who are now paying for music again and the growth in payments back to artists as a result. 2012 was the year when people realised the future growth in the music industry is coming from streaming services.

2013: The abundance of choice. How do you make sense out of 20 million songs?

axel-dauchezAxel Dauchez, CEO – Deezer

2012: The streaming market continues to progress at breathtaking speed and we’ve seen some incredibly positive developments in 2012. Most exciting for us, is the fact that targeted online content has developed into something much, much more sophisticated than just algorithm-generated recommendations.  We’re seeing the focus now shift towards personalised music curation. At Deezer we’ve gone a step further, developing really bold new product innovations that are designed to put integration with apps, social media and digital services at the forefront of our new user experience. Our aim is to help music fans discover and share music and promote new artists.  That’s why our local editorial teams work hard to create suggested playlists and recommendations to give music fans a more personal and individual service.

2013: Getting as many people as possible to find out about services such as ours! We’re convinced that the future of digital music will rely on music discovery and re-establishing the emotional connection between music and people. Our mantra is to help people rediscover music, through recommendations by real people all over the world. Our locally-based editorial teams share new music from upcoming local artists, not just in their own countries, but with the other editorial guys around the world – another example of Deezer taking music even further regardless of boundaries. Now our biggest challenge is to get people everywhere to find out how intuitive – and fun! – it is to use Deezer, and we hope to make great strides on this in 2013.

jon-irwinJon Irwin, CEO – Rhapsody

2012: Looking back, 2012 was the year that streaming became mainstream. We’ve seen a rapid evolution since streaming music was freed from the PC and became a constant companion via smartphones, to this year, when streaming made its way into the living room and into cars—the two places where people listen to the most music. Streaming services are everywhere! This heightened awareness has resulted in more consumers embracing the model and eschewing their old beliefs around the need to own their media; which has given rise to more investment in the sector, innovation around business models and M&A activity. After spending the past 10 years forging the path and taking those proverbial arrows, we are finally seeing the realization of streaming music’s promise.

2013: The most important issue of the mainstreaming of streaming is that artists are paying more attention to how they’re being paid on the various streaming services. Artists are seeing a lot of streams, but are not seeing a lot of cash for them. This makes them justifiably nervous that streaming services are getting popular at the expense of digital sales–and in some cases withholding their music from streaming–a detriment to the growth of these services, just as they become popular. The solution of the problem is twofold. First, we need to do a much better job at education about how artists are compensated and creating transparency around where streaming revenues flow. Streaming services have a responsibility to innovate around artist compensation to get more money into artists’ pockets and help them understand how their music is being consumed. I think there is a lot more that we can—and should—do to ensure that artists are fairly compensated for their music and are extracting maximum value from streaming services.

steve-purdhamSteve Purdham, CEO and Founder Investor – We7

2012: Two things, in the UK, the silent landmark in 2012 was the launch of the BBC iPlayer Radio app this has the potential in 2013 to be the catalyst for mainstream adoption of streaming, without the need to know its streaming and secondly the driving momentum of smart phone and tablet adoption reaching what I believe was a tipping point in 2012.

2013: In 2013 the dream would be easier licensing, more flexible pricing plans removing the artificial technical and commercial barriers with  the ability to demonstrate clear ROI’s but in reality for any of the models to work they need the true internet scale that is possible and to achieve that we need to find the means to enable mass market adoption. This is the elusive jewel in the crown that we all should be really seeking to solve.

ben-druryBen Drury, CEO and Founder – 7 Digital

2012: Streaming cloud locker services from Google and Amazon

2013: Globalised rights

 

 


drew-larnerDrew Larner, CEO – Rdio

2012: Social media has had a profound impact on the way music is shared, which is something we anticipated when we first built Rdio. 2012 also saw the entry of services into global markets (with our own service expanding to 17 countries). The continued growth of mobile around the world with faster speeds and better phones also contributed to the rise of music streaming in 2012.

2013: Awareness is still a key factor moving into 2013. We’ve seen a big shift in 2012 with more services opening up globally, but we aren’t truly mainstream yet. Innovating on discovery is a key focus as well. With all the songs in the world at your fingertips, creating fun ways to decide what to play next is a challenge. We built Rdio with human powered music discovery at the heart of the experience and we’ll continue to enhance discovery across platforms moving into 2013. Another key issue moving into the new year is the our responsibility to the artist community. We’ve started to address this through the recently launched Artist Program and will continue to work closely with artists to help them create new revenue streams and tap into new opportunities generated by the streaming music model.


nick-masseyNick Massey, CEO – Rara

2012: The introduction of frictionless music sharing across social networks has led to a massive increase in the adoption of music streaming in 2012.  62.6 million tracks were played 22 billion times across Facebook in the first 12 months of open graph coming to the network.  In the UK UMG reported that 7.5bn tracks had been streamed in 2012 to mid November; a 700% increase on the 1.1bn tracks streamed in 2011.

