At last week’s Worldwide Radio Summit, a word cloud diagram would have probably revealed that the most uttered word at the conference started with a “P.” Tim Westergren must have been grinning from ear to ear.
In multiple sessions, Pandora was a focal point of conversation as panelists debated exactly what this pure-play music service is all about, whether it is truly competitive with broadcast radio, and why or why not traditional brands should care about it.
On the one hand, Triton’s Mike Agovino came equipped with a chart showing that if Pandora were an L.A. radio station, it would be ranked #11 in the market.
On the other hand, Clear Channel’s Digital COO, Gerrit Meier, stated that “Pandora isn’t radio,” and there’s no danger that it will take “radio’s lunch money.” In fact, Meier referred to Pandora as a “feature” rather than a station.
Others noted that radio has personality and a local presence, while Pandora has neither of these. In fact, Pandora was referred to as being “anti-social.” And to support that theory, Cumulus COO, John Dickey, stated that it wasn’t Pandora (or Facebook) that kept Alabamans informed about their tragic weather last week – it was local radio.
In a later session, however, Pandora’s Les Hollander (last one on the right) refuted the “anti-social” statement, and extolled his product’s sales approach (three minutes of commercials an hour, and only :15s and :30s), while reminding the room that “if you have an Internet connection, you have radio.”
And on and on. So whether you think about Pandora as being a hot new competitor to radio like so many at the WWRS, or a different animal that is more of an Internet feature than a bona fide problem, it was most certainly THE hot topic at the conference.
To perhaps clear up the controversy about what Pandora is, I turned to “experts” of my own. In fact, I brought 18 of them with me – the “Goin’ Mobile” respondents from L.A., Baltimore, Cleveland, and Dallas that participated in our ethnographic project with Arbitron.
They are real people – smartphone owners, many of whom listen to Pandora on a regular basis right on their phones, sometimes at the expense of broadcast radio. They call it “Pandora Radio” in most cases, and their "P" word is all about “passion” for this pure-play channel. You can see Randall pictured here with his iPhone with Pandora holding down a hallowed master icon at the bottom right of his desktop.
All the charts, graphs, and analytics in the world won’t help radio understand what Pandora (and other Internet stations) is all about. The answers can be found by talking to people – real consumers – the ones who are happily talking about this radio station to friends, family members, and co-workers.
Now Pandora is entering the spoken word arena – and an area that broadcast radio has dabbled in – but never committed to: COMEDY. Pandora’s comedy offerings work the same way as their music service – personalized, on-demand comedy that you can get anywhere anytime. It’s going to be successful.
Later this month, we’ll have updated, trended information from Techsurvey 7 that will tell a different story than the ones heard in Los Angeles last week. As many readers of jacoBLOG know, we have been diligently tracking Pandora for several years in our national tech surveys, and have been vocal about our concerns about this pure-play’s ubiquitous presence in vehicles, gadgets, and other outlets.
Here’s an appetizer from Techsurvey 7 – Pandora’s numbers are trending up, its mobile usage continues to grow, and radio’s own P1s – the folks who join radio’s databases and email clubs – are pretty damn impressed with what they’re hearing.
Maybe instead of choosing the denial route about Pandora, broadcast radio operators ought to go to school about this brand and what it means to consumers. There are ways to counter-program Pandora, but traditional broadcasters will only develop strategies once it understands this service and what it does well – and not so well.
Instead of debating what Pandora is – and what it isn’t – isn’t it time to get serious about understanding what it does, what it means to consumers, and what it could be down the road?
What is radio?
If we define it as audio entertainment that can be heard wirelessly by millions of people, I’d like to offer a theory:
Pandora IS radio.
Tell me I’m wrong.