The buzz surrounding Pandora will someday become a case study on how venture capitalists make millions of dollars by recruiting self-serving pundits and exploiting the naivete of deluded digital true-believers.
The scam begins with a founder that seems to have no other motive than to make a better world. In that regard, Tim Westergren seems out of central casting. Secure a number of interviews where the earnest founder can calmly explain why Pandora is the future of radio. See some examples here. Then nurture the Pandora is the future of radio meme in a steady stream of upbeat announcements.
Original critical reporting about anything digital is essentially dead. Most who write about new-media can’t tell the difference between fantasy and fact, reality and dreams. They accept press release spin without question.
That’s bad enough, but there is often self-serving ulterior motives behind the upbeat reporting about digital media. Consultants and digital vendors have a vested interest in helping maintain a high level of buzz. So they help spread the news.
The way this works is that a blog or web site rewrites an upbeat press release into a story. Then other blogs and web sites link to the original story. The story virally spreads while the self-serving press release transmogrifies into something resembling a real news story.
The latest example of this is an insignificant story about Pandora signing a deal with AdReady to sell space for them. As we write this, Google lists over 3,000 links to the story.
The story appeared in eWEEK.com, a Ziff Davis website that appears devoted to (poorly) rewriting press releases for the sole reason of selling display ads. The article inarticularly gushed:
Hoping to build on its strategy of capitalizing on revenue growth opportunities by expanding into new markets, Pandora, the personalized Internet radio service, announced a new initiative aimed at small and midsize businesses offering them the advertising tools larger corporations currently have access to.
Kurt Hanson’s Radio and Internet Newsletter then picked up the story in not one, but two stories. (Note that Pandora is one of RAIN’s platinum sponsors, although that certainly wouldn’t influence the newsletter’s story selection.)
The newsletter writes:
Yesterday came news that the invaders may now be scaling the castle walls. Internet radio's biggest pureplay, Pandora, announced its partnership with AdReady to target small- and medium-sized local businesses - that is, traditional radio's local customers, its bread and butter. (It's display ads only for now, but the technology for geo-targeted local audio ads is there, no doubt.)
Gerson Lehrman Group advisor Alan Albarran fears that radio has lost of (sic) a generation of listeners, many of whom migrated to more "forward" media like personalizable online radio. And with them, radio's lost selling opportunities. "The demographic. 20-24. no longer uses radio. But they use Pandora, and they use it a lot," he writes. "Once these businesses realize the awareness of Pandora and where the younger market is, they should jump on this opportunity."
So the newsletter adds weight to the story by quoting one Dr. Alan Albarran (with link). Who is Dr. Albarran? A PhD trolling for consulting work. He’s sign on with the Gerson Lehrman Group as a consultant, perhaps to supplement his university pay.
A professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of North Texas (gasp), he writes:
I'm a college professor in the media area. I'm teaching a management course this term, and recently I asked my class how many had heard of HD radio. One student raised their hand out of 24. When I asked how many had heard of Pandora, all but two students raised their hand. The demographic is roughly 20-24. This group no longer uses radio unless they are in a car with no alternatives. But they use Pandora, and they use it a lot.
If this is the level of intellectual discourse in college media departments, we now know why so many college graduates are stupid. They are being taught by clueless professors.
Drawing conclusions about the health of radio and the future of Pandora based on a show of hands of 24 media students allows Albarran to appear a media expert to be cited by RAIN to reinforce the notion that Pandora is scaling radio’s castle walls.
Pandora may be the future of radio. It may just be a curious footnote in the future of radio, but either way you have to give them credit. While medieval alchemists might not have turned lead into gold, Pandora has found a way to turn BS into gold.