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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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