Clear Channel Radio is finally coming to market with its proposed "Pandora killer."
The Echo Nest today announced it is providing Clear Channel with the technology necessary to let users of the iheartradio app create customized radio stations -- by building a custom playlist of songs based off the selection of a single seed song or artist -- both online and on mobile phones. It's a key element of a relaunch of the iheartradio app expected to be announced sometime this week, which could include additional features.
This ability to let listeners create personalized radio stations has long been a goal for Clear Channel. The effort began more than a year ago, when it reached out to the Echo Nest for the technology and data needed to automatically build these "stations."
The Echo Nest has some 5 billion data points for more than 30 million songs in its database, such as artist connections, song similarity, mood, style and acoustic attributes, which hundreds of developers use as the underlying technology for their own apps. This database will be applied to the more than 10 million songs Clear Channel has in its catalog for the upgraded iheartradio app.
Another key component of the app is Clear Channel's March acquisition of mobile music operator Thumbplay. That move bought both the technical infrastructure and the mobile development team Clear Channel used to rebuild the app. At the time of the acquisition, Clear Channel's chairman of media and entertainment platforms Bob Pittman told Billboard.biz that the deal's motivation was the need to offer personalized radio experiences.
"It speeds us to market tremendously," he said at the time.
Indeed, it's not clear that Clear Channel could have put out the app before the end of the year without the Thumbplay team, particularly with the departure of digital division president Evan Harrison in March.
While the full details of the new iheartradio app are not yet known, it's not likely to include an on-demand streaming feature, which was the core product of the Thumbplay service.
"It's very hard to acquire paying customers," Pittman told Billboard this March. "It's very, very expensive."
As for how iheartradio, with the Echo Nest's technology, will compare to Pandora, there are pros and cons to both approaches. Pandora relies on actual human beings to program the characteristics of each song in the Pandora system, which in theory may allow for a more accurate comparison between songs that an algorithm-based approach cannot. The downside of course is that far fewer songs are in the Pandora system--less than 1 million--than iheartradio's 11 million, and iheartradio can ingest new songs into its system far more quickly.
And Clear Channel's massive audience and established ad sales team makes it a more-than-formidable competitor to Pandora.