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February 24, 2019
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Pandora

Pandora launches a personalized voice assistant on iOS and Android

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Pandora today announced the launch of its own, in-app voice assistant which you can call up at any time by saying “Hey Pandora,” followed by a request to play the music or podcasts you want to hear. The feature will allow you to not only control music playback with commands to play a specific artist, album, radio or playlist, but will also be capable of delivering results customized to you when responding to vague commands or those related to activity or mood. For example, you’ll get personalized results for requests like “play something new,” “play more like this,” “play music for relaxing,” “play workout music,””play something I like,” and others.

The company reports strong adoption of its service on voice-activated speakers, like Amazon Echo devices, where now millions of listeners launch Pandora music by speaking – a trend which inspired the move to launch in-app voice control.

“Voice is just an expected new way that you engage with any app,” notes Pandora Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips. “On the mobile app, we’re doing more than just your typical request against the catalog… asking: ‘hey, Pandora,’ to search and play or pause or skip,” he says.  “What we’re doing that we think is pretty special is we’re taking that voice utterance of what someone asks for, and we’re applying our personalized recommendations to the response,” Phillips explains.

That means when you ask Pandora to play you something new, the app will return a selection that won’t resemble everyone else’s music, but will rather be informed by your own listening habits and personal tastes.

The way that result is returned may also vary – for some, it could be a playlist, for others an album, and for others, it could be just a new song, a personalized soundtrack, or a radio station.

“Play something new” isn’t the only command that will yield a personalized response, Pandora says. It will also return personalized results for commands related to your mood or activity – like workout music, something to relax to, music for cooking, and more.

For podcasts, it can dig up episodes with a specific guest, play shows by title, or even deliver show recommendations, among other things.

Voice commands can be used in lieu of pressing buttons, too, in order to do things like add songs to a playlist or giving a song you like a thumbs up, for instance.

The new feature, called “Voice Mode,” taps into Pandora’s machine learning and data science capabilities, which is an active battleground between music services.

Spotify, for example, is well known for its deep personalized with its Discover Weekly and other custom playlists, like its Daily Mixes. But its own “voice mode” option is only available for its Premium users, according to a FAQ on the company’s website.

Pandora, meanwhile, is planning to roll out Voice Mode to all users – both free and paid.

For free users, the feature will work in conjunction with an existing ad product that allows users to opt in to watch a video in order to gain temporary access to Pandora’s on-demand service.

While this option is not live at launch, the plan is to allow any user to use the “Hey Pandora” command, then redirect free users with a request to play music on demand to instead play the opt-in ad first.

Pandora Voice Mode will launch today, January 15 to a percentage of the iOS and Android user base – around a million listeners. The company will track the speed, accuracy and performance of its results before rolling it out more broadly over the next couple of months.

Users with a Google Home device can also cast from their Pandora app to their smart speaker, and a similar feature will arrive on Alexa devices soon, the company believes.

Pandora works with  Siri Shortcuts, too. That means you can now use voice to launch the app itself, then play a personalized selection of music without having to touch your phone at all.

Voice Mode will be available in the Pandora app via the search bar next to the magnifying glass.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project goes live for all

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Last month, Pandora announced it would soon be bringing its “Genome” technology to a new space outside of music: it would leverage a similar classification system to make podcast recommendations, too. Initially, the feature was only available to select users on mobile devices, ahead of a broader public launch. Today, Pandora says its Podcast Genome Project has gone live for all users.

Like Pandora’s Music Genome – its music information database capable of classifying songs across 450 different attributes — Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project is a cataloging system designed to evaluate content. But its focus is on audio programs instead of music.

The Podcast Genome Project can currently evaluate content across over 1,500 attributes, including MPAA ratings, production style, content type, host profile, and more, alongside other listener signals, like thumbs, skips, replays and others. It uses a combination of machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and collaborative filtering methods to help determine listener preferences, the company says.

Pandora then combines this data with human curation to make its podcast recommendations.

These recommendations are live now in the Pandora app’s “Browse” section, under the banner “Recommended Podcasts For You.” Podcasts will also be discoverable throughout the app in the Now Playing screen, search bar, in the podcast backstage passes, and in the episode backstage passes.

