Pandora is HOT!

I had a chance to spend a rather warm evening with Pandora
founder Tim Westergren and it was well worth the pounds shed to the 90+ heat
and 70% humidity. Nuggets you’ll discover here include Pandora’s fun facts,
some of the new features in the works, Tim’s take on the progress of the
Internet Equality Act, and his desire to beat, or maybe even join, Clear
Channel for the lion’s share of the world’s ears.

First, the scene was one of
Pandora’s “meet-ups” at the Cedar Cultural Center
in the ‘seven corners” neighborhood of Minneapolis Tim continues to stage
these gatherings around the country despite Pandora’s incredible growth as a New Media “playa”. I and about 80 other Pandora fans showed
up to learn about, and offer suggestions to, the online “radio” site. In fact,
the invite went out to all the Pandora listeners in the zip codes around the
Twin Cities. Imagine the “ambience” in a non-air conditioned black box music
venue, during a text book global warming night in Minnesota, filled with sweaty “early
adopters”. The word “funky” comes to mind (and I don’t mean in a George
Clinton, P-Funk All-stars kinda way). But, I was giddy to meet the man who had
introduced the best site for people who, like me, want to take advantage
of all the great music on the web but don’t want to spend their days sitting
around a computer in their underwear searching for it. I guess he is one of my
heroes so yes, it was time very well spent.

If you want to know more about Pandora and the
Music Genome project check it out here. You will dig it and if you sign up,
according to Tim, you will join the already 8,000,000 who have done so since its launch
November of 2005. Other fun facts gleaned from the evening, according to Mr.
Westergren: Pandora is enlisting about 15,000 new users a day and about 50% of them become “habitual” users. The average time spent per session is
3+ hours. There are over half a million songs in Pandora’s library with 95% of them
actually playing on someone’s computer each day. Of those songs, 54% of them are
from unsigned bands. If you’re familiar with the feedback feature at Pandora,
they have over one billion pieces of “thumb” data on the music stored on their
servers. Finally, just to give you an idea of the immense amount of data coming
out of Pandora,

on any given day the data flowing
from their servers accounts for 1.5% of all of the traffic on the net…globally.
These points, though some are well off the “geek meter”, indicate a butt load of
growth and puts Pandora on anybody’s list of “Why didn’t I think of that.”

Tim also shared some of the
features in the works. They include more ways to customize your station
including an era or year setting and a “new release” feature. We also heard
about Pandora exploring ways to involve third party participation in building
new applications for the site. I should point out that
when he mentioned these,
some in the crowd squealed with delight. (Clearly, many of us really need to
get out more.) He was also eager to show the mobile version of Pandora on his
Samsung phone.

We were all very happy to hear, in
keeping with his goal of creating a musicians middle class, Tim’s desire to
provide more services to the musicians who are responsible for the music. That
means, most importantly, that they get paid for their craft.

The state of the Internet Radio Equality
Act that is designed to stave off  a pending rate hike in streaming
fees proposed by the Congressional Royalty Board and collected by Sound
Exchange was a very hot topic. As you may or may not know Pandora and Mr.
Westergren are playing a major role in the effort to get a fair rate structure
in place. Tim’s take, like mine, is that the structure should be based on an
internet radio station’s annual revenue not on a “per play” basis. Currently
streaming service pay a performance fee, to the musicians, and a rights fee,
paid to the composers. Interesting note here, your local radio station only
pays a rights fee based on revenue and not a performance fee. Hence the
“Equality” part of the act. Tim was glad to say that Pandora listeners, in
particular Minnesota listeners, were incredibly active in contacting the Hill. I can’t imagine a
solution won’t be found but this thing isn’t over. (I urge you to find out more
at Save Internet Radio) One more thing, once a deal is struck it is Tim’s hope
that will serve as a template in other countries, who recently lost the ability
to hear Pandora because of the lack of a fee structure globally.

The thing that really got my
attention was Tim’s indication that Clear Channel (in its somewhat undeserved
role as “everything that is evil about radio”) was Pandora’s competition. Now,
you know I’m a “recovering” broadcaster. You also know I can get pretty
passionate about the radio bi’ness, even with its many shortcomings. But
Pandora and Clear Channel are in two different worlds, at least for now. Tim
and his company are all about pull and the “Long Tail”. Listeners are attracted
to it because they get to control what they hear. Traditional broadcast radio
is all about push and playing the hits. They thrive at the front end of that

I spoke with Tim following the
meet-up to find out more and he shared with me that he meant that Clear
Channel, representing broadcast radio, is where all the ears are. He sited the
statistic that the average person listens to music 20 hours a week, 17 of which
are to radio. I can go with that. He also mentioned that Pandora could
ultimately partner with broadcast radio. That is exactly what should happen.
(Is Tim tipping his hand?) I continue to think radio is missing the boat by not
offering more unique listening opportunities on their web sites. So far the
majority can only muster up a stream of the on-air product. (Insert sarcastic
“yippee” here.)

Despite the nasty case of
swamp-butt, the evening was a great chance to be part of the future of Radio
2.0. As soon as Wi-Max really takes hold, hang on. We are just getting warmed up! Thanks Tim!