Feature Article

August 31, 2009

Pandora.com Eyes 4G Technologies, Roots for Non-Exclusivity of AT&T as iPhone Carrier: Interview

Thanks to Pandora’s new mobile application, I now get my daily hair-metal fix on my BlackBerry Curve, running in the park.
It’s a big change from my walkman-happy runs in 2000, when Pandora, which uses 400 or so attributes to create customized music experience, launched as an Internet-only platform. Today, Pandora now sees more than half of its new users listening via some kind of mobile device, including the iPhone, BlackBerry and Palm Pre.
As Pandora expands its mobile presence, Tim Westergren, one of the company’s founders and its chief strategy officer, spoke to me on the eve of ITEXPO West, which takes place Sept. 1 to 3 in Los Angeles, about the company’s excitement over 4G, as well as his thoughts on the iPhone application’s possible expansion to other carrier networks.
“There’s no doubt that the future is all about ubiquity,” Westergren said in an e-mail exchange. “High-speed wireless networks are the cornerstone to this.”
It’s a hot topic, and one to which TMC is devoting an entire event collocated with the ITEXPO this week, the 4GWE Conference.
One of the interesting tidbits I picked up from our exchange is that Westergren is among those who is rooting for the non-exclusivity of AT&T as the carrier of the iPhone.
The interview follows.
MobilityTechzone: The last 12 months have been big for Pandora, especially with the growth of specially tailored applications for the iPhone, Palm Pre, BlackBerry and other devices. When did Pandora first become available on smartphones – and how quickly application been downloaded since its launch?
Tim Westergren (pictured left): It has indeed been a great year for us. Listenership doubling, revenue doubling, and the anytime/anywhere part of our strategy really beginning to take shape. Our first smartphone implementation was the iPhone, in July 2007. The velocity of downloads as extraordinary from day one. We’re the number three downloaded iPhone app in the world with over 8 million downloads - and we are adding almost 30,000 new iPhone listeners every day.
MobilityTechzone: We’ve heard rumors about the possibility that Verizon eventually could carry the iPhone instead of AT&T exclusively. What’s Pandora’s take on that?
TW: We’d love it. Any opportunity to expand the audience for our iPhone app is a welcome opportunity for us. Fingers crossed.
MT: We’ve heard a lot about Web-based companies – Web 2.0 groups like Facebook and MySpace – and how the “free” service model has struggled to draw advertisers. Could you tell us about your business model? How does Pandora generate revenue?
TW: It’s certainly true that advertising-supported business models have struggled by and large. Pandora is very counter-trend. We are on track to more than double revenue this year and are attracting a rapidly growing list of major brand advertisers – such as Toyota, Apple, P&G, Intel, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch – and have close to a 90 percent repeat rate with advertisers year-on-year. I think what we’re seeing online, with the constricted economy, is a much more discriminating advertising sector. Only sites with advertising platforms that really perform on the key metrics are thriving in this climate. Pandora is a proven company in that regard.
MobilityTechzone: Do you expect that business model to shift as handsets get smarter and with the onset of new technology (like 4G wireless evolution)?
TW: I think what you’ll see are increasingly effective advertising products, enabled by greater bandwidth capacity and more powerful handsets.
MobilityTechzone: We’re dedicating an entire conference to the emergence of 4G technologies such as WiMAX and LTE at our upcoming ITEXPO in Los Angeles. Given the rising popularity of smartphones (discussed above), and the migration of Web-based services such as Pandora’s to the “small” screens of mobile devices, what sort of interest does Pandora have in 4G wireless evolution?
TW: If we could wave a magic wand and have ubiquitous 4G tomorrow, we do it! Anything that accelerates the adoption of mobile services is great for us. It’s the key to realizing our vision of anytime, anywhere personalized internet radio. Already, 25 percent of iPhone users are listening to Pandora in their cars; and 50 percent of the listening is done over WiFi. Internet radio is rapidly becoming a viable alternative to broadcast radio in every way.
MobilityTechzone: Do you think the mobile-based Pandora will eclipse the flagship version, with the popularity of smartphones, and the improvement of technology (to 4GWE)?
TW: That’s a reasonable hypothesis based on current trends. Thirty percent of Pandora listening is already on mobile, and we are adding over half of our new users on some kind of mobile device – iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre. There’s no doubt that the future is all about ubiquity - work, car, home, on-the-go. High speed wireless networks are the cornerstone to this.

Learn more about 4G technologies and their potential impact on smartphones and other areas of IP communications, gadgets and IT at the 4GWE Conference, an event collocated with  ITEXPO West — the biggest and most comprehensive IP communications event of the year. ITEXPO West will take place in Los Angeles, Sept. 1 to 3, 2009, featuring three valuable days of exhibits, conferences, and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss. Don’t wait. Register now.

Follow ITEXPO on Twitter: twitter.com/itexpo

Marisa Torrieri is a MobilityTechzone Editor. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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