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Pandora Reveals Its Spotify Competitor, Pandora Premium

It's likely the last time this year you'll see the words "launches new streaming service."

After a just under a year of re-engineering Rdio, the well-liked streaming service it purchased last December for $75 million, and the launch of a mid-tier subscription service in September, Pandora has pulled the curtain off of its all-you-can-eat streaming service, called Pandora Premium, expected to be released in the first quarter of next year.

As December rain chilled guests waiting outside to see The 1975, Bishop Briggsand Bastille, amongst "our friends, advertisers, investors, the music industry, and of course our team" to present Pandora Premium. So is this new product, as Westergren teased in September, something we've never seen before?

"If you think about the solutions that have been offered to date, they've essentially been on-demand," CEO Tim Westergren told the small crowd. "We really don't believe that's the right answer -- you see all the symptoms of a product that's not meeting peoples' needs yet"

To correct the imbalance, Pandora Premium leans heavily on the data it crafted through the Music Genome and through the data it has collected -- to the tune of one billion data points a day, one executive told the crowd -- on its listeners.

Many things remain the same between its mid-tier subscription, Plus, and Premium, including offline listening based on thumbs cross-referenced with machine-mined music data. However, as with any all-you-can-eat streaming service, the catalog is vast, so at every turn Pandora Premium looks to funnel users towards its recommendations. Searching for music returns specific albums and artists as well as suggestions; creating a playlist comes with the option to pad it with suggestions that will differ between users; the end of a record, if the "AutoPlay" feature is activated, will be met with suggested songs based on the last played.

If Spotify is for music lovers, Pandora Premium is aimed squarely at music listeners.

In addition to the backroom reconstruction and revivification of Rdio's most streamlined pieces, the company -- really, CEO Tim Westergren, who ousted former head Brian McAndrews over fundamental differences in philosophy -- spent much of the year attempting to repair its industry relationships, threadbare after years of bitter legal battles and clever, but clearly aggressive, attempts to lower their royalty responsibilities. It signed deals with its bitterest former rivals, ASCAP and BMI, last December.

It announced a partnership with song database repository Music Reports in order to provide greater transparency around the royalties it pays. It struck direct deals with the major labels and Merlin, the world's largest independent label organization. (Its deal with Warner Music was struck, in a word, strangely.)

The climb was reflected in a tumultuous year on Wall Street for the Oakland-based company, which hit a past-year high of $15.26 per share last Dec. 17, a year low of $7.88 in February and a bumpy climb back to $13.71 as of this writing. Throughout it has been plagued, or blessed, by rumors of a sale or acquisition, most recently last Friday when (conflicting) rumors of SiriusXM's tire-kicking hit the wires.

Pandora is now one of, if not the, most diversified music-only tech company, with a formidable advertising business, a foundational music profiling technology, a (very expensive) ticketing company bolstered by reams of data about its listeners, a full-service streaming product, a much-used (78.1 million listeners monthly) radio product, and a medium-tier offering between either.

It has also, like Spotify and Apple Music and Amazon and Vevo (and the entire media industry), has dipped its toe into original content with Questlove of The Roots' radio show Questlove Supreme (in addition to the live shows it throws via band partnerships and sponsorships and later makes available for listening).

The labels cheer each new music-tech product launch, bolstering as they do both bottom lines and their control over the digital ecosystem (no license, no music). Whether 2017 will bring even more entrants or a dwindling of streaming services' numbers, there is at least, and thankfully, no returning to the days of the disc.

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