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Pandora Radio

Pandora Media, Inc.
Pandora homepage as of September 2011
Type Public
Traded as NYSE: P
Founded January 2000 (2000-01)
San Francisco, California, US
Headquarters Oakland, California
No. of locations 26
Area served United States, Australia, New Zealand
CEO Brian McAndrews
Key people Tom Conrad (product chief)[1]
Services Internet Radio
Revenue US$ 920,800,000 (FY 2014)[2]
Net income Net loss of US$ 30,406,000 (FY 2014)[3]
Employees 1,300+
Alexa rank 317 (September 2015)[4]
Advertising Banner ads, Video ads, Audio ads
Registration Optional (required to save stations)
Users 250 million registered (2014),[5] 79.4 million active (2015)[6]
Available in English
Launched January 2000 (2000-01)
Current status Active

Pandora Internet Radio (also known as Pandora Radio or simply Pandora) is a music streaming and automated music recommendation service powered by the Music Genome Project. The service, operated by Pandora Media, Inc., is only available in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The service plays musical selections of a certain genre based on the user's artist selection. The user then provides positive or negative feedback for songs chosen by the service, which are taken into account when Pandora selects future songs.

While listening, users are offered the ability to buy the songs or albums at various online retailers. Over 400 different musical attributes are considered when selecting the next song. These 400 attributes are combined into larger groups called focus traits. There are 2,000 focus traits. Examples of these are rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies, and displayed instrumental proficiency.

The service has two subscription plans: a free subscription supported by advertisements, and a fee-based subscription without ads. There are also ads in Pandora Mobile for mobile phones and the Pandora in The Home computer appliance. As of October 2014, less than 5% of active listeners were paying subscribers.[7] As of the IPO in 2011, Pandora had 800,000 tracks from 80,000 artists in its library, and 80 million users.[8] By November 2014, Pandora had approximately doubled its library size, topping 1.5 million songs.[9] As of June 2015, Pandora had 79.4 million active users.[6]

During its 2011 fiscal year, Pandora reported $138 million in revenue with a $1.8 million net loss, excluding the cost of a special dividend associated with the IPO.[10]

In October 7th 2015, Pandora announced that is has acquired independent ticketing agency, Ticketfly for $450 Million.[11]


  • History 1
  • Features 2
    • Streaming 2.1
    • Limitations 2.2
    • Mobile devices 2.3
    • Other features 2.4
  • Technical information 3
  • Business model 4
  • Royalties 5
  • Critical reception 6
  • Advertising 7
    • Revenue 7.1
    • Pitch to advertisers 7.2
    • Methods of advertising 7.3
    • Market segments 7.4
  • Internet radio competitors 8
  • Owned and Operated Stations 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


Savage Beast Technologies was founded by Will Glaser, Jon Kraft, and Tim Westergren.[12][1]:46[1] The Music Genome Project technology was developed by Glaser with musical input from Westergren. The idea was to create a separate, individualized radio station for each user having just the "good" music on it, with none of the "junk" that other users like. In order to achieve that goal, they had to bring different styles of music together into a predictable pattern for analysis. They created 400 specifications for each song that is then compared to the listener's preferences in order to suggest other songs or artists with similar characteristics.

Initially the company pursued a transitional strategy of technology licensing to third parties including AOL, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Tower Records. The company struggled to reach profitability under this model and nearly failed. In 2004 the company returned to its initial vision of producing customized radio stations and changed its name to Pandora Media. The domain was purchased in late 2005; at the time, the domain was listed for $15,000 USD however the actual purchase price is unknown.[13]

On March 7, 2013, Pandora chief executive Joe Kennedy announced he would step down from his position, but remain until his successor is named.[14] His successor turned out to be former Microsoft executive Brian McAndrews.[1]:46

In April 2013, Pandora announced that their radio streaming service had passed 200 million users, about 70 million of whom were active monthly.[15] By December 2013, Pandora was noted as accounting for 70% of all Internet radio and 8% of total radio listening in the United States.[1]:46:46

On June 11, 2013, Pandora announced that it would purchase the conventional FM radio station KXMZ in Rapid City, South Dakota.[16][17]

On September 1, 2013, Pandora removed a 40-hour-per-month limitation for free mobile listening.[18]

In December 2013, iTunes was described as Pandora's "biggest existential threat".[1]:46

In 2015, Pandora removed lyrics from all song pages. They also introduced the ability to report comments as "inappropriate". On April 16, 2015, song samples were officially removed. Also introduced was the ability to receive updates on the player of the listener's favorite artists. The lyrics were returned that July. They also redesigned the thumbs up/down feature to allow the listener to undo their action.



