Slacker Hires Former Disney Executive as New CEO (Exclusive)

Slacker's outgoing CEO Jim Cady, left, and its incoming CEO Duncan Orrell-Jones. Credit: Slacker.

Slacker Radio on Friday will be announcing Duncan Orrell-Jones, a veteran of Walt Disney Co., as its new Chief Executive, effective Feb. 10. 

Orrell-Jones will be replacing Jim Cady, who has been Slacker's CEO for the past eight years and who will remain on the company's board of directors.

"Jim has built an amazing foundation," Orrell-Jones said in an interview in San Diego, where the company has its headquarters. "The product is there. The engagement is growing. We have a number of core partnerships for distribution in place. Now, it's building on that and executing."

A native of the U.K., Orrell-Jones spent the bulk of his career at Disney building the company's digital properties. Between 2005 and 2010, he developed Disney's Asia-Pacific business, which included more than 50 mobile subscription services for music, movies and games, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. In addition, Orrell-Jones launched a premium Disney-branded mobile phone service catering to hard core Disney fans that was offered by multiple carriers in Japan.

Most recently, Orrell-Jones, 48, was Nintendo Co.'s senior VP of network business, where he helped shape the Japanese game company's mobile digital strategy.

Cady said he felt the company needed "fresh blood and a fresh perspective to take Slacker to the next level," and that he led the six-month search for his replacement.

He dismissed the notion that Slacker may be in any financial difficulty, saying that the company has sufficient financing to last through 2014 and beyond. Slacker has raised approximately $50 million in total from Rho Capital Partners, Sevin Rosen Funds, Mission Ventures, Centennial Ventures and is not currently raising additional capital. Orrell-Jones added that each new Slacker listener contributes positive margins to the company.

"We are not trying to explode and burn through money," said Cady, "We want to be more prudent. And until we see a straightaway to mainstream growth, it makes no sense to raise a bunch of money and spend it all."

Mark Leschly, managing partner at Rho Capital, in a statement to Billboard said his venture firm has not lost confidence in the streaming music company and sees Slacker as a long-term play.

"The team at Slacker has the full support of the board and its investors," Leschly said. "We continue to invest in Slacker and think they’re well positioned for continued growth in 2014 and beyond."

A spokesman for Slacker said the company added 21 million net new listeners in 2013, but declined to say how many total listeners the company currently has. The service has a free ad-supported tier, a $3.99-a-month ad-free Radio Plus tier and a premium $9.99 all-you-can-listen tier. Slacker has between 500,000 and 1 million paying customers, compared to 6 million paying listeners for Spotify and about 1 million for Rhapsody.

The space for subscription streaming music, which has yet to hit mainstream audience numbers, is expected to become increasingly crowded over the next few months. YouTube is widely known to be working on a paid subscription music service that could be released before this summer. Deezer, a French music streaming company with 5 million paying subscribers in more than 180 countries, is planning to launch in the U.S. this year. And Beats Music, the service founded by Universal Music Group executive Jimmy Iovine, hit the market on Jan. 21, supported by a multi-million dollar advertising and marketing campaign that includes a spot during Sunday's Super Bowl game.

Despite the growing competitive heat, Orrell-Jones both expressed optimism that Slacker can succeed.

"It is highly competitive," he acknowledged. "But the reality is that while streaming music does have a significant number of engaged listeners, it's still just a sliver of the audience that's listening to broadcast radio. The economics of this model can be attractive at scale, and Slacker can take a healthy share of the market that's yet to be penetrated."