Oakland, California, based Pandora Media, a free Internet-based radio service is partnering with Sprint Nextel to offer a personalized streaming radio service to Sprint Nextel mobile phone users. Beginning today, the new service will be available for free for the first 30 days of use; it will then be a $2.99 a month add-on fee to Sprint data plans (which require plans with a cost equal to a minimum payment of another $15 a month.
The Pandora service, which will be offered through a new web interface specifically for mobile customers, will also be available on the Sonos Music System, a wireless home music system gaining rave reviews from gadget freaks around the globe. (Sonos is kind of like a cross between an iPod and a remote control. It wirelessly streams your music collection from up to 16 computers or storage devices (including MP3 players) to Sonos receivers which can be placed around your house and connected to speakers or stereos. Each Sonos "Zone" receiver can play music independent of the others). For Sonos, Pandora will also offer a 30 day trial and a similar subscription fee.
Pandora bills itself as a personalized (or semi-personalized) Internet radio service. Unlike their competitors, including Last.fm and others, Pandora has created detailed indexes of their available songs based on a range of musical criteria (almost 400 attributes). The call it the Music Genome Project. These criteria are noted for songs you like, as are your listening habits. From the data that provides, Pandora streams to you a play list of music custom tailored for you, the individual listener.
Pandora is not the first company to try and provide a streamed fee-based radio service to cell phones. Radio station owner Clear Channel tried a similarly priced pilot program in September with Cingular. The pilot was unsuccessful and scrapped. Clear Channel is now offering a free SMS based program for users.
Pandora has been something of a cult hit since launching in November 2005. To date they have more than 6.9m users who tune in (online) to get their music; many fanatically devoted. Their effort to expand their service is laudable but it’s not likely to make a big impact. As loyal as Pandora fans are, there are simply too many ways for consumers to get music – from traditional radio, to satellite, to MP3 players. As compelling a factor as the portability of cell phones (not too mention their ubiquity) may be to marketers, they’re not yet ready to be everything for people. MP3 players on phones are still a novelty feature, and similarly, so would be Pandora.
The Sonos deal has far more potential to succeed.