Pandora: Streaming Everywhere on Everything
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. In 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 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 confined within U.S. borders. In 2009, Pandora's audience of registered users reached 43 million. Nearly 100 different consumer devices other than computers are streaming the service. In December 2009 alone, 3 million new listeners joined Pandora. Some 2.7 million of them activated the service on a device other than a computer, according to the company. computing marries connectivityPandora is a perfect showcase for the so-called device-agnostic Internet, itself the result of three major trends: The marriage of computing and connectivity can now take place without having to be 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. The pervasiveness of the mobile Internet. 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-style listening with related-music 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, on my iPod touch, and on my BlackBerry. In other words, I value taking my Pandora everywhere. Regarding 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. The biggest boost, he said, will come from the embedding of Pandora in automobiles. Conrad hinted at a move to autos back in early December. Pandora's mobile-phone boomFord, Alpine, and Pioneer are going to be putting Pandora inside cars and automobile music systems. The service will piggy-back on 3G wireless connections in the latest generation of cell phones. While Conrad was candid enough to admit that the automobile ecosystem will take a little time, the company clearly considers it worth the wait. "Nearly 47% of radio listening is in the car," Conrad noted. (Related from GigaOM Pro, subscription required: The App Developer's Guide to Working with Ford Sync and Forget Syncing, Let's Put Music in the Cloud.) As Conrad explained, the Web currently accounts for 20% of total radio listening, which means that Pandora needs to expand beyond the browser if it wants to go after "80% 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 the company audaciously views 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% 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.