Pandora: Now Playing Everywhere

37 Comments

Now that Pandora, a next-generation online music streaming service, has turned its first quarterly profit, the Oakland, Calif.-based company is looking at life beyond the web. And by doing so, Pandora is moving to embody what’s being called the device-agnostic Internet.

“We became profitable for the fourth quarter of 2009, and now we’re shooting for profits for the entire 2010 [period],” Pandora’s chief technology officer, Tom Conrad, told me. The 10-year-old company plans to reach that goal by embedding itself in all sorts of consumer electronics devices that feature an Internet connection. For now Pandora’s ambitions are restricted to within U.S. borders.

In 2009, Pandora’s U.S. audience of registered users reached 43 million and at present nearly 100 different consumer devices other than computers are streaming the service. In December 2009 alone, 3 million new listeners joined Pandora — of which 2.7 million of them activated the service on a device other than a computer, according to the company.

Pandora is a perfect showcase for the so-called device-agnostic Internet, itself the result of three major trends:

  1. The marriage of computing and connectivity that can now take place without the shackles of being tethered to a single location. It’s among the biggest disruptive forces of modern times, one that will redefine business models for decades to come.
  2. The pervasiveness of the mobile Internet.
  3. The availability of low-cost, always-on computers (aka smartphones) that allow sophisticated software to conduct complex tasks on the go.

Pandora got a big boost at the recently concluded CES trade show, where it showed off the fact that its music offering, which combines radio-styled listening to serendipitous recommendations, is now being embedded in everything from thin LED televisions to Blu-ray players to digital frames. I’m among those who bought a Blu-ray player and subsequently signed up for my Pandora account online. I also listen to Pandora on a Sonos system as well and also on my iPod touch (s appl) and on my BlackBerry (s rimm). In other words, I see the value of taking my Pandora everywhere.

As to all the consumer devices that are embedding the service, Conrad said that “the high-volume products are only just hitting the market,” among them devices made by LG, Samsung, Sony, Sanyo, Haier, Divx, Toshiba and Panasonic. But the biggest boost, he said, was going to come from the embedding of Pandora in automobiles. Conrad hinted  about such a move to autos back in early December.

Ford (s f), Alpine and Pioneer are three companies that are going to be putting Pandora inside their cars and automobile music systems, respectively. The service will piggy-back on 3G wireless connections on the latest generation of cell phones. While Conrad was candid enough to admit that the automobile ecosystem was going to take a little bit of time, for the company, it’s clearly worth the wait. “Nearly 47 percent of radio listening is in the car,” he noted. (Related from GigaOM Pro, subscription req’d: The App Developer’s Guide to Working with Ford Sync and Forget Syncing, Let’s Put Music in the Cloud.)

As Conrad explained, currently the web accounts for 20 percent of total radio listening, which means that Pandora needs to expand beyond just the browser if it wants to go after “80 percent of the opportunity.” I find it amusing that only a couple of years ago, Pandora was fighting for its life, thanks to the draconian policies of the music industry. Now it is audaciously viewing itself as the future of radio. Terrestrial and satellite radio providers had better watch out. (Related: Pandora Raises $35 million.)

In the meantime, Pandora has benefited handsomely from the iPhone phenomenon. In just 18 months, mobile (and other connected devices) have risen to account for nearly 30 percent of Pandora’s usage. That’s helped the company offer premium services, which has in turn helped it generate revenues and lately, profits.

No wonder Conrad and the rest of the Pandora team are thinking about Pandora playing everywhere.

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

37 Comments

imma

Can we please not get my hopes up like that :-(
Also the article title could do with correcting …

Daniele

So “Everywhere” means “Everywhere in the United States”?

I’m from Europe, should I stop reading gigaom.com?

miguel

pandora rocks but so does last.fm, aol radio, yahoo launchcast, play.it, slacker and many others. in fact last has 7 million artist tracks compared to 700,000 on pandora. most online radio platforms, if not all, will be embedded within mobile internet enabled devices including cars. btw, pandora charges once you’ve exceeded a certain number of streaming minutes. will this change? what about in car safety? how are they addressing that?

Devan

Om, last time I checked, ‘Everywhere’ included localities outside the US. Best of luck listening to your Pandora stream next time you visit your family in your home country!

Even Facebook now counts a greater proportion of their userbase outside the US don’t they? Does that ring any warning bells in corporate America that there are actually other people living outside their shores?

I know that this is not Pandora’s fault, rather some very short sighted licencing restrictions by the greed ridden music industry.

Michael

lastfm.com – seriiusly. f pandora. anything outside of main stream is a short list.

Owen

Umm – maybe some of you should look into WHY music apps aren’t available everywhere? Pandora is only in the US as a condition of allowing it to continue to operate and paying license fees to music holders. It’s the same reason spotify is NOT in the US.

And who uses pay for play data plans? You should either have an uncapped data plan or no data plan. You can get uncapped data plans from every provider.

Paul

I love both Pandora and Rhapsody, would prefer to pay one company for the combined functions. After Pandora is done taking over the radio world, I hope they address this.

Roger Weeks

Michael – Boxee has Pandora, and Boxee is based on XBMC. I can’t imagine it would be too hard to backport it to XBMC.

Nicholas

Thank you for that term!

When people discuss web versus application, its relevancy is limited. The web is the underlying technologies not the browser! Access the stream with whatever tool you have or need. Make a tool to dig deeper.

I use Pandora on my iPhone in a dock connected to speakers, and rarely in a browser. Caching please!

rp

remind me again how they make money? I have Pandora on 3 separate CE devices, my phone and PCs but still have never given them a cent.

Jeff Dickey

@Jeff – of course you will, that’s the point. It’s a revenue-enhancer for the US telcos. Those of us outside the US, where sensible data plans are the norm, are blocked from the site. Given the worldwide sales of music/share of sales that occur in the US, that explanation is the only one I can think of that holds any water at all.

Jeff

I don’t understand how any practical use of mobile Pandora is possible while the US providers of mobile internet charge unbelievable amounts of cash for tiny amounts of data. I’m probably missing something here – please educate me. Won’t we burn thru our monthly allotment of data halfway thru “Roadhouse Blues”?

Michael Camilleri

Judging from the ‘Pandora is restricted’ message I get when I visit their website I’m guessing ‘everywhere’ means ‘not everywhere’.

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