Pandora To Exclusively Stream SERIAL Podcast: What It Means

Beginning later this month, Pandora becomes the exclusive streaming home for the uber-popular Serial podcast. And starting next year, Pandora adds Serial’s sister radio show/podcast This American Life (on what can only be a non-exclusive basis).

  1. I’ve been thinking about the consequence of this announcement, and here’s the best I can come up with:
  2. It’s good PR for Pandora in an otherwise quiet time
  3. It’s great news for Serial, which gets to add an all-new distribution partner with millions of tuned-in consumers

That’s it.

While this evolution may make sense for Pandora given the mixing of podcast content into other streaming audio services like Spotify and Slacker, etc., it also creates a challenge. Pandora’s primary attraction is that it is not Spotify and not iTunes. It requires a minimum of work and essentially no searching at all. The raw simplicity, elegance, and utility of the platform (in addition to its first mover advantage) is why it is what it is today and why it has 80 million listeners.

Indeed, Pandora and Spotify are not nearly as competitive as industry observers think: They cater largely to different audiences who have different needs, and I’m not at all certain that more functionality crossover will benefit either platform. Consumers are not seeking out a one-stop solution for all their audio needs from Pandora because they are going there for their one most important need: A music environment which matches their chosen category and is chock-full of back-to-back songs. Pandora is adding a new category because it can, not because its listeners necessarily desire it.

Just because you can add more features to a single-dimension platform doesn’t mean you should. Perhaps this move will add more value to today’s Pandora fans. Or it will add only more clutter to an audience that already has innumerable ways to consume podcasts (or as Spotify more thoughtfully calls them, “shows”) if they had a mind to do so. And – by the way – not everyone has a mind to do so.

And many will never have such a mind.

That’s why I think this news will be of negligible consequence for Pandora.

It’s also of negligible consequence for folks who consume podcasts and are comfortable with their consumption technology and habits. Witness the social media freakout caused by this announcement when many Serial fans erroneously understood that their favorite show would only appear on Pandora. Oops!

For Serial, however, this is awesome. Not only do they get a ramp to millions of new listeners but they presumably get a promotional push from Pandora to those millions of potential listeners. Indeed, the “streaming exclusive” nature of this deal for Serial can onlybe in exchange for some significant marketing muscle, because Serial streams all over the place right now – everywhere from TuneIn to Soundcloud to Serial’s own site.

One other consequence, and that’s for the category called “radio.” The bigger an audio show becomes when it has no roots or no place in conventional radio, the less there is a distinction between conventional radio and the larger category of audio entertainment and information. Especially when all facets of that larger category appeal to the same consumers and the same advertisers as conventional radio.

So what’s ahead for Pandora? I continue to believe that the real blue sky for Pandora is live and original content. That’s the news release I’m waiting for.

And I’m betting its somewhere in the pipeline.

What do you say, Pandora?

Mark Ramsey is a veteran media strategist, researcher, and trend-maker who has worked with numerous media, publishing, and digital brands.

You can contact Mark Ramsey by heading to his website

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