By Sean Ross of @RossOnRadio
It happened again the other day.
Somebody asked me to recommend a radio station.
When I suggested a broadcast station this person might like, he asked me, “So can I just type that into Pandora?”
He can’t now. But why not?
There’s a clear benefit to Pandora Radio from its asset purchase of Rdio. The latter service, like Spotify, had already negotiated label deals that allowed on-demand streaming, not merely the ability to hear a chosen artist or song eventually as part of a custom station. While millions of Pandora users are happy with that arrangement, there are other users with expectations forged by Spotify or YouTube.
But Rdio also came with “radio,” a functionality in which Pandora seems less interested. A handful (seemingly less than 30) Cumulus stations were available through Rdio, making it the rare destination to offer both on-demand music streaming and broadcast radio. When Rdio itself is discontinued, Cumulus Media says that the streaming deal for its broadcast radio stations will end as well.
Any marriage between Pandora and broadcast radio for music seems unlikely. Pandora has made it clear over the years that it comes not to praise broadcast radio, but to succeed it. Cumulus itself engaged with Pandora less than a week ago over broadcast’s strength.
And yet, I remain resolute in my belief of many years’ standing that, were both parties to ever acknowledge the need, Pandora (or Spotify) would be an awesome vehicle for a select number of radio stations with similar values (e.g., musical discovery, lower spotload). For a station that offers a unique experience, such as a niche format or just being “best in category” for a mainstream one, Pandora or Spotify would be a new location at a very big mall, and one with a certain number of listeners who can’t easily be nudged to other listening portals, no matter how worthy their offerings.
What’s in it for Pandora? The produced, hosted broadcast radio experience still commands a significant volume of online listening, despite its often clunky online simulcast execution. Pandora has likely staked a claim on many of those radio listeners who never wanted anything more than lots of continuous music, but some who value greater engagement are now likely along for the ride just as a matter of convenience. As with Rdio or new streaming partner “Serial,” broadcasters would bring established skill and functionality to such a partnership.
Broadcasters would have to give some consideration to what type of stations would work on Pandora. They wouldn’t be stations with 14 minutes of spots (or filler) per hour, but those stations are unlikely to work anywhere on line indefinitely. Even radio aggregator TuneIn’s new premium service is populated by pureplays such as .977 Radio and Big R Radio because few broadcast stations offer a commercial-free feed. (At least that number is up from none, thanks to efforts like Emmis’ Where Hip Hop Lives app .)
Meanwhile, the distinctions in functionality between various audio entities, if consumers ever truly understood them, are likely to further dissolve in favor of one-stop shopping. The Pandora/Rdio deal, the Google Play Music/Songza alliance, and the deal that reconfigured iTunes Radio and Beats Music into the new Apple Music are likely to spur more consolidation between the remaining players. TuneIn’s content deals as it seeks to become Netflix for radio are likely to continue. Aggregators gonna aggregate. And you can only hope that broadcasters create a similar barrage of their own announcements.
It will also be interesting to see how Pandora’s functionality continues to evolve. The ability to stream-on-demand within Pandora will likely reveal a certain number of their own listeners who don’t want a custom station built around Adele, but just the ability to stream “Hello” now. The good news for Pandora is that it has insulated itself from that answer, whatever it turns out to be.