It might sound strange to see a streaming service making a big announcement about ‘personalisation and discovery’, given how core (and, some argue, commoditised) these features are in the current music-streaming landscape. Well, perhaps not ‘commoditised’ as such, but every service now has its personalised playlists, its home-screen recommendations and so on. It’s what listeners expect.
Pandora is keen to make a splash with the latest features for its mobile app though: it’s branding them as ‘New Pandora Mobile Experience, adding dynamic personalisation and discovery features that unlock a new world of music, podcasts and unique content for users across all tiers of service”.
It includes a ‘For You’ feed within the app that offers music and podcast recommendations throughout the day (while also promoting exclusive content like SiriusXM podcasts and ‘stories’ – Pandora’s hybrid playlists/podcasts format). The feed is constructed from more than 35 different ‘modules’ based on their interests and habits. Also new to the Pandora mobile app: a feature called ‘Pandora Modes’ which debuted on its website, giving them a way to tweak the music served up by Pandora’s radio-like stations feature.
This all matches up to other streaming services: Spotify and Apple Music now have this as their main home-screen, while Apple Music’s personalised tab has the same name (‘For You’). It’s a sensible direction for Pandora to move in, with the historical boundaries between ‘personal radio’ and ‘on-demand streaming’ services having well and truly blurred. That process has presented challenges to Pandora: at its peak in the final quarter of 2014, it had 81.5 million listeners, but that had fallen to 64.9 million by the second quarter of 2019 – an erosion of more than 20% of its audience.
Pandora has been steadily building its subscription business though: it had seven million by the end of June this year, or 6.2 million ‘self-pay’ (i.e. not on trials). Regular, meaningful improvements to its mobile app will be important as Pandora seeks to keep pace with its rivals, who have all sunk significant resources into the kind of personalisation and recommendation technologies that Pandora pioneered all those years ago with its ‘Music Genome Project’.