March 19, 2019
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Pandora takes on Spotify’s Release Radar with its newest playlist, The Drop

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Pandora is taking on Spotify with the launch of a new personalized playlist, The Drop, announced this morning. Similar to Spotify’s Release Radar, The Drop will also focus on new releases from artists its listeners care about. New tracks are added to the playlist on the day they’re released, the company says  – that means Fridays, as with Release Radar.

Pandora’s playlist will also be longer than Spotify’s 30-track Release Radar as it doesn’t immediately ditch older tracks when new ones arrive. The Drop will instead grow to feature 100 of the latest tracks listed in order, with the newest at the top.

The selections on your version of The Drop will be based on your prior listening behavior on Pandora, the company says. And they’ll be algorithmically programmed, not hand-curated.

As you listen, if you find something you like, you’ll be able to add it to “My Music” or share it directly with friends and family.

The launch arrives at a time when the company has been more recently focused on personalized playlists as a means of upselling free users to its paid tiers.

In May, the streaming service rolled out dozens of personalized playlists to its Premium subscribers, based on their listening behavior and Pandora’s Music Genome. These “soundtracks,” as Pandora calls them, are categorized by genre (R&B, Hip Hop, Pop, Alternative, etc.) as well as by mood or activity (Focus, Chill, Happy, Rainy Day, etc.).

Since their debut, more than 790,000 users have listened to at least one of these personalized soundtracks, Pandora told TechCrunch. In addition, users have collectively listened for nearly 1 million hours, and have played a total of 21.4 million songs from their soundtracks to date.

Energy is the top soundtrack with 2.8 million spins, followed by Hip Hop (2.5m), Country (1.8m), R&B (1.43m), Party (1.41m), Pop (1.4m) and Happy (1.2m).

Like these playlists, The Drop will also only be available to Premium subscribers or those testing Pandora on a free trial before committing to a subscription.

The Premium tier is Pandora’s answer to Spotify’s on-demand service, offering playlist creation, downloads for offline listening, unlimited skips and replays, higher-quality audio, and no ads, as well as the ability to play any song at will.

The strategy of enticing paying customers with personalization features may be working.

The streaming service in July reported its two paid tiers – Plus and Premium – had reached 6 million subscribers – a number that’s up 23% year-over-year. But its user base overall is declining slightly, as Spotify and Apple Music charge ahead. Its 71.4 million active users represented a 6% drop from its 76 million users in the year-ago period.

While I was able to test The Drop pre-launch, it’s harder to speak precisely to its quality because my child uses my Pandora account more often than I do. So my playlist was an eclectic mix of David Bowie, Blood on the Dance Floor, Interpol, Ariana Grande, Twenty One Pilots, Echo & The Bunnymen, among others. That said, it didn’t have anything on it that was way off base for at least one of us.

It was also not 100 songs at launch – just 14 – as the playlist will grow over time.

The Drop is launching today, but will roll out to Pandora’s Premium user base over the course of the next two weeks, says Pandora.



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Apple Music launches a ‘Top Charts’ playlist series

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Apple Music is rolling out a new playlist series that will feature the Top 100 songs on Apple Music globally and for those countries where Apple Music is available. Because they’re playlists, users will be able to add these top charts for their country or the Top 100 Global songs to their library so they can stream them any time, or listen offline.

The feature was first reported by Rolling Stone, which was given a preview of the changes by Apple.

At launch, there are 116 charts launching in total, including the Top 100 Global and one for each Apple Music market. Many countries will have access to all of these new Top 100 playlist charts, but availability will vary, we understand.

What’s also interesting about the top chart playlists is that they’ll be updated daily at 12:00 AM PT based on Apple Music streams, which keeps them fresh.

Rolling Stone’s report indicates the release of these charts is due to growing importance of streaming numbers. Artists and their managers as well as labels and scouts tend to reference top streaming charts in the hunt for new talent, it says. And the industry has adapted, too, by more heavily weighting paid streaming over free.

On that front, Apple Music’s dominance in North America means its numbers, in particular, are important to track.

Apple Music, now with 50 million paid subscribers worldwide, is currently ahead of Spotify in the North American market, according to comments made by CEO Tim Cook on the latest earnings call.

“We took the leadership position in North America during the quarter and we have the leadership position in Japan, and in some of the markets that we’ve been in for a long period of time,” he said in July.

Spotify is still ahead on the worldwide stage, with 83 million paid users. 

However, it’s worth also pointing out that these new top charts aren’t just launching as a static section of the Apple Music app – they’re dynamic playlists.