A station is set by specifying an artist or song, or a combination of multiple items of any kind in a single station. Listeners can tune into pre-made genre stations, other users' stations, or create their own stations based on their musical interests. Each track played can be responded to with favorable (thumbs up) or unfavorable (thumbs down) buttons, which determine if it should be played, and how much should similarly classified songs be played in the station. A second negative response to the same artist will ban that artist from the selected station unless the user has marked the artist positively on another occasion or if that artist is listed under the station's variety. No response is applicable to musical attributes or to albums. An unfavorable response immediately stops play of the track. Clicking the thumbs down, or skipping to the next song too many times in a row will result in a short ban of skips. Pandora also utilizes short advertisements in between every couple of songs.

In addition, a menu is provided with the choices: I'm tired of this song (allowing users to remove a song from the station temporarily, although it counts as a skip); Why was this song selected? (allowing users to learn more about the composition of each song); Move song to another station; New Station; and Bookmark. A Buy button is located at the top of each song block as well. From there, listeners can click on links to buy the song from iTunes or Amazon.

There is a setting in each member's account regarding whether the user wants songs with explicit lyrics played. This, however, does not apply exclusively to albums with the Parental Advisory label, as other songs with censored versions will have that version played. An example is "Jet Airliner" by the Steve Miller Band, which had one word censored for radio play. With explicit lyrics off, that version will play, despite the album itself not having a PA label.


To comply with the requirements and protections offered by the DMCA, Pandora only serves users in the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Initially this was enforced lightly, by requiring a U.S. ZIP code at registration, but since May 3, 2007, Pandora has used IP addresses to filter users.[19]

Rewind or repeat is not permitted. Until May 2009, six skips per station were allowed per hour, further limited to 72 skips every 24 hours; giving a "thumbs down" response, or a "don't play for a month" response, count as "skips". On 21 May 2009, the skip limit was altered such that it counts total skips from all stations with the limitation of twelve total skips every 24 hours. If a listener gives a song a thumbs-down or "don't play for a month" after the limit has been exceeded, the song will continue to play; it is only after the song has completed that it becomes subject to the listener's restrictions. This limit was not applied to the Vista gadget available until Microsoft ended support of the sidebar on Vista and Windows 7. The gadget also featured an advertisement at all times. As the gadget was not a part of any specific browser, the advertisement could not be blocked. Play of a single artist is limited, as Pandora provides similar music, not a play-on-demand service.

As of 2009, the mini player is only available with Pandora's subscription service. Free accounts include advertising. These include simple interruptions, with the ad listed on the stream; advertising skins, which do not interrupt the stream; and popup ads. The Vista player had no advertisements.

Initially, users with free accounts could listen to 40 hours of music a month, and could pay $.99 per month for unlimited streaming. In September 2011, Pandora removed the 40 hour listening limit.[20] This 40 hour limit on free listening was re-introduced in March 2013 for mobile devices.[21] However, this limit was removed once more September of the same year.[18]

As of November 2013, paid subscribers are allotted thirty combined skips per 24-hours alongside the six skips per hour for each station. This limit was not applied to the mini player. The mini player has the following limitations:

  • Songs cannot be moved to another station.
  • Songs or artists cannot be seeded.
  • Six skips per hour per station

Mobile devices

Pandora iOS App

Pandora is available on the iPhone. It is ad-supported and retains the original skip limits. Pandora is also available on Google Android OS (for tablets and mobile phones).

