04/30

A Chilling Measure of How Listeners see Pandora vs. Radio

A recent Jacobs Media research finding noted that 43% of Pandora users say the service should be considered “radio” while 49% say it should not.

These stats should chill you.

And that’s not just because 43% is such a large number or that it comes from actual listeners.

It’s because the average listener should not care whether or not Pandora is classified as “radio,” so the largest answer should be “don’t know – because I’ve never even thought about it.”  They should not be thinking about an issue like this because it’s of concern primarily to the industry that owns the labels, not to the consumers who own the behaviors.  In that context, 43% is huge.

To the average listener, the issue isn’t whether or not Pandora “is” radio, the issue is whether or not Pandora is used for the same things radio is used for. That is, is it a substitute or not? That is a different question, of course, and if the “is it or isn’t it” question gets 43% saying “it is,” just imagine how many would agree that Pandora is used for the same things radio is used for.

Cue chill.

So all of those elements that make radio different from Pandora have their value to be sure, but to 43% of Pandora’s audience they amount to a distinction without a difference.

This is, of course, exactly in line with what I have been arguing for some time.

But 49% say Pandora is not radio, you might say.  Yes, indeed.  But would you have ever guessed the number would be so low?

Value – and uniqueness – are in the ear of the beholder.

This is not a time to rest on laurels or a time to project Pandora into some imaginery non-radio ghetto.

It’s a time to magnify uniqueness – the kind that consumers value – and to make radio ever-more, ever-better, and ever-worthy of their scarce attention.

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  • Anonymous

    Of course, I’m the first to comment.  Mark, thanks for being in attendance and for weighing in on “the question.”  After all the months of industry debate, I simply though we should put it to “the experts” – the folks who listen to radio day in and day out. And I concur with your take that the portion that says “yes” turned out to be sizable – especially when you consider that a majority of fans who listen to Country, Alternative,CHR, Variety Hits, and Christian Contemporary concur that Pandora is, in fact, “radio.”

    Our study also singled out the areas where Pandora may have some chinks in the digital armor – no personalities and a lack of local connection.  Isn’t that what people “hire” broadcast radio to do?

    I was hoping that this research would answer the question, and then end the silly debate so that radio operators could get back to attacking this challenge wisely and strategically.  What is it that radio does differently, better, and is more meaningful to its audience?  THAT is the question.

    I know there are people in radio who criticize you, me, publications like Radio Ink and others who are actively discussing this challenge.  Rather than ignore it or sweep it under the rug, it is essential to first understand Pandora, evaluate it, and go from there.

    Thanks for illuminating the conversation and for taking the time to see the data in real time with my “windy” commentary.  It is getting a little chilly in here.

  • Anonymous

    Of course, I’m the first to comment.  Mark, thanks for being in attendance and for weighing in on “the question.”  After all the months of industry debate, I simply though we should put it to “the experts” – the folks who listen to radio day in and day out. And I concur with your take that the portion that says “yes” turned out to be sizable – especially when you consider that a majority of fans who listen to Country, Alternative,CHR, Variety Hits, and Christian Contemporary concur that Pandora is, in fact, “radio.”

    Our study also singled out the areas where Pandora may have some chinks in the digital armor – no personalities and a lack of local connection.  Isn’t that what people “hire” broadcast radio to do?

    I was hoping that this research would answer the question, and then end the silly debate so that radio operators could get back to attacking this challenge wisely and strategically.  What is it that radio does differently, better, and is more meaningful to its audience?  THAT is the question.

    I know there are people in radio who criticize you, me, publications like Radio Ink and others who are actively discussing this challenge.  Rather than ignore it or sweep it under the rug, it is essential to first understand Pandora, evaluate it, and go from there.

    Thanks for illuminating the conversation and for taking the time to see the data in real time with my “windy” commentary.  It is getting a little chilly in here.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Not “windy” at all, Fred!

    I always prefer the idea of developing strategy based on reality rather than on some wishful thinking or – worse – rear-view thinking. And this is reality.
    And so everybody knows, I will be posting a few minutes of video from Fred’s session probably later this week.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Not “windy” at all, Fred!

    I always prefer the idea of developing strategy based on reality rather than on some wishful thinking or – worse – rear-view thinking. And this is reality.
    And so everybody knows, I will be posting a few minutes of video from Fred’s session probably later this week.

  • Ric Hansen

    Every day broadcast radio is moving their product to more closely match and (hopefully) compete with Pandora and others.  So rather than work to make the distinction between broadcast and music services they are clearly making the difference less distinctive.  Broadcasters are working hard to be something they are not and one day there will be no difference at all to the listener.  Radio can’t win that battle on Pandora’s terms. 

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com/ Clyde Smith

     Since the news brief doesn’t include the actual questions, assuming that the question was “do you consider Pandora a form of radio” means that the answers don’t address the issues you’re discussing, Mark.

    If you don’t either ask them what radio is, which generally doesn’t happen because it’s an expensive question, or if don’t ask them what radio is used for and then ask them if Pandora fullfills those use cases, then you can’t make claims about how they view Pandora in terms of the use cases fulfilled by traditional radio.

    I think research is important but when it’s misinterpreted to support findings that may or may not be true but are not addressed in the actual research, then the research itself ends up being a waste of resources.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Clyde, thanks for your note.

    I think the answer addresses only the narrow question, which seems to be something along the lines of “Do you consider Pandora to be radio or not.” That in itself is useful in my view for the reasons I noted.
    The questions did not seek to go deeper on this issue, however the superficial question is the one the industry usually debates so this answer certainly addresses that.
    My deeper questions could easily be framed in research, and I fully expect the answers to come out the way I predict. Especially given the surprisingly affirmative answer to this shallower question.
    At the broadest level radio is what radio does – but also what radio does is what radio is. That is, asking whether Pandora is or isn’t like radio is a pretty fair question for the average consumer.
    I don’t think I’m misinterpreting this at all. And Jacobs didn’t lay any particular interpretation on the result.
    That’s my opinion, anyway.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com/ Clyde Smith

     I hear what you’re saying but I think it’s a mistake to assume that everyone means the same thing when they use a word.  This is also a problem with Pew Internet surveys.  Often the items that get the most attention are contingent on everyone understanding one single term exactly the same way and that’s rarely the case.

    For me, Pandora is web radio.  It doesn’t meet the same needs as traditional radio.  Yet, if you asked me if it was radio in yes or no survey style, I’d say yes because they call it a form of radio.

    So I guess we’re maintaining our stances!

  • Anonymous

    Mark, you said it well.  The idea was to quantify the claims that have been made – mostly by broadcasters over the past year.  The wording is as follows, asked of anyone who listens to Pandora:

    “Do you think of Pandora as ‘radio?’”

    No agenda.  Just wanted to see what real Pandora listeners (who also come from radio stations databases for the most part)  had to say on the question.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Thanks for clarifying, Fred!

    Mark Ramsey

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    If that were true, Scott, then the largest answer would have been “I don’t know,” which it was not. Radio fulfills a need, and to some degree Pandora fulfills the same need. That is why almost half the listeners call Pandora “radio”