That is, Apple’s new Top Charts playlists will not be replacing the existing Top 200 Songs chart, available today.

Playlists are an important battleground between the major streaming services, with Spotify focusing heavily on personalization with playlists like its flagship Discover Weekly, plus Release Radar, Daily Mixes (and a newer variation, Your Daily Car Mix), Your Summer Rewind, and Time Capsule.

Apple Music, meanwhile, offers users a Favorites playlist, along with a New Music Mix, Chill Mix, and is rolling out a Friends Mix in iOS 12.

The feature is available today on Apple Music. You can check out these playlists as an example:


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Apple Music users spot ‘Friends Mix,’ a new personalized playlist of friends’ tunes

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Apple appears to be working on another personalized playlist for Apple Music subscribers – this time, one that shows you what your friends are listening to on its service, as opposed to a personalized playlist filled with editorial or algorithmic recommendations. The new “Friends Mix” playlist includes 25 songs and is updated on Mondays, according users who have gained access to this new feature and screenshots of the playlist’s description.

News of the playlist was first spotted by a user on Reddit, then reported by 9to5MacAppleInsider and several others, as a result.

Apple has not yet formally announced the addition, and many other Apple Music subscribers are not seeing the playlist at this time.

Apple has also not yet responded to a request for comment, so it’s unclear if the playlist is now rolling out or is something in testing. (This post will be updated with more information, as available.)

According to the original poster on Reddit, the playlist appeared in their Apple Music app on a device that was running iOS 12 beta – this could indicate it’s something that won’t launch to the public until the general release of iOS 12 later this fall.

The tester also noted they had just installed the iOS 12 beta, which could explain why they saw it first.

TC editor Matthew Panzarino, who’s also on the iOS 12 beta, now has the feature, as well. However, others here on the iOS 12 beta – and lower versions of iOS – do not yet.


Above: Friends playlist; image credit Reddit user reesyy

Personalized playlists are a key selling point for streaming music services, with Apple, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, iHeartRadio and others all offering a variety of playlists for their subscribers. In Apple’s case, it already offers a handful of these, including “Favorites,” “New Music Mix,” and the latest addition, launched over a year ago, “Chill Mix.”

It’s long been time for Apple to expand its lineup of playlists further – especially given Spotify’s growing selection, which now includes its flagship playlist Discover Weekly, its Daily Mixes (plus a new variation, Your Daily Car Mix, apparently, Redditors also spotted), Release Radar, Your Summer Rewind, and Time Capsule.

Above: More screenshots, including the playlist description: “A selection of songs based on what your friends have been listening to. Refreshed every Monday.”

However, the value of a playlist of your friends’ music is more questionable.

Though social music was Spotify’s original aim, through integrations with Facebook and tools to find and follow others, it has stepped away from that in later years. Instead, it’s more focused now on making the service feel individualized to each user – after all, your friends could be listening to some awfully terrible stuff. 

The arrival of the new playlist follows the recent news that Apple Music is leading Spotify in the North American market, announced by Apple CEO Tim Cook on the last earnings call. Cook also said Apple Music now tops well over 50 million current subscribers and free trial users; Spotify, by comparison, now has 83 million paying subscribers.

Do you have Friends Mix? If so, send me a screenshot noting your iOS version and when it appeared: 

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Pandora’s personalized playlists go live for all Premium users

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Earlier this year, Pandora announced its plans to challenge Spotify by taking aim at one of its rival’s top features: personalized playlists. Pandora in March began rolling out dozens of variations of personalized playlists, including those spanning moods, activities, and genres – all powered by its music database, the Music Genome. Today, Pandora says the rollout has completed and all its Premium users will now have access to these new playlists.

The feature is meant to offer Pandora’s free users a reason to upgrade to its top-tier paid offering, Pandora Premium. This $9.99 per month service offers on-demand listening, playlist creation, downloads for offline listening, unlimited skips and replays, higher-quality audio and no advertisements.

Premium users can share their personalized playlists with friends, even if they’re on the free tier, by sending a link.

The free user can temporarily access Premium by watching a video ad as a way to test drive the Premium experience, and listen to their friend’s playlist. This option, called “Access,” launched in December and has been used by millions.

The company declined to comment on how well this “test drive” strategy has been working to convert free users to paid, saying that it’s not sharing metrics and engagement numbers around personalized playlists as the feature hadn’t yet been broadly rolled out. (Only a “select” number had access to the playlists ahead of today).

The playlists themselves are created by a combination of data from Pandora’s Music Genome and machine learning models that understand what sort of music you like. But Pandora also employs human curators to perfect the lists and update them, as needed.

