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Sonos plans to release two new products before October

Let the guessing games begin

Welcome to Lowpass, a newsletter about the future of entertainment and the next big hardware platforms, including smart TVs, ambient computing and AR / VR. This week: Sonos had a very good holiday quarter, and the Plex logo is popping up on TV remotes.

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Sonos execs celebrate a return to normal-ish

You know a company is doing well when its executives can make some time on their earnings call to talk trash about the competition. Case in point: Sonos CEO Patrick Spence didn’t have to field too many critical questions during his company’s earnings call Wednesday, so he dished out against some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

“Seeing what's emerged recently from Apple, I could not be more excited or confident about the product roadmap we have,” Spence said, referencing Apple’s recently-relaunched HomePod speakers. Without naming Google and Amazon by name, he added: “The Big Tech players, we just haven't seen them doing anything interesting.”

The reason for Spence’s optimism: Sonos generated revenue of $672.6 million during the holiday quarter, far above what analysts had expected. The revenue bump was in large part due to Sonos resuming the kind of holiday promotions it paused over the past few years due to supply chain shortages and other pandemic uncertainties.

Sonos execs did use yesterday’s earnings to celebrate what can best be described as a return to normal-ish. “This quarter was a step in the direction of normalization,” as CEO Patrick Spence put it in his prepared remarks. And with that, the company is also back on its quest to seize a good chunk of the global $96 billion audio hardware market, according to Spence.

New product launches are a key part of that, and while execs didn’t announce anything new this week, they did give us an idea what we should expect over the next few months.

  • Sonos plans to enter four new product categories in the coming years, including one this fiscal year. This means that we’ll see a whole new Sonos product — meaning not a regular speaker or soundbar or sub — before the end of September.

  • Sonos execs have long said that they want to launch two products every year. During Wednesday’s call, Spence clarified that we’ll see two more products this year, in addition to the Sub Mini that launched in the company’s fiscal Q1.

  • Whatever the new product category may be (perhaps those long-awaited headphones?), Sonos execs don’t believe it to be an overnight game changer for the company. “We don’t expect an explosive start,” Spence said. “Our portfolio (of existing products) continues to be the main driver (of revenue).”

Sonos execs also shared a few other interesting tidbits during yesterday’s call, which included insights into Ikea’s business, and an update on its voice assistant.

  • Ikea introduced a new Sonos speaker in December, but sales of Sonos-powered products seem to be down at the furniture giant, with the “partner products and other revenue” section down 32% year-over-year.

  • “It's been a little bit harder for Ikea coming out of the pandemic,” Spence said. However, the two companies are still committed to working on future products together.

  • Spence didn’t reveal how many users the company’s voice assistant has, but he did say it is catching up to the competition. In the seven months since Sonos launched voice control, it has reached “50% of Alexa total enablements,” according to Spence. “It is trending to become the number one voice solution for Sonos both in the U.S. and France,” he added.

Speaking of Sonos: I just wrote a profile of CFO Eddie Lazarus for The Information. Before stepping into the CFO role at the speaker maker, Lazarus clerked at the Supreme Court, wrote a screenplay and two books, bantered with Jon Stewart … and yes, sued Google and won. You can read all about him here.

Plex wants you to press that button

The other day, I was spending some quality time scouring FCC filings (I know, my kids also tell me I need to find better hobbies) when I stumbled across an unusual TV set: The Jensen 40-inch DLED TV is a television set optimized for van life, as the company primarily caters to RV owners.

The TV is also among the first TV sets sold in the US to feature VIDAA, a smart TV operating system developed by Hisense. The Chinese TV maker has primarily been using VIDAA for its own TV sets overseas, but is now also bringing it to North America, both on first- and third-party hardware. But what really stood out to me was the remote control for this TV, because it features a Plex button.

  • I’ve written about these branded buttons before: TV remotes have become a key battleground for streaming services looking to acquire customers, and TV makers keep adding more and more such buttons to their remotes because of the chance to make a few extra bucks.

  • Keeping tabs on these buttons also gives you a good sense of which streaming services are willing to shell out some money to accelerate growth. Tubi, for instance, began paying for branded buttons soon after Fox acquired it.

  • My understanding is that this is more of a limited test for Plex, and not even the first one: Earlier this year, a Reddit user noted that their new Hisense TV also had a Plex button, alongside a whopping 11 other branded buttons (as one commenter noted: “Your new TV remote has ALL the buttons”).

Branded button overload has become a bit of a pain point for customers, who keep accidentally pressing buttons to services they don’t even use. However, Plex is one of those few services that may actually get a pass for this. Thanks to its media server roots, the company has a dedicated following, to the point where some users have actually remapped their TV remotes, and then bought stickers on Etsy, to make their own Plex buttons.

What else

Meta has completed the acquisition of Within. The maker of the VR fitness app Supernatural is now officially part of Meta.

Warner Bros. Discovery will keep Discovery+ alive after all, despite recent announcements that the service would be integrated with HBO Max into a new service dubbed … Max. I need more coffee.

Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming service is shrinking. The service is losing 50 games in February after dozens more were removed over the past two months.

Atmosphere TV has raised another $65 million. The out-of-home streaming service is now valued more than $1 billion.

Meta wants to open up Horizon Worlds to teens. I mean, teens and kids have been on this service since forever, but sure … Meta also has a goal of 500,000 monthly active Horizon users for the first half of this year, which is not all that much.

Netflix rolls out paid sharing in Canada, New Zealand, Portugal and Spain. Members on higher-priced plans will be able to pay even more to keep their distant relatives connected to their accounts.

Disney+ lost 2.4 million subscribers in Q4. India giveth, and India taketh away.

Sling TV now has a FAST service. The Dish subsidiary rolled out a free, ad-supported streaming tier in its app this week.

That’s it

Thanks for reading, and sorry for keeping this short: I’ve got a busy day ahead of me!

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