We Could Be Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks Away From a Huge Pandora Announcement
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You may or may not recall an article I wrote about Pandora (P - Get Report) in February. It was actually, in part, an article about an article. See the link for complete details, but long story short I exposed a shill piece Pandora co-founder and former Chief Strategy Officer Tim Westergren managed to get from the usually awesome Fast Company.
In it, Westergren touts the beauty and utility of Pandora's "artist dashboard." He hinted at a wide release this summer. The artist dashboard provides acts whose music gets played on Pandora with a nice breakdown of where its gets played and how listeners are sampling the music (e.g., what station are they listening to when they hear it). In the Fast Company article, Westergren somewhat elusively makes the artist dashboard seem fresh and new. In reality, Tim has been talking about this idea for what's coming up on a decade. And I saw the still-in beta product roughly two years ago at Pandora's Oakland headquarters.
So where is the artist dashboard? Is it really coming this summer? Of course, summer's not over, but this is summer. So, by my calculations, we should be hearing about this thing -- in a material way -- sometime soon. For the record, I contacted a Pandora spokesperson who told me what she has been telling me all year -- I have nothing to report on that front right now. And that's basically what Pandora has been saying with respect to doing something real and meaningful with data since I've been following the company. You can't blame spokespeople for the message they're forced to deliver; it's the cats in charge who aren't doing their jobs properly.
If you're merely following some part of the Pandora story (e.g., the royalty battle, Pandora's incredible penchant to stave off competition, its continued quest to poach broadcast radio ad dollars, its evolution -- or lack thereof -- as a consumer product) or you're invested, have been invested or might invest in the stock, you should pay attention to any and all riffs on the data aspect of the story. Sadly, they're few and far between in favor of a backward-looking focus on territory Pandora has already conquered. And that's the key -- Pandora has established itself as the Internet radio leader and pioneer. It has done nothing short of an incredible job going after and taking money that was once earmarked for traditional radio. But the go-go growth of these last two, three years will slow -- inevitably and naturally. We're at the juncture where Pandora needs to come with something else. Unless Pandora has a ton up its sleeve nobody knows about, it's so far behind on data it's borderline shameful.
Even if Pandora rolls the artist dashboard out this summer it's unlikely to open the door to a new data-related revenue line. Because, as far as I know, Pandora provides and will provide access to this tool free of charge to artists. As it should. However, Pandora's lack of focus on data (beyond using it to sell advertising) has curtailed what should be its industry-leading ability to create data products and services it can sell to everybody from record labels to big brands and marketers. Even Twitter (TWTR) is out in front of Pandora in this regard.
Pandora claims it's resource-constrained, therefore data simply cannot be a priority. I call bull like I have been for roughly 8-9 months. Either Pandora has head-faked us and it's about to make serious moves with respect to data, starting this summer with the artist dashboard (but not stopping there) or it's simply ignoring what should be an integral and aggressively emerging part of its business out of lack of vision or spite for the music industry vis-a-vis royalties.
We'll see. And we should know, based on Westergren's words earlier this year, soon. Or maybe -- just maybe -- there's bigger Pandora news in the offing that would explain this perplexing inaction on data.
--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.