Pandora, the streaming music service to be acquired by Sirius XM pending DOJ approval, announced last week that it will begin to include podcasts. This isn't a huge surprise. The company's CEO, Roger Lynch, made the company's interest in podcasting clear last spring, when he announced that Pandora would create the Podcast Genome Project — a discovery engine for podcasts similar to Pandora's music discovery engine. In fact, Pandora has already dabbled in the space by including hand-selected podcasts like Serial in its service; and many have speculated that podcasts, which don't require hefty licensing fees, could help the streaming service find a sustainable revenue model.
Here's what you need to know:
1. Pandora is currently accepting a handful of Libsyn podcasts.
Pandora has announced that it will start with a private beta program that includes 420 podcasts hosted by Libsyn. Rob Walch, VP of Podcaster Relations for Libsyn, made the announcement in a special bonus episode of The Feed podcast which only available in the mobile app (get the iOS version of Android version and listen to the November 13th “Special Episode” announcement). Rob explains the origin of this partnership, which is the culmination of years of efforts to engage with Pandora. Libsyn podcasters who are interested in seeing their podcasts appear in Pandora (and really, who isn't?) were asked to submit their podcast to Rob by email by providing extra details and accepting Pandora's terms.
2. Presumably, Pandora will eventually open up to all podcast creators.
While there is some grumbling in the podcasting community about the fact that Pandora is rolling this program out with shows hosted on Libsyn, the general sentiment is that this is a positive step for podcasters at large. When Spotify started including podcasts in its service, the company initially hand-picked a limited number of shows. Over time, it opened up to allow all podcasters to submit their shows to the service. The podcasting community generally expects that Pandora will follow suit.
There are rumors that there will be a link to a webpage where all podcasters can submit their podcasts in the future. (12/6/18 Update: Pandora is now accepting show submissions from all podcasters through this form, though the company says that it cannot add every podcast to its service at this time.)
3. There's more to come in December.
Right now, the podcasts that Pandora has decided to include are not available to the general public, only select users who have been invited to the private beta program. Listeners can request access to the beta program here. This beta version will only available as a mobile app for now.
Pandora and Libsyn have indicated that there will be future announcements before the end of the year. (12/6/18 Update: Pandora has published this blogpost announcing the launch of Podcasts on Pandora.)
4. Pandora's announcement strikes a different tone than Google's announcement earlier this year.
When Google's Product Manager, Zack Reneau-Weeden, announced that Google had finally launched a podcatcher app for Android, he declared that it could lead to a “a doubling of the industry size.” While that's true — largely because podcasting's growth has been limited by Google's late embrace of the space — it also set the bar pretty high, making anything less than a doubling of podcast listening look like a disappointment.
By contrast, Pandora's announcement was more modest. While they are clearly optimistic, Rob Walch and Elsie Escobar repeatedly use the phrase “incremental growth” to describe the expected impact of Pandora's entry into the podcasting space. Perhaps that's because Pandora is only available in the United States (though the U.S. is the clear leader in podcast consumption). Or perhaps it's because the company wants to set more realistic expectations.
5. Nonetheless, Pandora could become a significant source of podcast downloads.
Apple's Podcasts app has always been the undisputed leading source for podcast listening, accounting for roughly two thirds of all downloads. After Spotify entered the space, it grew into something that podcasting had never seen before — a substantial second place contender. Spotify now accounts for around 8% of all of Libsyn's podcast downloads. Will Pandora do the same?
Rob Walch notes that it took Spotify four years to get to this level, and points out that Libsyn won't report Pandora stats at large for some time. Nonetheless, he predicts that Pandora might account for one to two percent of podcast listening a year from now. After all, as Digital Music News reported, “In June 2018, around 28% of all Android devices had installed Pandora.”
Pandora's entry into the world of podcasting, which follows on Spotify's and Google's embrace of the medium, is a sign of things to come. Broadcasters and podcasters would be wise to pay attention.
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