Bob Pittman spells out why Pandora is not Radio


In his new role as Chairman of Media and Entertainment Platforms for Clear Channel Communications, Bob Pittman appeared Wednesday as a featured speaker at a Credit Suisse Investor Conference in Miami. He gave attendees an earful about why he invested $5 million in Clear Channel and on why radio is not going away.

“Radio is still America’s companion,” Pittman said, “you can’t live without it.” But that was just a little part of the cheerleading warm-up. Then he got down to dealing with what’s supposed to be the latest threat to radio.

“Radio is quite different than playlists or music lockers. Typically people have had their radio they love and they’ve had their music collection. Things haven’t changed. They still have a music collection and they have the radio stations. One is programmed for them, one is where I program stuff myself and look through it and play it and have specific interests,” Pittman explained.

“What makes radio different than custom radio – a Pandora-like service, playlist, or music locker, Spotify, etc. – is that radio’s curated and dynamically changes. What that means is we have to do an enormous amount of research every week to understand who that tribe is we’re programming to and what their tastes are. And guess what – those tastes change every week,” said the new Clear Channel executive, who knows a lot about music not just from his days as a radio programmer, but also from being “The Father of MTV.” “So as you’re getting tired of a certain song, it begins to disappear. As you discover a new song, miraculously it appears and starts being played more and more. And every week, every month, every year the station is constantly changing in reaction to changing consumer tastes.”

And then here are the human beings. Pittman noted that when MTV started he and the other executives had to decide whether to have people as hosts, or just play the music videos. The decision was made that people were needed, and that proved to be a correct choice because viewers bonded with the VJs (video jocks) who became the faces of MTV. Likewise, radio hosts are companions as people drive along and stations have strong local brands which are identifiable to their audiences.

Pittman doesn’t totally discount “jukebox radio,” noting that Clear Channel has done a deal with Thumbplay to add the music service to its iheartradio Internet-based streaming operation.

But services like Pandora, he said, are not radio. “What you’re really looking at is a playlist.” Pittman asked attendees if they’d all made their own playlists when they first got an iPod. “Remember how great it was for a while, but over time you got sick of listening to your own playlist. It burns out. That’s exactly what happens here, because what you’re going to find with Pandora, or even with our service as well, it’s a shortcut to create a playlist. You’re putting in a song. It creates a playlist. It’s a benefit – I’m not knocking it – it’s good, but it ain’t radio. You create a playlist and then the songs are put on constant shuffle, to use the iPod analogy, but it constantly shuffles songs that are the same group of songs. And if your tastes change or you get tired of that new Lady Gaga song, it’s still there. And if a new song appears, guess what, it doesn’t show up there. So what you do is you go create another playlist – and another one,” he said.

Pittman noted two studies which found the same thing – the longer someone listens to Pandora, the less they like it. Radio, unlike jukebox services, introduces new songs, has personalities to bond with and delivers local content. Personalities do make a difference, he said, noting that Clear Channel wouldn’t have paid Ryan Seacrest $60 million if it didn’t need to.

RBR-TVBR observation: We’ve long considered Bob Pittman to be one of the smartest guys in media, even if he is now an exec of the company which owns one of our competitors, Inside Radio.

He saw the potential of music videos on cable when most people didn’t, the media value of the Internet when it was still new – and now he’s back to touting the value of radio when the supposed cutting edge view is that it is long past its prime.

If you somehow missed our extensive RBR-TVBR interview with Pittman before he took his new job, it is worth your time to listen.

Part 1: Bob Pittman is bullish on broadcasting

Part 2: Pittman says broadband won’t replace broadcasting

Part 3: Pittman on the differing roles of broadcast and Internet

Part 4: Bob Pittman on radio and on radio/TV station values

Part 5: Bob Pittman looks to the future