At launch, the service was capable of offering over 60 personalized playlists, like those for “focus,” “energy,” “rainy days” or genre-based ones, like “pop” or “hip hop.” But users won’t necessarily get all 60 – they’ll only get those that Pandora thinks makes sense for the individual based on the user’s listening habits.

Pandora says that, during this staged rollout phase, it was creating up to four new playlists for each user per week, and this process would continue until it “maxed out” each user’s playlist categories. This “max” is not a flat number, but varies by user. For example, someone who listens to a lot of different types of music may continue getting new playlists for weeks.

Now that the feature is live, Pandora plans to release more categories, including new soundtrack themes, in the months ahead.

“This is the beginning of a whole suite of themed playlists that we will automatically build and tailor to each Premium user. In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out more even more themes for you to unlock,” writes Chris Phillips, Pandora CPO, in a blog post announcing the news.

To find the new playlists, visit the “Featured Playlists” section of “Browse” in the Pandora mobile app.


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iHeartRadio opens up its playlists to all users with launch of Playlist Radio

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iHeartRadio is best known for its free service offering thousands of live, streaming AM and FM radio stations and its ability to create your own custom station, similar to Pandora. Today, the company is adding a new feature for all users – both free and paid – that blurs the lines between streaming radio and the typically premium-only option of using playlists: Playlist Radio.

Like most playlists, Playlist Radio isn’t a random assortment of songs.

Instead, the songs it plays are curated and programmed by radio DJs and other iHeartRadio staff. That means there isn’t an algorithm deciding what to play next – you’re listening to a selection of songs an actual person has put together.

However, because it’s still “radio” you can’t do some of the things you could with the premium product’s playlists – like reorganizing tracks, adding or removing songs, or playing a particular song in the playlist on-demand. Instead, the songs will play in their given order, though you can skip up to six songs per hour within a playlist – the same as free users have when they’re listening to iHeartRadio’s artist stations.

The addition of Playlist Radio opens up iHeartRadio’s over 1,000 existing playlists to a wider audience.

This includes all nearly the artist-created, genre-based, activity-focused, musical era-focused, and theme-based playlists, with the exception of a handful of playlists that have too few songs to turn into a radio experience.

Before now, those playlists were only available behind a paywall for iHeartRadio Plus, the $4.99/month on-demand music service, and iHeartRadio All Access, which offers unlimited access to millions of songs and offline listening.

In addition, the playlists will be updated every week, save for those where it doesn’t make sense – like those focused on a particular era, like ’60’s music, for example.

“One of the things we’re most excited about and the area where i feel like we really excel is in music curation,” explains iHeart’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Williams, of how Playlist Radio came to be. “We have some of the greatest music curators on the planet within iHeartRadio. We have the best radio programmers, music directors, and program directors who are out there curating every single day for their radio stations. So we tapped into the resources that we had there, as well as finding some external expertise.”

The idea is that these programmers have already built these great, curated listening experiences, but because free products can only offer radio play as opposed to on-demand streams, the subset of iHeartRadio’s 110+ million registered users who aren’t on a subscription tier were missing out.

However, Playlist Radio could also drive those free users to upgrade, in order to better take advantage of the on-demand options.

“I think it’s exposing a great listening experience to our existing free users, and offering them up a listening opportunity that doesn’t exist on the free tier right now,” says Williams. “I think what radio does a brilliant job at is programming formatically. And I think what Playlist Radio does a great job of is offering listening occasions that are thematic,” he notes. The new products aims to marry the two. 

While on-demand music services are growing, there’s an increased interest in lean-back modes of listening, even for on-demand users who can play whatever they choose. For example, Pandora just challenged Spotify with the launch of dozens of personalized playlists based on its Music Genome; and Spotify, of course, is still well-loved for its popular “Discover Weekly” personalized playlist and its curated trendsetters, like RapCaviar.

Of course, the launch also comes at a time when iHeartRadio is facing steep competition from those competitors and others, including Apple and Amazon, in music.

In fact, the streaming service’s parent company, iHeartMedia – which also owns hundreds of radio stations, a concert business, and a 90% stake in Clear Channel Outdoor’s billboard company – recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Consumers won’t know the difference when it comes to using iHeartRadio’s streaming service in the near-term. However, Pandora investor Liberty Media (SiriusXM’s owner) was interested in a deal with iHeartMedia which could impact iHeartRadio’s business in the future.

Playlist Radio is rolling out today to all iHeartRadio users on iOS, Android and desktop, before making its way to other platforms.

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