The Windows Mobile client is limited to a select number of handsets; however, the installer is available from 3rd party sources and works fine or with only minor display glitches on most devices. In March 2013, it became available on Windows Phone 8 as a free app with ad-free streaming until 2014.[22]

The Pandora for BlackBerry application is limited to AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, Boost Mobile, and U.S. Cellular carriers, but visiting the Pandora website directly other BlackBerry users have been successful in downloading the application.

Other features

  • Pandora Podcast (2006–2009), a musicology show that updated every few weeks in the form of a podcast. It was hosted by Kevin Seal of the band Griddle. Each show covered a specific music topic, and featured guest musicians and Pandora experts who normally analyzed the music featured on the Pandora website.[23]
  • A Facebook application developed to allow users to put their Pandora radio stations on their Facebook profiles. However, in 2012 with the release of Facebook's auto-publish tool Pandora decided to remove their application from Facebook.[24]
  • Pandora released a sidebar gadget for Windows Vista and Windows 7. This player retained the original skip limit, had no ads, and did not affect the hourly listening limit in effect at the time. However, many of the features (such as about the artist or adding to the station directly) were not included. Originally, an ad for Netflix was featured on the bottom of the player, but it was later removed. When support for the sidebar was ended, Pandora discontinued support for the gadget. Pandora One's mini player is very similar to the gadget, although the original gadget was available to listeners with a free account while the mini player is exclusive to Pandora One.
  • Pandora can be played on home CE devices such as WD TV, Roku, Google TV, Xbox One, audio-video receivers, and Blu-ray players. Many HDTVs can also stream Pandora.
  • Pandora can be played in some vehicles, including but not limited to cars made by BMW, Buick, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Lexus, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Nissan, Scion, and Toyota. Some implementations have the ability to use voice commands to do things like change stations and give feedback on a song. Additionally, it is possible to purchase multimedia systems for your vehicle if it is not one of those that has been manufactured with the system already in the vehicle. These radio systems have the ability to use the Pandora app and have the same features as the systems in the vehicles that are manufactured with the systems included (excluding voice command). These radio systems are manufactured by companies such as Advent, Alpine, Clarion, Jensen, JVC Mobile Entertainment, Kenwood, Pioneer, and Sony.
  • On the Web Pandora delivers 64kbit/s AAC+ for free listeners and 192kbit/s for Pandora One subscribers. On in-home devices Pandora plays 128kbit/s audio, whereas mobile devices receive different rates depending on the device and network capabilities, but "never more than 64kbps AAC+".[25] Pandora does not offer digital music streaming in CD quality (e.g. FLAC 16-Bit/44.1 kHz).

Technical information

The Pandora media player is based on OpenLaszlo.[26] Pandora can also be accessed through many media streaming devices such as Roku, Reciva-based radios (from companies like Grace Digital, Sanyo, and Sangean), Frontier Silicon-based connected audio systems, Slim Devices, Sonos,[27] and HEOS by Denon.[28] product(s). On July 11, 2008, Pandora launched a mobile version of their software for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch through the iTunes App Store. Pandora is also available for Windows Phone, Android phones,[29] BlackBerry platforms, HP webOS (used on the Palm Pre, Palm Pixi, Palm Pre 2, and HP Veer). Pandora was the provider for MSN Radio until MSN discontinued their internet radio service on June 18, 2008.[30] A modified version of Pandora has been made available for Sprint Nextel. Pandora is available on Comcast's X1/X2 cable TV products. A GNU/Linux based application, called Pithos, which is available for accessing Pandora Radio, is available for most distributions via their repositories and is also available to build from source.

With a subscription to Pandora's One service, Windows and Mac users can download a desktop application for Pandora that uses the Adobe Air[31] without using a web browser to access Pandora. All the normal functionality is included such as thumbs up/down, skip, pause and access to all channels on a user's account.

