In contrast, Ando Media, the Arbitron of Internet radio, measures listenership only of its clients. This means that Ando’s ratings provide a foggy incomplete picture of what is happening with online radio.
The fog cleared a little this month when Ando released September ratings with Pandora included. Pandora is one of online radio’s superstars. New-media pundits have declared it’s ability to create unique playlists for each subscriber the future of radio.
We wonder whether Pandora is more about radio’s past.
Decades ago before research transformed radio, many Program Directors thought it was their job to educate listeners. Songs were chosen not because people liked them, but because people were supposed to like them.
Even after research started showing us that few listeners liked more than a couple hundred songs, “old school” PDs insisted on playing thousands of songs–for variety.
Gradually the overwhelming evidence started sinking in and radio evolved from playing what Program Directors liked to playing what listeners liked.
Pandora is a step backwards. But don’t take our word for it. Look at Pandora’s ratings.
The headlines have focused on Pandora’s top line number: 81,328,769. This is the number of times people (or more correctly IP addresses) tuned to Pandora in a week, what Ando calls Session Starts. It certainly is impressive, but given the buzz, it is understandable that people are checking it out.
More interesting is a metric that has gotten little attention, Average Time Spend Listening. In Ando’s terms, it is the average length of each session in hours. The accompanying graph at the left is a ranker of ATSL. Note that Pandora is dead last at one hour.
New-media supporters argue that broadcasting is dead. The future is narrowcasting, offering a different product to each listener. That’s what Pandora does.
If narrowcasting is the future, then TSL should be higher for Pandora than for broadcasters. It isn’t. It is actually lower than TSL for groups streaming their terrestrial signals. Many of the groups have three times the TSL as Pandora.
Pandora apologists will argue that the terrestrial groups have dozens and even hundreds of streams, while Pandora is a single station. But if that explains Pandora’s lower TSL it raises doubts about all the pundits’ predictions about the future of radio.
Maybe Pandora is radio’s past, and today’s broadcasters are radio’s present and future.