Pandora CTO: Spotify is complementary to Pandora

Maybe there is room for multiple players in the digital music streaming business.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO -- As streaming digital music continues to become more of a powerful and crowded market, there could be a debate that not all of these different services can co-exist for long.

Not so, argues Tom Conrad, Pandora's CTO and executive vice president of product.

"I do think of Spotify as being largely complementary to what Pandora is," said Conrad, while speaking at the GigaOM Roadmap 2011 summit on Thursday.

Citing an unspecified occasion where Spotify founder Daniel Ek once stated that Spotify is the future of the record store while Pandora is the future of radio, Conrad remarked that "we’re very comfortable with that characterization."

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"We see that one of the principle purposes of radio is to help artists sell their music," Conrad added while trying to explain that Pandora really does operate as a streaming radio service more than anything else.

“I’m happy that there are companies like Spotify that are tilling different parts of the music soil,” Conrad continued.

But maybe that's where the love fest ends, at least on this front. While personalization is definitely key to Pandora's platform, connecting to other digital music services is not.

Conrad noted that "there are Pandora listeners that are interested in connecting to other on-demand services." But he also argued that "from speaking with listeners, it's a small minority," explaining that they want a really simple experience, and music that continually entertains.

"We have a lot of work to do to fulfill that vision," Conrad affirmed.

In terms of future efforts, Conrad pointed towards the project dubbed "Pandora Everywhere," adding that the most recent expansion of that opportunity is the automobile.

When it comes to radio, Conrad noted that about half of radio listening hours are consumed in cars, while another 30 percent are wrapped up in the kitchen, with the remaining hours likely consumed at the gym or at a desk.

Conrad posited that the question for Pandora is, "If we spend a lot of energy on making playlists, how do we make this as ubiquitous as traditional radio?"

Another piece of the puzzle that Pandora is focused on goes back to personalization and making sure that the service produces just the right songs to the right listeners. Conrad made the example of trying to satisfy the listening interests of a 19-year-old Kanye West listener on the East Coast in the morning to a 40-year-old Kanye West listener on the West Coast while driving home.

Conrad explained that those are just a few examples of the characteristics that Pandora is trying to take into consideration moving forward. He also joked that someday, Pandora might be able to "tap into the speed that the car is going."

As much as Pandora executives and others might try to say that there isn't a competition in the digital music space, there certainly is. Honing in on those kinds of personal details and building a system that can really respond to the individual listener, even moody ones with varying interests, is a challenge, but it could really set Pandora (or anyone else who figures it out) apart.


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