Business model

Pandora decided to be a consumer-oriented music discovery service, specifically a non-interactive radio station. In the three months that ended October 31, 2011, advertising comprised 88% of Pandora’s total revenues;[32] a figure of 80% was reported for this metric in December 2013.[1] RPM (revenue per 1000s of hours) is determined based on CPMs (cost per thousand impressions). CPMs are largely dependent upon network effects and thus increase as a website scales and adds users. As such, Pandora’s strategy in order to allow for widespread distribution was to offer a service unbundled from devices and transport. Pandora is currently working with system-on-chip manufacturers to embed its technologies on the chips they sell to consumer electronics manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic.[33]

Pandora’s cost structure is highly variable, with content acquisition costs representing roughly 50% of total costs.[32] There are three main costs associated with content acquisition. First, SoundExchange collects content fees on behalf of labels or artists on the recording themselves. These are by far the largest content acquisition costs. Second, Pandora pays licensing fees to agencies such as BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC in order to compensate composers, songwriters and publishers. Lastly, Pandora also pays Rovi for song and artist information; this has recently been structured as a flat monthly fee.

High variable costs mean that Pandora does not have significant operating leverage, and in the next couple years might actually have negative operating leverage due to an unfavorable shift in product mix towards mobile. Pandora is currently estimated to monetize mobile hours at roughly one-ninth the rate of desktop hours.[34] Since Pandora pays the same licensing cost per hour irrespective of the user's platform, the net contribution to earnings per mobile hour is even more skewed with respect to contribution to earnings from desktop hours. Mobile revenues will improve over time as Pandora shifts from relying on third-party ad networks to selling ad inventory internally at premium rates.

In January 2011, Pandora met with investment banks to consider a possible $100 million IPO.[35][36] The company filed with the SEC for a $100mm IPO on February 11, 2011 and officially began trading on the New York Stock Exchange with ticker symbol "P" on June 15, 2011 at a price of $16/share. This gave them a valuation of nearly $2.6 billion.[37]

Pandora announced $80.8 million in total revenue for their first quarter of fiscal 2012, which was up 58% over their previous year Q1 results. Of the $80.8 million, $70.6 million came from advertising, while the other $10.2 million came from subscription. In addition, Pandora has seen a 62% advertising revenue increase, and a 38% subscription revenue increase year-over-year.[38] However, the vast majority of Pandora's users remain on the free, ad-supported model.


In 2007, a federal panel agreed with a SoundExchange request and ordered a doubling of the per-song performance royalty that Web radio stations pay to performers and record companies. Under this scheme, internet radio would pay double the royalty paid by satellite radio.

Because of the passage of DMCA in 1998 that increased fees and asked for licensing guarantees, the Pandora service is no longer available in countries other than Australia, New Zealand and the United States.[39][40] These rulings affect all U.S.-based Internet-based radio stations (terrestrial radio is not affected).

As of July 2008, Pandora was in talks with major music labels regarding royalty issues to allow a return to the European market. Costs remain a concern because of European royalty standards and a low demand for paid music services.[41]

In 2008, the founder of Pandora stated that the company may be on the verge of collapse. Royalty fees account for a majority portion of Pandora's revenues. If an agreement between Pandora and SoundExchange had not been reached, it could have meant the end of Pandora. "We're losing money as it is," said Tim Westergren. "The moment we think this problem in Washington is not going to get solved, we have to pull the plug because all we're doing is wasting money."[42]

On September 30, 2008, a bill was passed by the U.S. House and Senate to allow sites like Pandora to continue negotiations with SoundExchange into 2009.

On July 7, 2009, Pandora announced that an agreement had been reached regarding the royalty issue, which would significantly reduce the royalty rate, making it possible for Pandora to stay in business. Also announced was that free listening would be limited to 40 hours per month, but can be extended to unlimited for that month for USD$0.99. "The revised royalties are quite high," the company's blog notes, "higher in fact than any other form of radio".[43] The extended listening fee differs from "upgrading", which also disables advertisements, increases the bitrate from 64 to 192 kbps, and provides a dedicated music player (as opposed to listening through browser). This service, known as "Pandora One", costs $36 and is billed annually.[44] Pandora has since introduced an option to purchase Pandora One subscriptions on a monthly basis at a rate of $3.99 per month.[45] Also, in September 2013, Pandora began working with HitBliss to make Pandora One subscriptions available for HitBliss earned-payment.[46]

With an update to the Pandora player in September 2011, the 40 hour cap was extended to 320 hours.[20][47]

