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Insider: October 3, 2019

- Pandora rolls out app revamp - On Team Coco's audio operation - IAB holds a podcast upfront in the UK... and more

Pandora rolls out app redesign. Spotify isn’t the only platform with feature announcements this week. The news from Pandora came out shortly after the newsletter published on Tuesday, and frankly, I would’ve missed it, if it wasn’t for the Google Alert I’ve set up for the company.

Anyway, here’s TechCrunch, which put out a fairly comprehensive overview on Pandora’s spruced up app experience: Pandora is doubling down on personalization and revamping its app in order to better compete with rivals like Spotify and Apple Music. Today, the company is introducing a new mobile experience that includes a dedicated “For You” tab where a continually updated feed of content is presented to users, including both music and podcast recommendations (and more)…

… the new personalized feed will also help the company to better showcase more of its exclusive content — like its music-and-podcast combos, called “Pandora Stories,” for example. Or the dozens of SiriusXM talk shows that became Pandora podcasts following its acquisition.

There’s a lot baked into this, but let’s talk about three things that stand out to me.

First and foremost is the “For You” tab, along with the contained recommendation “modules,” which appears to be the main focal point of this revamp. It’s comes out, I think, of what’s generally being articulated as Pandora’s organizing principle and supposed competitive edge personalization. This has been chiefly expressed through the centrality of Music Genome Project — and, relatedly, the Podcast Genome Project — which is the underlying pattern identification technology that’s powering the various recommendation tools that will be served to the user based on their specific preferences. However, it’s worth pointing out that the personalization front isn’t particularly unique any longer; it’s worth noting that Spotify has similar personalization-oriented products, with the Discover Weekly playlist and its related features.

That said, the recommendation think my reading of the experience factor that differentiates Pandora from its competitors, Spotify and Apple Music, remains somewhat the same despite this personalization push. This is how I phrased it when I wrote about the Podcast Genome Project last November: “The promise with Pandora is essentially better radio, featuring a scalable human-machine cyborg curator instead of the more specific hit-or-miss taste of a mortal DJ.” Kinda feels that should still hold up.

Anyway, the second thing worth noting IMHO: the fact that Pandora, now owned by SiriusXM, appears to be leveraging its parent company’s satellite radio catalogue as a main content differentiation.

Will that be enough to Pandora’s non-music assets significantly interesting to existing Pandora users and/or talk audio consumers casting around for a platform of choice? We’ll see… but I’m not personally very sure. Still feels like reheated leftovers.

Of course, it’s not the only content differentiator: a reminder that This American Life and Serial Productions are technically still exclusively available on Pandora… as far as music streaming platforms are concerned, anyway. (You can still get ‘em on conventional podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts.)

Finally, quick thing on what appears to be an increasingly default move by these platforms of mixing together music and podcasts within the same experience. This, itself, is an interesting expression of a larger question that’s being pursued: can the dynamics of music consumption, management, and discovery be applied to podcasts, which are significantly longer form and fundamentally different in behavior? Further, can they be grouped within the same context?

Spotify and Pandora’s answer appears to be: we think so, let’s find out. Apple Podcasts, for now, stands apart.

Team Coco de Audio. So, I know the broader podcast community had a ton of fun dunking on Conan O’Brien and Variety for that cover story brouhaha (FWIW, I did as well, and I’d say it’s justified), but now that the dust from that has settled, I just wanted to say: I’m actually quite fascinated with whatever’s going on over at Team Coco’s emerging podcast operation. Because if you push past the myopic broader framing of the Variety write-up, what that team is putting together strikes me as a genuinely interesting venture.

For one thing, the flagship Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast — which I think is really good, by the way — is returning for its second season on Oct 7, and it’s probably going to continue doing well. (As a side note, O’Brien appeared on Fresh Air this week to plug the pod, which is interesting in and of itself.) But the Team Coco audio portfolio also contains five other shows at present: a behind-the-scenes show called Inside CONAN: An Important Hollywood Podcasts, spin-off shows with Andy Richter and Dana Carvey, plus two rather unexpected projects: a fiction show called Frontier Tween, and a spoof Silicon Valley podcast called Smartr. Frontier Tween and Smartr are Luminary shows; everything else comes out of a partnership with Earwolf, which is a very natural ally.

The Luminary stuff is interesting for the fact of its aforementioned unexpectedness; Frontier Tween, in particular, isn’t exactly the kind of show I’d expect from an entertainment industry figure like Conan O’Brien. Further projects in that direction — whether for Luminary, Spotify, or the broader open ecosystem — could prove to have significantly higher upside. Meanwhile, the stuff with Earwolf feels like an evolution of the stuff Earwolf has long done and been very good at; which is to say, this Team Coco business feels like a true imprint within the Earwolf line.

Anyway, just wanted to throw these sketches out there. I don’t really have a more systematic opinion about this, other than the strong feeling like there’s some there there.

Meanwhile, in the UK… The IAB just held its first podcast upfronts on the other side of the Atlantic earlier today at…. *looks up notes* the Shoreditch Town Hall. Presenters included: Acast, Audioboom (which just had a leadership shake-up), Spotify, DAX, and The Guardian.

This seems like a pretty good time to re-up my stories on the Stitcher-Wondery UK Podfront collab: here and here.

Microsoft announces wireless earbuds… We don’t do a ton of actual hardware coverage here at Hot Pod… but boy do I want to. Not sure how lonely I am on this hill, but I continue to subscribe to the theory that voice-activated earbuds — and voice-first computing more generally — will someday be significant not just for audio creators, but for, like, I dunno, the internet we’re injecting into our bloodstreams all the time.

Anyway: Microsoft has announced their take on the AirPod… and it looks like two big ol’ discs you shove into your earholes. Hate to say it, but I kinda love it.

This is interesting: NPR is on the hunt for a Head of Technology for its Digital division, a role that will work closely with “other members of the digital leadership team – from product, design, platform partnerships and operations – as well as technology leaders from partner organizations to support product strategy and business objectives, set priorities, assess and build new features, and improve and maintain existing services and applications.”

Big job, big times.