Pandora, the darling of the US online radio marketplace, recently rolled out genre stations – format based listening channels that enable fans to simply choose a channel and listen to a professionally programmed stream of music. The channels have been in the background for a while but have recently been given more prominence online. Apparently, Pandora is finding out that some listeners want the simple option. Interactivity may be too much work for some listeners.
“I think there’s a huge percentage of the population that will always love what the Pandora brand stands for, which is an approach where you start with some artist names and song votes and build your own channel.” says Kurt Hanson, Founder and CEO of AccuRadio, an Internet radio service that offers channels that emphasize professional programming and some, but less interactivity. “But there’s another segment of the market — an older segment, more mainstream — that will prefer an approach that doesn’t take as much effort.”
A factor that may be driving Pandora’s new promotion of “genre stations” is the prospect of Internet radio in cars. Pandora has b een leading the industry into automobiles, announcing deals with Ford, Pioneer and Alpine this year. In car listening is the final frontier for Internet radio – the place where broadcast radio dominates and lots of folks tune in. It remains a huge untapped potential for audience growth for Pandora and other Internet radio stations.
Several recent articles have questioned the survival of broadcast radio in the face of Internet radio. In an article last month, the NY Times pointed to the fact that Internet radio stations like Pandora, Slacker and Last.fm allow listeners to customize their listening experience as one reason that Internet radio has grown in popularity with listeners. New devices that enable in-car listening will make listening even easier – Pioneer and Alpine are two manufacturers that have introduced new in-car devices. Other companies have introduced apps that make it easier to use your iPhone to stream your favorite Internet radio station in your car.
Perhaps the most ironic article I have read about the growing challenge that Internet radio presents to traditional AM/FM listening is one in AutoTrader.com, owned by Cox Enterprises – the same company that owns 86 radio stations. The article asks:
“are we witnessing the gradual death of traditional broadcast radio? Far from being shackled to, say, Clear Channel’s corporate playlist or a DJ’s whims, Internet radio stations put users in the driver’s seat and allow them to create unique channels based on criteria such as artist, genre, or song. Yet, a savvy, $4.99 app from Livio Radio, which turns the iPhone into a digital receiver capable of receiving over 42,000 AM/FM and Internet stations, will give users access to more broadcast radio stations than ever before, right down to tiny local stations clear across the country.”
While it’s a little strange that this article appears in a Cox owned publication, the point is right on – if streaming technology is viewed as simply an additional channel to the AM/FM dial, then Internet radio presents not a threat but an opportunity to radio broadcasters. Already in the business of producing audio content, stations now have the opportunity to extend their audience base and increase both listeners and time spent listening on a new channel.
Here’s the thing. Internet radio isn’t going away.
But that doesn’t have to be a threat to broadcasters who are willing to extend their platform and offer streaming as an option to their listeners. The mistake broadcasters make is thinking that they have a choice when it comes to streaming, and proclaim streaming as too expensive. If a station’s listener wants to listen online, and that station is not offering its programming online, they will find another station online to listen to.
Isn’t that a good enough reason to stream?
RadioTime has announced another product that will integrate it’s software into devices – this time with BMW and MINI. The MINI Connected option features a web radio function based on the RadioTime directory that leverages the iPhone’s Internet connection to tune to thousands of AM/FM and Internet-only radio stations worldwide.
Drivers of MINIs will be able to plug their iPhones into a standard USB port and then use the car’s existing controls to select from Internet radio stations in the RadioTime directory.
RadioTime CEO Bill Moore says, “Accessing Internet radio used to require patching a smartphone into a car’s existing sound system, and fiddling with a smartphone’s controls. Now, instead of looking at your smartphone screen, you can use the dash display and MINI Joystick to tune to web radio. Radio has always been an integral part of our cars, and we’re opening up the world of music, news, talk, sports and entertainment that only web radio can offer.”
This could well be the year that listening in cars begins to contribute to overall audience growth for Internet radio. Earlier this year Pandora announced deals with Pioneer for a Pandora enabled navigation system that will detect iPhones and iTouches and put the user’s Pandora settings on the nav screen, and a deal with Ford for its Sync in-car communication system.
There’s a lot of buzz about Internet radio in cars at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. Pandora is in the middle of most of it. They have announced a deal with Pioneer that will make it easier for Pandora listeners to use their iPhones to listen in their cars. Pioneer will market a Pandora enabled navigation system that will detect iPhones and iTouches and put the user’s Pandora settings on the nav screen. The system will cost about $1200.
Ford announced several new apps for its Sync connected in-car communication system. Openbeak will read twitter messages while you drive (and enable steering wheel controls like skipping forward or going back). Stitcher “allows listeners to create personalized, on-demand Internet radio stations with news, talk and entertainment programming. Within the Stitcher app, users choose the programs they want “stitched” together, and the app then streams that content to the user’s mobile device. Pandora, according to the press release, is ” the most popular Internet radio service in the world. Users simply enter a favorite song or artist into Pandora and the app quickly creates personalized radio stations, based on that musical style.”
Pandora Founder Tim Westergren told WSJ.com “Maybe a year ago people would have said Pandora is a computer thing, Now, “they’re beginning to realize that Internet radio is an anytime, anywhere thing.”
Good news about Pandora at CES wasn’t just about the car though. Sony is debuting a personal Internet viewer called the Dash, which resembles the Chumby, and enables more than 1000 Chumby apps as well as Youtube and Pandora.