The Pandora Effect

Pandora founder Tim Westergren appeared at USC yesterday as part of the Thornton School's "Hot Topics" program. Westergren is an easily likeable guy who appears to be very sincere and has a quality I love -- he's a good listener. Students, industry people and faculty got a glimpse of the next radio -- the one that gives listeners unprecedented choice in their music and the one that could elevate musicians to a status most can only dream of presently. Pandora is radio -- online radio that matches 400 identifiable qualities of tunes to the tastes of users, but the word radio has become so negative among many of the next generation that the search is on for a better description. Nonetheless Pandora which will soon count its four millionth registered user is on track to proliferate and only one year in existence. Here's the significance as I see it. Traditional media is always so afraid of every new technology and new competitor. As my friend Rick Cummings (Emmis President) says even the 8-track worried us back in the day. Radio survived then and probably will continue to survive challenges like cellphone use and iPods. The truth is -- and record labels should take note as well -- all usage of media helps all media. That's where a major disconnect exists between the emerging digital, interactive type and the nervous, fearful record business, radio industry, TV and publishing. All use makes everyone's franchises healthier. No need to be fearful. In fact, be fearless. Try bold ideas, do not shrink from the future as radio and the record business is doing currently. So online Pandora could partner with online radio station sites and do themselves a favor by driving listeners to their sites. Special portals could be set for terrestrial radio stations in the Pandora setting and share revenue with this new force in customizable radio. Interactive, online competitors to traditional media are not going away. And neither are traditional media. But if major changes in the approach to competition do not result both segments will not realize their ultimate goals. So ironically, in this way, new media is married to old and vice versa. Think about the exciting possibilities from that perspective.