Expert Opinion: Pandora is Less Engaging

For well over half a decade, radio has been a one-way medium allowing you to listen to a station or change it. Until Pandora and other streaming radio stations like Slacker and Spotify, radio spoke to you and you basically took what it gave you. If your favorite DJ got on your nerves or the music mix was not what you wanted, you had little choice.

Moreover, if you wanted to know what song was playing or to see the album art, you were stuck. While terrestrial and satellite radio have gotten better at showcasing artist and track names, nothing beats a true streaming radio experience when it comes to learning about the music you are listening to.

So I was a bit shocked when I read an article discussing Pandora’s growing ratings where the subject matter expert was quoted as saying Pandora is less engaging than terrestrial radio. The quote is below:

“Terrestrial radio engages with listeners in a unique way that Pandora cannot,” said Deborah O’Rell, president of media buying agency Urban Communications. “But those numbers are [good] enough to be considered.”

When I read this I immediately thought of all the ways Pandora could and should be engaging its listeners by allowing the sharing of comments about songs. Moreover, the company should have a full social network integrated into the listening experience.

Although I haven’t had a chance to use Spotify, its integration with Facebook is a major selling point.

I naturally had to reach out to O’Rell to get her side of the story. This is what she had to say via email:

Terrestrial radio engages and connects with listeners in ways Pandora does not. Pandora offers music.  That’s great.  All music at times is just what is wanted. I intend no slight to Pandora.  It’s my experience that it is more “ipod-ish”. 

A radio station has many more pieces, more points of connection, that bond a listener and creates a loyalty, or a connection at the least.

Those points are the personality (i.e. Howard Stern, Scott and Todd), news (what’s happened while I slept), information (time and temp or the name of the song or a bit of gossip or comedy), contests, concerts, information reports.  And the list goes on.

A commercial running in an engaged environment has more impact. 

She makes some excellent points. Interestingly I do listen to streaming music throughout the day via Pandora or Slacker but I also have a strong “listening relationship” with a whole range of radio personalities and some I like so much that I will download podcasts as needed to keep up with their thoughts.

In fact when I listen live to a commentator who I really like I will listen to the ads and not switch stations because I don’t want to miss anything they say. When I listen to streaming music I struggle to avoid ads at all costs because I just want the songs.

So the next leap for Pandora is obvious – they must do whatever they can to generate more digital engagement via social sharing features and if they can do this effectively they won’t have to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for radio talent. But in reality I expect them to go in both directions simultaneously.


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