Keeping up with the play: Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio’s latest streaming endeavours

The competition for Kiwi listeners, artists and advertisers is on, with music streaming companies like Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio innovating rapidly to out-do each other down under. StopPress looks at what tunes the providers are playing to try and increase their numbers. 

The battle for listeners, advertisers and artists is getting louder as music-streaming services fight for market share in every territory.

Streaming service Pandora today launched a new platform to lure more artists. It now allows musicians to track their fans’ listening habits on the service through analytics.

Pandora’s platform is called AMP, an acronym for Artist Marketing Platform (and a good little music pun).

The tagline for the service is “Know Your Fans” and it allows artists to access the masses of data on their songs that Pandora collects.

A personal dashboard can now show them where their fans are, which tracks are most popular and their growth on the platform.

On his blog, Pandora founder Tim Westergren recalls what it was like being a young whippersnapper in a band, travelling miles and posting hundreds of flyers, only to play to a room of 15 people.

He says with AMP they hope to eliminate the guesswork for artists. 

“From finding out what songs are performing well to inform singles or set lists, to mapping where an artist’s fan base is to inform tour schedules, our ultimate goal is to help artists across the spectrum build and maintain their careers.”

According to Pandora, they have about 125,000 artists on the app and get more than 76 million active monthly listeners, who are collectively listening to more than 1.6b hours of music per month.

To promote the service Pandora has built an Artist Marketing Platform website, Twitter account, and produced a promo video of artists telling other artists how the service could help them, not that they should need much convincing.

However, Pandora AMP is currently only available on the web and does not support IE 7 or 8.

One of Pandora’ big competitors, Spotify, launched a similar analytics service for artists and managers ten months ago, pairing up with music analytics company Next Big Sound.

The service allows artists to see how often each track is being listened to, which songs are most popular, and demographic information like age, gender and location and fans’ activity on Twitter, Facebook, and even Wikipedia page views.

But Pandora Australia New Zealand managing director Jane Huxley says Spotify and Pandora are such different services they don’t worry what Spotify does.

She says they liken it to the differences to a lean forward or lean back idea.

“If you want to lean forward and take time programming specific tracks into set playlists, Spotify does that. If you’re really busy and you’ve just got to get on with stuff and lean back and listen to music that you love, that’s what Pandora does. We don’t really look at what Spotify is doing as part of our competitive frame really at all … the two streaming services are very different,” she says.

Wellington musician Thomas Oliver says he uses Spotify as an artist, to make his music available to listeners.

When music streaming services first came out the low artist royalties put him off, but he says they’ve since gone up, and after invoicing twice for his Spotify royalties he’s found them to be reasonable, if not enormous.

“I remember thinking that they were more than I expected, but still not anything much considering how many plays they were derived from,” he says.

Oliver says he has found analytics a really useful tool as an artist. Although he hasn’t logged on to his Spotify analytics yet, YouTube analytics helped shape the direction of a project last year.

After adding a YouTube video of himself playing a Weissenborn guitar, he was surprised to get almost 200,000 hits, and New Zealand viewers were the minority.

“That got me interested. I realised heaps of people are digging this. I went to analytics and found it was really heavy in France, in the United States and other places around the world. The analytics influenced my next direction … it actually made me more interested in pursuing that avenue for my last years’ project ‘cause I could see how much interest there was there.”

Analytics is just one of the music streaming industries’ tactics. The business is extremely competitive, and providers have to keep evolving to make their service the preferred platform.

While a 2014 survey from Edison found Pandora was topping market share in the United States, Apple’s music streaming service iTunes Radio leapt to third spot in the market in just six months from launch (in New Zealand, Spotify is relatively cagey in terms of releasing local figures to the media, but Pandora recently celebrated reaching 250,000 subscribers and iHeartRadio had 239,000 at the last count). 

The New Zealand branch of music streaming service iHeartRadio (owned by NZME) has just broadened its reach by adding Radio Tarana, New Zealand’s largest Indian radio station, to the stream and providing nation-wide coverage (it also welcomed back the Alternative Commentary Collective, which boosted the numbers last summer). 

“NZME recognises that with a population of over 180,000, the Indian community is one of the fastest growing ethnic communities in New Zealand,” says group strategy and operations director Carolyn Luey. “Radio Tarana is undoubtedly the most trusted source of information to this extremely engaged and loyal audience. Offering Bollywood entertainment, news, sports, music and talkback, it makes sense for iHeartRadio New Zealand to support the digital offering of Radio Tarana nationwide.” 

Radio Tarana has been broadcasting to the New Zealand Indian community for over 19 years and it currently clocks in with an Auckland audience of over 32,000 listeners a week. 

Managing director Robert Khan says a nationwide network is in its sights, but the iHeartRadio New Zealand is a good way to connect with the Indian community throughout the country until that happens. 

Spotify has also just introduced Spotify Family, a way for four people to be on one billing account, but keep their playlists separate.

And last month it launched a new offering for brands: advertisers in Spotify can pay to sponsor a playlist – if the listener watches their ad they are rewarded by listening to 30 minutes ad-free. Or brands can pay to “own the ad break” with what Spotify is calling “video takeover”.

Pandora rapidly followed suit, offering “Sponsored Listening” to advertisers on their channel, giving listeners a whole hour of ad-free listening in exchange for engagement with the brand either via watching a video or visiting their website.

The company also launched Spotify Insights in September, a blog publishing interesting, topical articles compiled from Spotify data.

For example, yesterday they released a graph showing the instances of play of Lorde’s song Royals following an inter-city stoush surrounding the song.

With the Kansas City Royals playing the San Francisco Giants in the baseball World Series, San Francisco radio stations vowed not to play the song while Kansas radio stations dug their heels in, vowing to play it every hour on the hour.

Spotify tracked the plays in each city via their service, and saw a brief flip in the stats on 17 October:

By looking at how much each city listened to the song on Spotify in these two cities, we see that before this whole brouhaha began, San Francisco was listening to the song generally more relative to its population than Kansas City was relative to its population. Once word started traveling, San Francisco’s listening to the song declines from its October 16 highpoint, while Kansas City’s increases to its highest point on October 17th, the day after this whole thing began.”

Spotify and Pandora both make money from in-app advertising, or from those who upgrade to premium with a subscription fee to get rid of ads.

In 2013, streaming music sites accounted for 21 percent of the total music industry revenue according to a recent report by the Recording Industry Association of America.

In 2012, it was 15 percent, and nine percent the year before that. Most of that revenue came from paid subscriptions, but ad-supported free services brought in $220 million, they said.

And they’re both trying to get more of the action, with Pandora promoting its channel by giving listeners a personal concert from an artist they’ve “thumbed up” and Spotify showing the emotional power of music to remind people of good times and bad. 

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