At launch, the app is aggregating over 100,000 podcast episodes in genres like News, True Crime, Sports, Comedy, Music, Business, Technology, Entertainment, Kids, Health and Science, the company adds.

Podcasters can also now ask to be included in Pandora’s app by filling out a form here.

Longer-term, a better recommendation system for podcasts could help Pandora as it becomes more integrated with its acquirer SiriusXM. The deal will likely bring SiriusXM’s exclusive programming to Pandora’s subscribers, which would greatly increase the number of audio programs available on its service. Putting the right programs in front of the most interested customers could then drive more people to upgrade to a paid subscription, impacting Pandora’s bottom line.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

JioSaavn becomes India’s answer to Spotify and Apple Music

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India finally has its answer to Spotify after Reliance Jio merged its music service with Saavn, the startup it acquired earlier this year.

The deal itself isn’t new — it was announced back in March — but it has reached its logical conclusion after two apps were merged to create a single entity, JioSaavn, which is valued at $1 billion. For the first time, India has a credible rival to global names like Spotify and Apple Music through the combination of a venture capital-funded business — Saavn — and good old-fashioned telecom, JioMusic from Reliance’s disruptive Jio operator brand.

This merger deal comes days after reports suggested that Spotify is preparing to (finally) enter the Indian market, a move that has been in the planning for over a year as we have reported.

That would set up an interesting battle between global names Spotify and Apple and local players JioSaavn and Gaana, a project from media firm Times Internet which is also backed by China’s Tencent.

It isn’t uncommon to see international firms compete in Asia — Walmart and Amazon are the two major e-commerce players while Chinese firms Alibaba and Tencent have busily snapped up stakes in promising internet companies for the past couple of years — but that competition has finally come to the streaming space.

There have certainly been misses over the years.

Early India-based pioneer Dhingana was scooped by Rdio back in 2014 having initial shut down its service due to financial issues. Ultimately, though, Rdio itself went bankrupt and was sold to Pandora, leaving both Rdio and Dhingana in the startup graveyard.

Saavn, the early competitor too Dhingana, seemed destined to a similar fate, at least from the outside. But it hit the big time in 2015 when it raised $100 million from Tiger Global, the New York hedge fund that made ambitious bets on a number of India’s most promising internet firms. That gave it the fuel to reach this merger deal with JioMusic.

Unlike Dhingana’s fire sale, Saavn’s executive team continues on under the JioSaavn banner.

The coming-together is certainly a far more solid outcome than the Rdio deal. JioSaavn has some 45 million songs — including a slate of originals started by Saav — and access to the Jio network, which claims over 250 million subscribers.

JioSaavn is available across iOS, Android, web and Reliance Jio’s own app store

The JioMusic service will be freemium but Jio subscribers will get a 90-day trial of the ad-free ‘Pro’ service. The company maintains five offices — including outposts in Mountain View and New York — with over 200 employees while Reliance has committed to pumping $100 million into the business for “growth and expansion of the platform.”

While it is linked to Reliance and Jio, JioMusic is a private business that counts Reliance as a stakeholder. You’d imagine that remaining private is a major carrot that has kept Saavn founders — Rishi Malhotra, Paramdeep Singh and Vinodh Bhat — part of the business post-merger.

The window certainly seems open for streaming IPOs — Spotify went public this past April through an unconventional listing that valued its business around $30 billion while China’s Tencent Music is in the process of a listing that could raise $1.2 billion and value it around that $30 billion mark, too. JioSaavn might be the next streamer to test the public markets.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The battle over the driving experience is heating up and will be won in software  

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Sirius XM’s recent all-stock $3.5-billion purchase of the music-streaming service Pandora raised a lot of eyebrows. A big question was why Sirius paid so much. Is Pandora’s music library and customer base really worth that amount? The answer is that this was a strategic move by Sirius in a battle that is far bigger than radio. The real battle, which will become much more visible in the coming years, is over the driving experience.

