The Internet radio rights problem: Pandora’s CTO says that it’s possible to please everyone

The Internet radio rights problem: Pandora’s CTO says that it’s possible to please everyone ...

Pandora‘s CTO and EVP of Product, Tom Conrad believes that there is a solution out there to the licensing dispute it’s involved in with the music industry that can please Internet radio firms, record labels and consumers alike.

I caught up with Conrad yesterday at LeWeb in Paris. He’s upbeat about Pandora – for a long time offered in the US only – finally starting to expand internationally, with a recent beta launch in Australia and New Zealand. “It’s fun to be an early stage startup again,” he says. If suitable licenses can be agreed, expect further international launches. “Our aspiration certainly is to make Pandora a worldwide phenomenon.”

At 8 years old though, has Pandora missed its window to make the same impact it in other countries that it has in the US in other countries? Has Spotify stolen its march? “Our ambition at Pandora from day one has been to redefine what radio-style listening can be in the Internet-connected world. What gets (Spotify) out of bed in the morning is to be the future of the record store, to be the place you go to find that artist you love and to hear it on demand. I think the two services complement each other.”

Assuming Spotify users aren’t already too attached to its own radio feature, there may be something in that. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how Pandora fares over time in Australia and New Zealand.

Battle Royal(ty)

It’s back home where Pandora’s real battle is, though. Pandora is facing spiraling royalties bills. It is currently embroiled in a Washington-level debate on the future of Internet radio licensing as part of a group lobbying in favor of the Internet Radio Fairness Act, to allow online radio services to be charged the same rate as other forms of radio in the USA. Meanwhile, Pandora has also sued collections society ASCAP over the royalty rates it is charged.

However, Conrad says that he believes there is a solution that can please everyone. “Certainly I think that there is, and that’s our ambition at Pandora. We think there’s a win-win for consumers, and artists and their labels, and the services that facilitate making those connections.

“We have nothing but the best intentions when it comes to artists and all of these questions and hopefully that story will be broadly understood.”

The fact that Conrad can’t explain exactly what the ‘win-win’ solution is exemplifies exactly how complicated this whole situation is. Expect this one to drag on for some time yet.

You can listen to the full conversation below, in which Conrad also discusses the process of bringing Pandora to cars, and the exciting potential of a fully Internet-connected car.

Image credit: Spencer Pratt / Getty Images

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