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Sonos in talks to add Roku's voice assistant to its devices

It’s a partnership of multimedia underdogs.

Sonos One

The Sonos One speaker may someday get even chattier.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sonos and Roku may soon become closer buddies.

The two device makers are in preliminary talks about integrating Roku's new entertainment software, Roku Connect and Roku Entertainment Assistant, into Sonos' audio gadgets, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Such a partnership would potentially allow voice commands to be sent to a Roku TV or Roku streamer via a nearby Sonos One speaker.

"The discussions are in the early stages," the person said. That means any announcement from the home-entertainment companies could be months away. There's also a possibility that the talks will break down and no agreement will be reached.

But a deal would offer a boost to the Roku Entertainment Assistant, the streaming-video company's new voice assistant, which is slated to come out next year. Roku Connect software helps devices more easily pair wirelessly to each other, such as a TV with speakers, and allows these devices to be controlled using voice commands. Both platforms were first announced in January.

When asked for comment about the talks, Sonos spokeswoman Laura Morarity said the audio company "won't speculate on any potential future partnerships." She then added: "That said, Sonos is committed to bringing the voice services our customers want to our platform. So naturally, we're open to having discussions with any number of companies crafting innovative voice experiences."

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If a partnership deal is reached, it could be beneficial for customers of both Sonos and Roku, giving them more options and easier pairing between both companies' devices. The team-up may also help Sonos and Roku stand out against the tech giants including Apple, Google and Amazon, which all offer their own voice assistants, speakers and TV hardware.

Sonos, a maker of higher-end speakers and amps, has said it's open to a broad array of streaming-music services and home-entertainment platforms. It already integrated Amazon's Alexa voice assistant into its devices and is working on adding Google Assistant, too. Throwing in Roku's assistant could let Sonos offer its customers even more choices.

Roku, a streaming-video devices maker, could gain from a deal by bringing on a top-tier audio player to its newest software platforms, sending a positive signal to other companies to join. Also, if Sonos agrees to pay for Roku's software, it would help Roku's push to make more revenue from ads and services and be less reliant on its hardware sales.

As an example of how the new partnership would work, you would ask a Sonos One speaker to search for TV shows, which would then play on your Roku TV, the person said. Roku last month announced it would offer a similar feature using Google Assistant and a paired Google Home speaker.

Both companies have notable strengths they bring to the table. Roku in August said it had 22 million active accounts, up 46 percent from the year earlier and said about one in four smart TVs sold in the US are Roku TVs make by TCL, Sharp and others. Its services revenue nearly doubled in its latest quarter, outpacing revenue growth from its hardware sales.

Roku has also survived -- and thrived -- despite tech giants jumping into the set-top box business, with gear including Apple TV, Google's Chromecast and Amazon's Fire TV.

Sonos, which went public in August, has used its top-tier audio equipment to foster a loyal fan base. In September, it said 38 percent of its product registrations last year were from existing customers adding another Sonos product in their homes, not replacements or upgrades. However, the company posted weaker revenue in its latest quarter, due to lower hardware sales.

"It seems like a low risk for Sonos. There's more upside than not," Carolina Milanesi, an analyst for Creative Strategies, said about potentially partnering with Roku.

She said it would allow Sonos to offer more options for its customers while also not endangering its relationships with Amazon or Google, since Sonos would continue offering their digital assistants.

An agreement could bolster Roku's credibility in audio, where it's not a major player despite a recent push into building speakers, Milanesi added.

"I think adding the Sonos brand to that experience will definitely help them," she said.

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