The next box Pandora wants to open will be a TV set-top one

The digital radio leader will roll out a tv.pandora.com platform today to stream its music more easily over televisions, initially via Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. But partnerships with TV manufacturers have yet to materialize.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
3 min read
Pandora TV

Pandora on Wednesday is launching a new platform, called tv.pandora.com, that will make it easier to stream its Internet-leading radio service on televisions through set-top boxes and the TVs themselves.

At least, in theory.

Initially, the new platform is available just on gaming consoles XBox 360 and Playstation 3. Other partnerships -- such as those with TV makers like Sony or Samsung -- are still waiting in the wings.

The move to migrate Pandora more to the living room comes alongside the company's continued struggles to get its advertising dollars growing as quickly as listeners -- and increasingly higher royalty rates. Lately, investors have been beating down Pandora's stock price further because of rumors Apple is about to unveil a competing radio service.

Pandora is already on hundreds of TVs and devices that link to them, like TiVo. More than 10 million people have listened to Pandora through an internet connected TV or set top box, according to company figures.

What makes tv.pandora.com different is its standardization: It is based on HTML5, and so will be applicable as more vendors bring standards-compliant TVs and set-top boxes to market.

Currently, Pandora must develop different versions of its radio service for all the different vendors, due to variances between different consumer electronics makers. For instance, an LG platform is different from a Sony one.

The new design changes what was "easily six months of coordination with hundreds of partners to something that we can do now in 48 hours," said Pandora Chief Technology Officer Tom Conrad in an interview.

"We're definitely seeing broad industry interest," he said, though he couldn't specify other partners in the pipeline.

New listeners, new places?
The television-tailored Pandora platform, which made its first appearance in demo form at 2011's CES, attracts a new type of listener, one who is TV-centric, rather than gadget-centric, Conrad said.

But John Tinker, a Maxim Group analyst, wonders if those people would really be new at all. The home may be where much radio listening takes place, but if the service is already on smartphones and on the desktops, it's already in the living room. "How hard is it to plug a mobile phone into speakers?" he asked.

Where Pandora would really enter a big frontier of opportunity is cars, which account for half of the radio-listening audience, Tinker said.

Conrad said the new tv.pandora.com platform, and its HTML5 Web standards, could help bring Pandora there too. Right now, the relationship of cars and the Internet is in its first chapter, where drivers bring the network into the vehicle through their phones connected with USB or Bluetooth. That may make users feel like they have Pandora in their dashboard, but it's really just projecting, Conrad says.

The next couple of years will turn the page to a chapter in which cars drive off the lot with with a wireless Internet connection, getting IP radio waves like the FM radio waves that have brought drivers radio for decades.

"Suddenly, we're a peer to FM, but the industry needs to solve the platform questions," he said. "We're finding as we work with auto original equipment manufacturers, they're adopting HTML5."

Show me the money
The standards also make it easier for Pandora to experiment with ads to find what works on televisions, Conrad said.

As mobile usage of Pandora took off, the company had to insert radio-style ads that interrupt listening. Chief Financial Officer Mike Herring said at a conference yesterday that Pandora right now has reached the inflection point at which the revenue it's getting from those ads is eclipsing its traditional visual ads.

The company has no plans, necessarily, for capping listening on TVs as it has for desktops in the past and mobile devices now.

Pandora implements caps when there's a gap between user growth and advertiser growth, and the decision will be made based on that for TVs too: If they're in lockstep, then probably not, the company said.

For Pandora's sake, let's hope the advertisers are the ones keeping up with the listeners, and that being in lockstep doesn't mean their steps are just locked where they are.