On November 22, 2011, Pandora reported its Q3 earnings. Royalty costs accounted for 50% of revenue, slightly better than expected. Its revenue, most of it from advertising, continues to rise at respectable rates. Not only has Pandora attracted more users but the average number of hours per user have also increased. Pandora now accounts for an estimated 4% of total US listening hours. As Pandora grows, it hopes to gain leverage on music labels and drive royalty costs down.[48]

On December 9, 2011, the CEO of Spotify, Daniel Ek, announced Spotify Radio would offer an unlimited number of stations and unlimited skips. Though Pandora's usage is 70% mobile, the Spotify Radio app competes against Pandora's mobile market.[49]

Pandora CEO Tim Westergren has supported the The Internet Radio Fairness Act or IRFA (H.R. 6480/S. 3609), which would reduce the company's royalty payments to the performers by 80 percent.[50]

On November 5, 2012, Pandora filed suit in federal district court against ASCAP over royalty fees.[51] In the suit, the company sought to advocate for lower licensing fees on all the songs represented by the ASCAP's 435,000 members.[52] On February 27, 2013, Pandora announced a 40-hour-per-month limit on free mobile listening. Pandora CEO Tim Westergren cited escalating royalty costs as the reason for the mobile cap.[53]

In a ruling made public earlier this year, US District Judge Denise Cote ruled that Pandora’s rate paid to ASCAP should remain the same—1.85%. She cited (p. 97) “troubling coordination” between two of the biggest publishing companies (Sony and UMPG) and ASCAP that alludes to core antitrust concern in the industry. [54]

After arguing that both ASCAP and BMI were showing bias towards international broadcasters who own terrestrial radio stations, Pandora announced on June 11, 2013 that it would attempt to acquire [57][58]

On September 1, 2013, Pandora removed the 40-hour-per-month limit on free mobile listening (originally announced on February 27, 2013). Pandora stated that it was able to make this change "thanks to the rapid progress of its mobile advertising."[59]

In 2014, signed an agreement with some music copyright owners for lower royalties in exchange for more frequent streaming of songs. Though not illegal, this practice raised comparisons to payola, which is illegal payment for airplay on terrestrial radio.[60]

Critical reception

In May 2010, Pandora was named in Lead411's 2010 Hottest San Francisco Companies list.[61] In 2013, Entertainment Weekly compared a number of music services and granted Pandora a "B-", writing, "Free streaming radio, $36 a year to go ad-free. Launched in 2005, Pandora is available on just about every platform. There's no on-demand, though, and stations tend to draw from a relatively small pool of albums."[62] As of March 2014, the annual option was eliminated, and the $3.99 monthly plan was the only way to get Pandora One. The price rose to $4.99 a month in July 2014.


Before Pandora introduced advertising it initially offered a subscription-only service without commercials. However, the idea of paying did not sit well with most U.S. consumers and the company had to consider alternative business models to offer a free service. Then, in December 2005 Pandora sold its first advertisement.[63]

In 2015, Pandora began playing more advertisements per hour in certain geographies and demographics. Pandora normally plays no more than 3 advertisements per hour for free users.[64]


Pandora became fairly popular within just two years. Starting from 2010 to 2012 Pandora's registered users had increased from 45 million to 125 million. The company's revenue increased from $55 million to $274 million, in which a majority of it from advertising. In order to appeal to a large audience of consumers, Pandora offers ad-free access for $36 a year.[65] Overall, Pandora controls 78 percent of Internet radio, and it has a 9.3 percent share of the U.S. public radio. Finally, in 2013 industry-wide total radio ad revenue increased to $17.6 billion in the U.S.[66]

Pitch to advertisers

Pandora obtains its advertisers by explaining that the company reaches a narrower audience compared to terrestrial radio. "Pandora's pitch to advertisers is that its technology can cater to consumers with far greater precision than radio - it can pinpoint listeners by age and sex, ZIP code or even musical taste."[65]

Methods of advertising

There are a few different methods of advertising on Pandora. Audio advertising comes in spots of 15 to 30 seconds, and run once every 20 minutes. However, users only encounter ads if they are engaging with the site, like contributing a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down" when changing a song or station.[67]

