Is Radio’s Future Pandora’s Present?

Will the future of radio be personalizable, like Pandora?


But with an audience craving music and happy to tailor and tweak that experience to their liking, there’s no question that personalizable music content is one area sorely lacking in radio’s arsenal, and the glaring absence of this feature is why Pandora has 80 million registered users, tons of glowing publicity, and a cascade of integration deals with automakers and other consumer electronics manufacturers.

Bob Pittman recently mentioned this as one obvious tactic for Clear Channel’s evolution in the years to come, and any broadcaster who isn’t diving into this area head-first should explain to his or her shareholders exactly what part of Pandora’s success they fail to understand.

Bob calls this “adaptive radio,” an unfortunate term as likely to catch on as turkey-flavored ice cream.  Folks get “personalized.” They don’t get “adaptive.”

Perhaps by “adaptive” Bob is hinting at a truly progressive vision that literally “adapts” what you’re listening to depending on who you are and where and why you’re listening.  Or maybe not (right now we already have a tool that does that – it’s called the radio dial).

Regardless, Bob’s essential point is right on.  Broadcasters can create their own versions of Pandora. Indeed, this feature will figure prominently in the next evolution of SiriusXM, too (priced at a healthy premium, no doubt).

But while creating my own music stream unquestionably solves a consumer problem, we should be careful to distinguish this from “radio,” and we must remember that what attracts consumers to Pandora (for example) may be different from what attracts them to “radio,” as this (non-comprehensive) chart shows:

Note that I haven’t used the term “local” in this chart because “local” is either a solution to problems in your immediate area or (as the radio industry tends to use it) it’s just a mailing address.  And I don’t listen to a mailing address.

In his recent Inside Radio interview, Bob commented that the digital revolution had barely begun in radio.  And while that’s true, we must reasonably ask: How much more evidence do broadcasters need that time is short, and opportunities are fleeting?  Exactly what are you waiting for?

Revolutions need revolutionaries, and radio needs them now.

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  • Mark:

    Shouldn't their be a distinction made in the case of “local?”

    First, “local” is not an accurate or sufficient term. I believe it encompasses two things: 1. sense of place, and 2. service that has geographic relevance (such events and weather).

    Second, “local” only comes into play if you have not decided as an operator (or evolved into) solely a music jukebox. If all you are providing is a music service, then I agree with you that “local” doesn't matter at all. It would matter not a whit if the music playout originated down the street or across the globe.

    Instead of trying to be a poor copy of Pandora, should radio think about what it can offer of value that Pandora could never? Wouldn't the right move be to flank rather than directly take Pandora on?

    I'm not sure how it is across the country, but in our smaller market, while there is Pandora use, it is not a pervasive or widespread as many would have you believe. Plus, Pandora is still a lot of work in order to arrive at what folks find desirable: a personalized mix of the same hits that are played on the radio.

  • The “sense of place” you are talking about needs to be translated into some form of consumer value, otherwise the “place” is, as I noted, just an address.

    The service elements you discuss have nothing to do with “local” per se, they have to do with service elements – which may be delivered to my mobile device by “local” providers such as AOL's Patch, CNN, Traffic.com, Weather.com, etc. That's why I included “N/T/W” in the list of items – that's short for “News/Traffic/Weather.”

    The ubiquity of radio versus Pandora is real, but a weak defense against a gathering storm. Better to argue value than ubiquity for the long run.

    Unless we're talking about sports teams there is no such thing as “local” the way radio uses it. See this post for more: http://www.markramseymedia.com…/

  • I understand your thinking, Mark.

    I describe local “sense of place” as in you can tune in and feel a sense that you are in a particular location with all the emotional senses that entails. It is like going back to your residence and knowing you are home, as opposed to being in a place to sleep, eat, etc. Radio can do this very well, if it does not insist on being a jukebox. We have ex-pats tuning in over the Internet because we provide that comfortable and unduplicable sense of home.

    Described another way, for 70 plus years, radio has been a companion. I don't see Pandora ever playing that role. It's a jukebox. It's a sophisticated jukebox. But that is all it is.

    As for online replacing NTW over the air. I don't see that happening in my observations of “real people.” If a station offers that information (and believe it or not in market #88 most DON'T), it can still be a perfectly valid source for information – even the first source. But if you gave up on playing that game a decade ago — and most stations did in a market this size, well, naturally, Pandora could take you out.

    Secondly, I think we ignore the strength of shared human experiences. It's what keeps butts in the seats of movie theatres in the age of on-demand movies. It's what puts folks in the stands at football games even though ESPN and other offer almost every single game, it seems and you can get all the scores online or on a text. If radio chooses to exploit this strength, it is far from a goner.

    However, if we want to continue to be simply another music source, the future is a bleak as you say.

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