March 19, 2019
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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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TuneIn launches a discounted audio subscription for Alexa owners and Prime members

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TuneIn, the free radio service that allows you to stream news, sports, music and podcasts, is today rolling out a new subscription offering for Alexa customers in the U.S. TuneIn Live, as the premium live audio subscription is called, will offer play-by-play calls from thousands of live sporting events, plus access to premium news stations, talk shows and other content. This is the first time that TuneIn premium content has been made available over a voice platform, like Alexa, the company notes. It’s also available at a discount for Alexa owners and Prime members.

The subscription content comes from TuneIn partners like MLB, NBA, NHL, and the NFL, as well as news stations like CNBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, Newsy, and others.

The broader TuneIn service also pulls in content from over 120,000 owned and operated as well as partner radio stations, and 5.7 million on-demand programs. TuneIn is the audio streaming partner for daily fantasy sports providers like FanDuel and DraftKings, too.

The company’s free product, which has been accessible on Alexa, has greatly benefited from consumer adoption of smart speakers, like Amazon Echo .

“TuneIn has been an integration partner for Alexa since 2014, and with the continued growth in smart speaker adoption, we’ve certainly seen strong growth in both users, and overall listening hours,” Tony Archibong, VP of Distribution and Business Development at TuneIn, tells TechCrunch. “Across our entire portfolio of speaker integrations – including Alexa, Sonos, Bose, etc. – we have seen over 1 billion listening hours streamed in the past 12 months alone.”

The company now claims 75 million monthly active users – up from 60 million in 2015 – and is supported across over 200 connected devices including via platforms like Sonos, Cortana, Tesla, Bose, Roku and Xbox One, as well as Echo speakers.

Before today, TuneIn sold Premium subscriptions that cost $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. But the company has teamed up with Amazon on its Alexa Premium subscription offering.

Instead of $9.99 per month, Amazon Prime members can buy a subscription for $2.99 per month. Non-Amazon Prime members with Alexa can instead subscribe for $3.99 per month.

The lower pricing is due to the fact that the TuneIn Live subscription for Alexa only works on Alexa-enabled devices, like Echo, Echo Spot, Echo Dot, and others.

It’s unclear if there’s a revenue share here or if Amazon is helping to subsidize the cost of the discounted subscriptions, and the companies won’t discuss deal terms.

But a discounted Alexa subscription is something Amazon is familiar with, having already launched a low-cost music subscription for Echo owners itself. The Amazon Music Unlimited Echo Plan lets Amazon Echo owners access all the benefits from Amazon’s on-demand music service on a single Echo device for $3.99 per month, instead of $7.99 per month for Prime members, or $9.99 per month for non-Prime members.

For TuneIn, a discounted Alexa subscription could allow the company to further take advantage of the demand for audio programming in the Echo device owner market. And for Amazon, it makes sense to work with TuneIn because it gives Echo owners more content options, while also providing Prime members with another perk.

“TuneIn Live brings a delightful experience to Alexa customers with the ability to stream live audio of virtually any sporting event or news broadcast throughout your home,” said Rob Pulciani, Director, Amazon Alexa, in a statement. “Just ask Alexa to open the TuneIn Live skill and play your favorite team’s game – even synchronize playback across multiple Echo devices around the home so the whole family can hear as they move around the house.”

The skill can be enabled on Alexa device with the command, “Alexa, open TuneIn Live.”

TuneIn Live is available as of today, Major League Baseball’s 2018 Opening Day.


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