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Stop Picking on Pandora, Radio


So is Pandora “radio” or isn’t it?

I have (correctly) argued “yes” here and here and here.

“Radio” is a menu of value propositions – “jobs”, combinations of which consumers “hire your brand for” every time they choose to tune in. Many of those “jobs” are clearly shared with Pandora, thus making Pandora a substitute for your station – part of the same category of consumer solutions, as I argue in this popular presentation.

The debate, such as it is, continues to rage on primarily because broadcasters are under siege and take comfort in whatever back-slapping comes their way. In fact, the debate rages only within broadcasting circles, because consumers don’t care whether Pandora “is radio” or not, clients don’t care, Nielsen doesn’t care, and Pandora certainly doesn’t care.

Ask consumers whether they care whether or not Pandora “is radio.” They will crinkle their brow at you. Worse, ask them if they think Pandora “is radio.” Many will tell you they do, and while they dutifully answer they will be thinking “Why in the world is he asking me this silly question? Who cares?! Just give me the entertainment and information content and experiences I want where and when and on whatever platform I want.”

The fact is that consumer attention is finite and the ways for them to spend that attention are growing rapidly. That’s why the average amount of listening to radio in PPM markets declined by 13.3% between 2010 and 2013. It’s why Borrell Associates projects that total listening minutes to radio will decline by 34% between 2008 and 2018. Meanwhile this is happening in the face of continued growth of Pandora and the larger online radio space.

So to say that Pandora is “not” radio is to deny the larger frame that radio can occupy in the lives of its audiences. We cut ourselves off at the “Pandora Pass.” Whether your company wants to be in the online radio business is up to you, but the audience and the advertisers have already decided that their ears and their dollars know no limits.

Ask your clients if they care whether Pandora “is radio” or not. They will tell you they care to achieve business goals using media, and they will use whatever media available to them best suit that need. Pandora, like “radio,” has advertising avails and can reach their target audience. That’s why their spend on Pandora often comes from the budget called “radio dollars” (hint, hint).

Ask Nielsen if they care whether Pandora “is radio” or not. But remember that Nielsen doesn’t even use the term “radio” anymore because it sees all advertising-based audio media as part of the larger “audio” category. In other words, Nielsen already sees Pandora and “Radio” in the same category, and it’s called “audio.”

Ask Pandora if they care whether they are thought of as “radio” or not. They’ll tell you they just want more audience, more time from that audience, and more dollars from advertisers interested in reaching that audience. Call it “cottage cheese” if you like, it doesn’t matter.

Indeed, the biggest and best radio brands will recognize that even “audio” is too small a category for their aspirations, which are limited only by the devotion of their fans, the relationships they maintain with their clients, and the commitment of management to maintain relevance to consumers and advertisers alike regardless of the category the content lives in. This, for example, is why iHeartRadio is as much a live entertainment brand as an app.

Likewise, trying to diminish the likes of Pandora by calling it “automated” and “soulless” is silly.

An “automated” machine can be an elegant and useful device that consumers get extraordinarily attached to. Just ask any consumer with a mobile phone. As for “soul,” the soul is in the songs, not in the breaks between them. And for a great many radio listeners, that’s exactly where they want their soul.

When our ratings analysis tells us music radio listeners want less talk and fewer spots, aren’t they asking for a form of radio which is more Pandora-like? And if we asked them “what if we personalize the music to your tastes?” is there any doubt the answer would be “yes, please!”

Pandora and “radio” are audio sisters in the portfolio of advertisers and the experiences of consumers.

For “radio,” more time should be spent giving consumers what they want when, where, and how they want it.

Less time should be wasted on arguing with our listeners as they spread their time across online radio alternatives and arguing with our advertisers as they do likewise with their dollars.

Be the solution, not the obstacle to the solution.

You, too, can be bigger than “radio.”

You can be “audio.”

You can be “media.”

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