As announced earlier this week, Clear Channel has revamped its iHeartRadio service and added a new personalized Internet radio to its collection of online streams of radio broadcasts. In other words, the company just launched its Pandora killer.
Right now the new iHeartRadio is available on the web-based version. The iHeartRadio iPhone app with the personalized radio features will be available Monday, says Brian Lakamp, executive vice president of Clear Channel Digital. An Android update will follow "shortly thereafter."
Lakamp downplays the obvious competition with Pandora. "We're not competing here, we're innovating," he says, pointing to iHeartRadio's well designed interface, the engineering behind the interface and the benefits of scale from a company that touches 237 million Americans every month.
Even so, one aspect of iHeartRadio seems to have Pandora in its sights: the personalized stations will not have a limit on listening hours and will be advertising-free through the end of the year. Pandora limits free listening to 40 hours per month and plays three audio ads per hour.
Early invites to iHeartRadio can be obtained at the iHeartRadio Facebook page. Once inside iHeartRadio you'll see a clean, slick interface that invites the listener to select a live radio station (search 800 different Clear Channel stations by name or zip code) or create a custom station.
The personalized radio service, the result of Clear Channel's acquisition of Thumbplay in March, will look familiar to anybody who has used Pandora. The user selects a song or artist on which to build a station, gives each song a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote and can view lyrics, when they're available. And social features run throughout the product. Users can even see what songs and artists their Facebook friends are enjoying, and songs and playlists can easily be shared on Facebook and Twitter.
But there are differences between iHeartRadio and Pandora beyond listening caps and broadcast radio. For example, iHeartRadio has a catalog of 11 million songs, about ten times that of Pandora.
Another difference is the "station control," a sliding bar that allows the listener to choose from a personalized playlist filled with familiar artists (the far left side of the bar) or one with maximum discovery (the far right side of the bar). Pandora lacks this feature. Slacker has this feature but its rich customization features are not as simple as iHeartRadio's station control bar.
iHeartRadio also differs from Pandora in the human element of its playlist creation. Pandora relies on its Music Genome Project to categorize songs and build playlists. iHeartRadio pairs Internet technology with Clear Channel's research on consumer taste and the knowledge of its programmers, says Lakamp.
As part of the launch of the new iHeartRadio, Clear Channel is holding the sold-out iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas on September 23 and 24. Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, Coldplay, Black Eyed Peas, Kenny Chesney, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Carrie Underwood, Jane's Addiction and many others are set to perform.