Next, there are banner ads which are featured on the wallpaper of the site. As noted by the New York Times, banner ads are on Pandora in order "to promote engagement, audio segments can be accompanied by clickable display ads offering coupons or product information.[67]

Advertising on Pandora works through a method of collecting data from the users online browsing activity. Once the data is collected, the company uses the data to show the user target ads. This process of advertising is also known as behavioral advertising. Pandora offers its users the option of submitting out of the targeted ads, by a "opt-out" configuration on its website. Opting-out will only prevent targeted ads, meaning users may continue to see generic (non-targeted ads) from these companies after they opt-out. Eventually, Pandora offers either targeted advertisements or generic advertisements for its non-subscribed users.[68] However, Pandora's advertising does not offer local content such as the local news, weather, traffic, and talk.[65]

Market segments

Pandora has created two market segments, one for Spanish listeners, and another for English listeners. By creating multiple market segments, Pandora's advertising is customized to its users' needs. In order to create the first two market segments, the company cross-referenced its registered user data with U.S. census. Then, the cross reference allows the company to identify zip codes with high populations of Hispanic and Spanish-speaking people, and finally it ran tests overlaying the two data sets to infer which listeners fit into those buckets.[69]

Internet radio competitors

Starting in the early 2010s, new entrants entered the personalized radio market, such as Grooveshark (launched 2007), iHeartRadio (launched 2008),, TuneIn (founded 2002), Rhapsody (launched 2001), and Europe's Spotify, all threatening to use the concept of "true" on-demand access to online music as a challenge to Pandora's personalized radio.

Europe's most popular online streaming music service, Spotify, launched in 2006 and arrived in the U.S. in mid-2011. Spotify has a catalogue of over 20 million songs compared to Pandora’s library of around 1 million. As pointed out by editors Miranda Ferrara and Michele LaMeau, "Spotify allows users to upload their own songs to the online library. While Pandora allows listeners to connect to the social media site Facebook to see what their friends are listening to, Spotify users can quickly and easily share playlists with their friends through Facebook, Twitter, email, and SMS text messages".

The second competitor that is targeting Pandora's personalized radio appeal is iHeartRadio. Editors Miranda Ferrara and Michele LaMeau note "iHeartRadio is the largest radio operator in the United States with 237 million listeners and 800 stations in 150 markets, iHeartRadio, like Pandora, offers listeners the opportunity to like or dislike a song in order to receive recommendations on other tunes. It also offers custom tools that allow the listener to discover new artists or more songs based on existing choices".[63]

As recognized by the Ad Age staff, "Pandora has about 76 million monthly users, and about a 70% share of the internet radio market in the U.S. But the war for streaming music listeners is likely to intensify now that Apple plans to acquire the Beats Music service as part of its larger deal for Beats."[70]

Yet even with all of its competition, Pandora's Promoted Stations rely on its core Music Genome Project. Overall, the Music Genome Project of more than 450 attributes assigned to each song with a human-curated database of recorded music gives a big edge over competitors like Spotify and Beats Music.[71]

Owned and Operated Stations

South Dakota

  • KXMZ - 102.7 - Hot/AC

See also


  1. ^ In the Guglielmo Forbes citation (December 2, 2013), only Tim Westergren is noted as the founder of Pandora. "They've called its founder, Tim Westergren, a robber baron."


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External links

  • Official website
  • Pandora featured in Fast Company
  • Inside Pandora: Web Radio That Listens to You (O'Reilly Digital Media article)
  • The Flux podcast interview with Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora
  • Pandora feature on WNBC-TV
  • Closing Pandora's Box: The End of Internet Radio?, May 3, 2007 interview with Tim Westergren
  • Pandora adds classical music
  • Interview with Tim Westergren about the Music Genome Project and Pandora
  • Dave Dederer & nuTsie Challenge Pandora
  • Inc. Magazine profile of Tim Westergren
  • New York Times article on Tim Westergren and Pandora
  • Pink Floyd: Pandora's Internet radio royalty ripoff USA TODAY, 2013
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