Clear Channel Remains Ignorant of Pandora Appeal

Pandora_airfoil Pandora is the most well-known and loved online music brand. At a time when many services are struggling to gain recognition among listeners, Pandora has established itself as the Google of music, i.e. the easy-to-use, go-to place for personalized radio.

Clear Channel, having recently acquired the subscription service Thumbplay, has since announced plans to compete with Pandora. Chairman Bob Pittman believes it can create a better product than Pandora. According to him, what makes radio better than Pandora is that it's "curated and dynamically changes."

Stations update their playlists every week to reflect the shifts in the taste of listeners. "So as you're getting tired of a certain song, it begins to disappear," Pittman told the audience at a conference last week. "As you discover a new song, miraculously it appears and starts being played more and more."

Pandora, in contrast, Pittman compares to a playlist on an iPod shuffle, and "if your tastes change or you get tired of that new Lady Gaga song, it's still there," he says. "And if a new song appears, guess what, it doesn't show up there."

Such shortcomings, Pittman contends, are why listeners still like radio.

Today, there would still be truth to Pittman's remarks, had Pandora not added genre-based stations in last year. Pandora has a "Today's Hits" station now, and while it may begin with a cache of popular music, listeners can whittle the playlist down to the songs they like and skip ones they're not in the mood for.

However, Pittman adds, that's not all that separates Clear Channel from Pandora.

His company employs humans. To an extent, personalities are vital to radio, but he may be overestimating how much value audiences place on DJs. Many argue that they serve as an abstraction between the listener and the music.

Judging by Pittman's opinion on Pandora, either he's ignorant of Pandora's appeal or is marginalizing its success. Let us assume that it's a bit of both.

If Pittman thinks Pandora is a glorified playlist generator, he obviously doesn't understand the personalized radio technology that he bought from Thumbplay.

Pandora makes suggestions based on the Music Genome Project.

Thumbplay's radio feature is essentially a MOG rip-off. It might be prettier and a little more intuitive than MOG, but it's essentially a playlist generator.

If Pittman decides to copy Slacker and have DJ programed genre stations it might help his case. He would get to maintain the human element of radio.

However, if the present is any indication, that "element" is also the reason why Clear Channel drives singles into the ground and plays ten-year-old singles.

If Pandora is just an iPod Shuffle, Pittman should realize that it too plays music people actually like. Why? Because a human programed that playlist too.

Music for the masses vs. music for me, and only me. That's a big difference.


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