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Pandora now lets you search-and-play without having to pay

By agreeing to watch a 15-second ad, you can listen to the specific songs you want to hear on Pandora without paying a $10 monthly subscription.

Pandora was a vanguard of digital radio, but it has widened its service to include on-demand subscriptions like Spotify as the streaming-music market changed around it. 
Joan E. Solsman/CNET

Pandora will let you listen to whatever song you want without signing up for a $10-a-month subscription, by giving you a 15-second video ad to watch instead. 

The new feature is aimed to help Pandora better compete with Spotify, the biggest streaming-music service that offers free on-demand listening, by holding people's hands to becoming subscribers. 

Pandora was an early leader of music streaming, but its digital version of radio was locked into rigid licensing rules that for years prevented listeners from picking exact songs to hear. In the meantime, new competitors like Spotify and Apple music struck more-flexible licensing deals, including Spotify's ability to let even free listeners pick their music on demand. 

An iPhone playing Pandora shows an alert to watch an ad.

Pandora will alert free listeners about an option to play songs on-demand temporarily by watching an ad. 


Earlier this year, Pandora launched a $10-a-month Premium membership to compete directly with Apple Music, Spotify and the rest. Thursday's feature aims at keeping free Pandora's listeners from fleeing to an on-demand option as soon as a Pandora radio plays something they want to hear again and again.

"Our ad-supported listeners' top request has consistently been the ability to directly play the specific songs, albums, or playlists they want," said Roger Lynch, Pandora's CEO, in a statement.  

Viewing the 15-second ad will essentially unlock a temporary session of Pandora Premium. People who subscribe to the service's $10-a-month Premium service already can play any song they like on demand, but the new feature lets free listeners and members of its $5-a-month Plus membership unlock on-demand song choice. 

When listeners search for a specific, song, album or playlist, or have one recommended to them by Pandora, they'll have the option to view an ad in order to unlock a complimentary Pandora Premium listening session, the company said. 

Pandora will be testing how long these sponsored sessions will last, but the company said they're designed to be long enough for a user to get a feel for what Pandora Premium is like -- longer than just a few songs. 

At launch, these complimentary sessions are available solely for mobile listening. 

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