2013:  Despite the huge rise in popularity of streaming, there’s a lot more work to do before the mass market transitions from music ownership to the access based streaming music services.  Increasing adoption of tablet computing is making it easier for people to consume digital entertainment content while high speed broadband and 4G mobile networks deliver more data to us faster.  However it will be the ways in which streaming services enable simple but engaging access to music through recommendations, sharing and curation which will be key to driving wider consumer uptake in 2013.

mike-bebelMike Bebel, Head of Music – Nokia

2012: 2012 was a year when many of the mainstream music service providers realized that the typical mobile music consumer is seeking more effortless and delightful entertainment. This is something we had already understood and rolled out to over 20 markets around the globe with Nokia Music, the most satisfying and compelling mobile music experience to date.

2013: In 2013, we expect others will follow our lead and work hard to remove barriers to usage and some have already announced that they also need to solve the consumer issues that we identified long ago. Rest assured that Nokia Music will continue to innovate and deliver the music that people love in the most satisfying and intriguing mobile experiences. We welcome all to discover and enjoy it.

espen-lautizenEspen Lauritzen, CEO – WiMP

2012:  The beginning of consolidation in the industry, which I believe we will see more of in the coming year.

2013: The big discussion on sustainability of the business model throughout the value chain.

 


john-macfarlaneJohn MacFarlane, Founder and CEO – Sonos 

2012:  In 2012 we’ve seen streaming services go mainstream. With the proliferation of innovative services such as Spotify, RDIO, Pandora, Rhapsody and QQ, we now have access to more music than ever before. At Sonos we’re dedicated to providing music lovers with the simplest way to enjoy all the music on earth in every room and our partnership with such popular music services has ultimately seen our customers consume twice as much music.

2013: 2013 must bring a healthy debate on the value chain of artist to consumer within streaming, and it’s essential that this is resolved to ensure the artist gets paid and the consumer gets a great experience. We are just beginning this dialogue but it absolutely needs to be continued in earnest over the next year.

My take

2012: It was streaming’s big year.  Finally the confluence of ubiquitous connectivity, and smartphones and tablets going mainstream has created the necessary market conditions for streaming to step up to the plate.  It is still very early days and streaming revenues are dwarfed by download and CD revenue, but finally there is the glimmer of a ‘digital plan B’. The artist streaming debate was a useful coming of age for artists, but too much data has too often been misinterpreted, creating a confused marketplace.

2013: 9.99 is not a mass market price point, somehow (bundling, discounts, pricing innovation, partnerships etc) that price must come down to drive wider adoption.  Also the value chain must work out a transparency solution that can work within the restrictions set by commercial relationships.  Artists may never get the full picture, but it is in the interest of all parties that they get as much of it as is possible to help them make informed opinions. Finally, the elephant in the room remains YouTube.  More catalogue than any of the other services, video (of course), great functionality, on every smartphone and tablet, and all for absolutely nothing.  That creates a playing field that is anything but level for the rest.

In Conversation With Sonos’ John MacFarlane

I recently had the opportunity to catch up Sonos’s CEO John MacFarlane, the video of our conversation is below.

In the video John and I discuss various key issues facing the digital music market, including:

  • what the next generation of music services will need to deliver
  • The role of experience in music products
  • getting digital music into the living room
  • Facebook’s content dashboard strategy

John is an insightful guy and hopefully this video will give you a sense of his vision.

Samsung and Meeting The Device Use Orbit Challenge

Two pieces of Samsung related news hit the wires this week:

Samsung might not be one of the big players in digital music but this mixed service portfolio approach indicates a strategic pragmatism that is crucial for anyone trying to compete with Digital Music’s Triple A of Apple, Android and Apple.

But the approach – and 7 Digital’s broader mobile success – is also indicative of an increasingly important strategic imperative for digital music services: namely navigating consumers multiple and interrelated device orbits (see figure).

Ubiquitous connectivity is, to put it mildly, some way off and the stream isn’t going to fully replace the download anytime soon.   And yet, more people are using more devices to listen to music in more places than ever before, and these usage patterns are creating an increasingly complex mesh of usage orbits.  Consumers are becoming more and more adept at developing specific and distinct use cases for their growing number of devices.

Historically, music allowed itself to be pulled across different devices, responding to consumer needs.  This was a perfectly adequate first stage but now music services need to do more than just deliver music to where consumers are.  To prosper in the next stage, music services need to tailor music experiences and value propositions both to specific use cases and be designed for co-existence within multiple, interrelated device orbits.

Coexistence Strategies

Of course some services will hope to simultaneously address every device use orbit (good luck on getting the licenses for that).  But the smart services will design nuanced co-existence strategies that ensure the core use case not only fits alongside a consumer’s wider digital music activity but establishes itself as an indispensible complement to it.  For example getting onto Sonos’ new Play:3 will likely be a more valuable route to the living room than trying to develop integrated hardware from scratch.  Similarly delivering mobile Facebook playlist support and integrating discovery tools like the Hype Machine will prove every bit as important to the consumer experiences as securing the rights to deliver the music itself.

Consumers will continue to have more devices, more content and more music service choices. The challenge that music services and device manufacturers such as Samsung must meet is helping join those digital dots by navigating consumers’ device use orbits.