Slacker, Pandora want internet radio in cars


The Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday on the move to get Internet radio into the mainstream and into cars. Slacker Inc.'s 36-year-old founder Celite Milbrandt demonstrated his mobile service for potential investors at the annual Consumer Electronics Show and ultimately raked in an additional 40 million in investments for his company.

"Start-ups are racing to move Internet radio, largely listened to via computers, into mobile products. Portability could make Internet radio operators a greater threat to the traditional radio industry. The next big goal is integrating Web radio into car dashboards. Two companies — Slacker and Pandora — say they're talking to auto makers in Detroit," WSJ said.

More excerpts from the story:

Some software allows technology buffs to access Internet radio from their phones. But results can be glitchy, expensive and technically against the terms of contracts with mobile-phone service providers.

The story said Slacker has 100,000 registered users since its launch in March. The company has raised about 50 million.

Its planned car kit reflects a technical advantage. While most other Internet radio providers are reliant on WiFi, Slacker's portable devices will use both WiFi and satellite technology.

The executives dubbed the service Slacker because listeners don't have to do anything to bring in a steady stream of new music. It calls for users to provide the site with a few examples of artists or songs they like. The site then creates customized stations that play what it thinks will appeal based on musical genre and overall analysis. Like Pandora, Slacker is free. But down the road the company will offer a choice of a free ad-supported service or a paid ad-free service at 7.50 monthly, with other perks such as the ability to save songs.

SanDisk Corp.'s new Sansa Connect digital music player. Released earlier this year, it allows users in wireless Internet zones to listen to online radio stations from Yahoo. When users wander out of WiFi range, the 249.99 Sansa can play songs from its music library, which holds up to 1,000 songs.

Last month, Pandora Media, one of the biggest players with seven million registered users, announced it is working with Sprint Nextel to make its service available on mobile phones. Pandora says it is also working on its own player as well.

Slacker says its hand-held will be out by summer's end. Slacker is also pushing hard into automobiles. The company says it is close to introducing a car kit that will play Slacker-selected tunes in any vehicle. COO Jim Cady told WSJ he is in early talks with unidentified auto makers about building Slacker technology into car dashboards.

It's unknown how many Internet radio fans will be sufficiently enthused to install Slacker's kit, which includes a 4-inch antenna that must be mounted on car roofs. And the reach of WiFi, the technology widely used to transmit Internet outdoors, remains patchy.

Pandora, known for a technology that tries to learn the musical qualities a listener likes and serve up songs accordingly, is working with Sprint Nextel to deliver its service to users of high-speed data phones for 2.99 a month. Tim Westergren, the company's co-founder, notes the phone will already play Pandora through a car stereo using an adaptor, and adds he also envisions a future where Pandora is integrated alongside the car radio tuner.

SmartMedia observation: Seems Slacker is just a cheaper version of satellite. The real deal is when consumers can get stable internet audio on their car stereos, and choose whatever existing streaming stations they wish-from Melbourne, Australia to Melbourne, FL.

Consumers want internet in the car, they want thousands of streaming choices, not just music channels tailored to their tastes. We have iPods for that. Certainly, the appeal of internet radio includes terrestrial and internet-only stations in other cities with personalities, production and imagination. Song after song after song with no on-air talent isn't even what satellite radio has acquiesced to. Listeners appreciate talented MDs and on-air talent that can take them through a musical adventure–live.

We need more WiFi/WiMax zones to make this happen, or more efficient/reliable, less expensive services from the major cellular providers. It's all coming, but we don't see Slacker and Pandora as offering anything by their own specific, albeit user-tailored channels-like satellite. Of course, the new CRB rates, if left unchecked, will likely kill all of this, altogether!