Pandora Surpasses 40 Million Users (and what it means for terrestrial radio)

According to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Pandora, the personalized online radio service, reached 40 million users in 2009.

On average, 15 million people stream internet-only radio stations like Pandora every week.  That’s not far from matching the number of those streaming terrestrial radio station sites (22 million, according to the article).  Think about that for a second.  A handful of internet-only radio stations have nearly 3/4 the listeners as do all regular radio station streams combined.

“What’s the big deal,” you say.  “Besides, internet-only stations can’t compete with radio’s ubiquity, right?”  Guess again.  The last real advantage radio has is quickly evaporating.

Here’s the kicker quote from the article: “Unlike Pandora, CBS and Clear Channel don’t necessarily require users to register.” Did you get that?  Many stations, mine included, aren’t asking visitors/users to register (the first time) in order to consume the station’s content.

For my company, that’s nearly 50,000 unique streamers every month we’re NOT collecting information on.  For Clear Channel it’s 8 million a month.  For CBS, 9 million.  Want to take a guess at how many Pandora users give up at least an e-mail address for the chance to consume Pandora’s content?  I’ll tell you.  It’s 100%; as in, all of them.  That’s a database of 40 million e-mails.

Remember, back in the day, when your station first put up its streaming player and someone on staff argued against requiring registration for fear your users would find it off-putting?  I guess it’s safe to say now that that’s a hollow argument.

Maybe the real problem isn’t the various barriers to entry, but rather the experience (or lack thereof) we’re offering and the content we’re streaming. After all, we’ve removed all the hurdles, yet Pandora and its ilk are still kickin’ our tail.

Give It To Me – Just Not Right Now

Radio.  Exciting and new?In my anecdotal research, I’ve found the younger the person I talk to, the higher the likelihood I find someone who doesn’t listen to the radio – at all.  Most are quickly becoming accustomed to getting the content they want exactly when they want it.  Radio listening, by and large, doesn’t give them that versatility.

“What about their favorite songs you say?”  Their iPod satisfies that itch at a moment’s notice.  Not a new idea, I know, but if your station remains nothing more than a distribution channel for music at this point, your clock has already started ticking.

If your listener’s have never heard of Pandora, they soon will.  Or maybe you’re crossing your fingers hoping they remain in the dark to all these new options for customized music delivery.  Well, good luck with that.  Do you have plans already underway to add your station’s own streaming app to the Apple App Store?  If not, why?  Still waiting for Steve Jobs to add an FM tuner to the iPhone?  Good luck with that too.

In the time-shifted world of Tivo, podcasts and hulu.com, terrestrial radio had better figure out a way to give listeners what they want, when they want it.  First and foremost that means offering compelling content not available from anyone or anywhere else.  And while content may be king, the crown is taking that content from the confines of an FM or AM signal and leveraging new, convenient and valuable-to-the-listener ways of accessing that content.

Is your station giving your listeners what they want (compelling and relevant personalities, only the great songs, reminders of not only the benefits your station offers but the values it shares with your listeners)?   If so, then great.  You’ve at least gotten the first step down.  Are you, though, offering your listeners the opportunity to experience that content in a way that’s convenient for them, or are you limiting them to consuming only what’s coming out the speakers right now?