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On the eve of the new Apple TV: Why Sonos and TiVo need to merge to survive

There is a massive wave of set top boxes coming and we are currently waiting on the latest, and arguably most significant, update to Apple TV. Apple is in the music business as well and coming up with ever better ways to listen to music on Apple TV would be natural. The whole cord-cutting trend represents a growing risk for TiVo which is still largely tied to conventional cable services because its leading DVR capability really has no value for someone that doesn’t have programming to record.

I use both TiVo and Sonos and have since both firms started. Both companies represent the best of what they do. Sonos for whole-home music and TiVo for the watching and in-home distribution of traditional cable-based video content. But together they could be so much more.

Let me explain.


If you are roaming around your home doing projects or have a party the whole-home party mode that Sonos uniquely has is amazing. The same song on the same note in all of the rooms is a godsend. If you have a Sonos Playbar you can take the sound from the connected TV and also simulcast it to every other Sonos speaker in the house including another sound bar.

But video isn’t as easy. For instance we have a TV in the master bedroom and one in the master bathroom. We like to watch the morning news as we dress and shower and while the TiVo extenders in both rooms are streaming the same content getting them synced is virtually impossible. And if we pause or fast forward one of the streams we screw up whatever level of sync we had so painstakingly established.

A workaround is to use a wireless HDMI solution and pair the TVs together but that is just one more layered piece of tech that my wife has to learn and she is not a fan of the complexity we already have. Another workaround is to just use the sound on the Sonos and move that to the bedroom but then you have to run into the bedroom to zap the commercials and see what the heck they are talking about.

But if you could link the two TiVo systems together so they’d sync and control both from one room for those of us that move around that would be a godsend and Sonos has that solution but only for music.


The problem for both companies is product breadth. Sonos for instance doesn’t have the breadth to do either outdoor speakers–one of its largest unmet requests—or to move to more advanced speaker configurations (like 7.1). TiVo desperately needs some kind of set top box solution so that if the cord-cutter trend becomes the norm it isn’t fundamentally out of business. With pooled resources both companies should have the ability to get broader product coverage more easily.

Cool Stuff

One of the cool things that the firms could do together is that when news breaks automatically fire up the TV connected to the sound bar playing music and go to the news event. Right now a variety of music services like Slacker have this feature where they break your music for news and with an IR repeater the TiVo or Sonos bar could turn the TV on and then you could see the news flash, then it would turn the TV off after the flash was over and resume music. You could also tie home security systems or a video conferencing system into the solution so that when someone is at your door you could see who it was from wherever a TV was or when someone wanted to do a video call the system would ping you at which ever TV you were standing near.

If you were listening to music and there was a music video or a video that was selected to best go to it the Sonos and TiVo together could provide that experience. Imagine at a party having synced music and videos playing all over your house or your photos or personal videos synced the same way. Yes you could do this by daisy chaining wired or wireless HDMI repeaters but it would be nasty to maintain and Sonos and TiVo together could do this far more easily.

Wrapping Up

Both Sonos and TiVo are facing unprecedented and increasing competition. With Apple likely to create a single solution that could eventually, with cord-cutting, put massive new pressure on both firms it may be time for them to combine to better address their individual and collective threats. If they did it soon they’d be ready long before Apple could pull Apple TV fully together but the market has far more missed opportunities like this than successes. We’ll see.

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