On Monday, Pandora completed the rollout of its new on-demand service, which competes with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, and is key to the company’s future.
Pandora has a massive and loyal audience, and its leadership is betting big that Pandora Premium, the new on-demand service, will be a hit.
“We intend to be profitable this year,” Pandora CEO Tim Westergren said last month on CNBC. A chunk of that goal is likely tied to on-demand, where Pandora wants to have 6 to 9 million subscribers by the end of the year.
I spent about a week trying Pandora Premium before it launched, and I have both good news and bad news for Pandora investors.
The good news is that it’s a beautiful and intuitive product, and is likely to snag some of Pandora’s internet-radio fans, especially with playlist-building features that leverage Pandora’s trove of historical data on longtime users. The bad news is that there are a few places where Pandora Premium misses on the chance to be the first service to seamlessly integrate on-demand with the “lean-back” style of listening Pandora is famous for.
Here’s what I mean:
Services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora Premium share much of the same basic DNA, so I won’t spend too much time on those elements. They all let you listen to basically any song you want for $10 a month — with a few high-profile exceptions like Taylor Swift — and they all let you save music offline to listen when you don’t have reception.
The first things you’ll notice about Pandora Premium, however, is that it generally makes those millions of songs a tiny bit easier to navigate than Spotify. I especially appreciated the ease at which I could toggle to just viewing “downloaded” songs, in the event that I wanted to limit my data usage. Spotify makes that process a tad trickier, and it shows that Pandora is really committed to making things dead simple.
The piece I truly loved about Pandora Premium was how easy it was to make playlists. Pandora has built a nifty feature that lets you “add similar songs” to your playlists, easily turning that 4-song playlist into 20. It’s a really nice touch, especially for longtime Pandora users.
And the “My Thumbs Up” playlist Pandora automatically makes of every song you have ever given a thumbs-up to is a useful trip down memory lane.
But one place Pandora lags behind Spotify is in marquee pre-made playlists.
Spotify has popular curated playlists like “Rap Caviar,” as well as updating personalized playlists like “Discover Weekly,” meant to turn you onto new tunes. Both of those have developed a cult following, and while Pandora’s radio stations can plug some of the “Discover Weekly” gap, blockbuster curated playlists feel like a missing element.
Pandora does have pre-made radio stations that function much like playlists (i.e. you can hop ahead to a different song in the queue). These come in varieties like “Today’s Hits” in different genres, decades by genre, moods, activities, and so on. But they just don’t have the same flavor as Spotify’s.