People spend a lot of time commuting in their cars. That time is fixed and won’t likely change. However, what is changing is the way we drive. We’re already seeing many new cars with driver assist features, and automakers (and tech companies) are working hard to bring fully autonomous cars to the market as quickly as possible. New cars today already contain an average of 100 million lines of code that can be updated to increase driver assist options, and some automakers like Tessla already offer an “autonomous” mode on highways.

According to the Brookings Institute, one-quarter of all cars will be autonomous by 2040 and IHS predicts all cars will be autonomous after 2050. Those are conservative estimates, as we are likely to see major changes in the next 10 years.

These changes will impact the driving experience. As cars become more autonomous, we can do more than simply listen to music or podcasts. We may be able to watch videos, surf the web, and more. The value of car real estate is already valuable, but it’s going to skyrocket as we change the way people consume media while driving.

The Pandora acquisition was a strategic move by Sirius to gain the necessary assets so that it won’t fall behind in this space — and to get into the fast-growing music streaming business, where users consume music at home, work and at play.  While Pandora’s music library is arguably second tier, it’s also good enough that it can provide pretty much every artist most people want. This is often how high-priced mergers happen – one party is concerned about falling behind and pays a premium to purchase the other company’s assets. It’s also a bet by Sirius about the driving experience of the future.

As the battle over the driving experience heats up, we will initially see companies like Google, Amazon and Apple start dipping their toes in the market. They might do that through investments in startups, rolling out their own services, or purchasing competitors. Some of those large tech companies already have projects around autonomous cars. Uber may even be interested in this market.

For now, Sirius probably doesn’t need to worry about competition from startups. They won’t be able to grow big enough fast enough to get a sizable share of the market. A more likely scenario is that startups will work on software that offers a unique functionality, making it an attractive acquisition target by a larger company.

This is going to be an interesting battle to watch in the coming years, as cars essentially become software with four wheels attached. Companies like Sirius know this is an important space and that the battle over the driving experience will be won in software. The acquisition of Pandora is only the beginning.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Pandora brings its Genome technology to podcast recommendations

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Earlier this year, Pandora challenged Spotify’s personalization capabilities by using its Music Genome technology to create dozens of customized playlists for its users. Today, it will begin leveraging similar technology to do the same for podcasts. The Podcast Genome Project, as it’s called, is now powering a new recommendation system that will be combined with human editorial oversight to offer content suggestions for Pandora users.

Like the Music Genome – the music information database capable of classifying songs across 450 different attributes – the Podcast Genome Project is also a cataloging system designed to evaluate content. But in this case, its focus is on audio programs.

Says Pandora, the Podcast Genome Project can currently evaluate content across over 1,500 attributes like MPAA ratings, production style, content type, host profile and more, as well as listener signals, like thumbs, skips, replays, and more. It uses machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and collaborative filtering methods to help determine listener preferences.

Also similar to the Music Genome, the Podcast Genome technology is combined with human curation to make its recommendations.

The system will do more than suggest shows to try out, Pandora notes. In addition to finding new podcasts, it can also suggest which episodes to listen to at the right time.

The Pandora app will direct users to its recommendations in the app.

The goal with the new project is to help solve the issues around podcast discovery, which is an increasingly difficult challenge as the genre’s popularity explodes with more podcasters creating shows. However, Pandora points out that the majority of U.S. users aren’t regular podcast listeners.

“It might feel like podcasts are ubiquitous, but, eighty-three percent of Americans aren’t yet listening to podcasts on a weekly basis, and a majority of them report that’s because they simply don’t know where to start,” said Roger Lynch, Pandora CEO. “Making podcasts – both individual episodes and series – easy to discover and simple to experience is how we plan to greatly grow podcast listening while simultaneously creating new and more sustainable ways to monetize them,” he said.

Pandora was recently acquired by SiriusXM for $3.5 billion – a deal that will likely bring some of SiriusXM’s exclusive audio programming over to Pandora, increasing its lineup of available audio shows. Technology that’s capable of analyzing these sorts of programs for the purpose of recommendations could be useful there, too, in the future.

The personalized podcast destination is launching into beta today to select Pandora users on mobile devices. It will expand to the wider public in the weeks ahead.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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