Slacker Radio CEO Duncan Orrell-Jones Wants to 'Reinvent Radio for a Post-YouTube Era'

Duncan Orrell Jones

A little less than a year after hiring former Disney executive Duncan Orrell-Jones, Slacker Radio is relaunching its website, a move that brought it 100,000 new subscribers last May. This time, though, the internet radio streaming service seeks to expand qualitatively rather than quantitatively, with brand spankin' new curated content and partnerships with YouTube MCN network stars like Tyler Oakley, Comic Book Girl 19, and Rooster Teeth.

"We're bringing the best of Sirius XM, in terms of its programming, with the modern interactive capabilities of the Slacker platform," Orrell-Jones tells Billboard. "We're dialing up the amount of personality and human element expressed in the service. It's a counterpoint to Pandora, where there's no presence of the human touch -- we not only have people actually creating stations, but you can hear the presence of those personalities putting context to songs."

Oakley, for example, hosts his own channel of "I Am the DJ" (other curators of that station include artists like the Black Keys and Jason Derulo) supplementing a playlist of favorites like Lady Gaga, Tove Lo, and Betty Who with his own interstitial commentary; and Chris Hardwick's weekly interview show the Nerdist has found a home on Slacker, hosting exclusive interviews and highlighting its most popular podcasts like "You Made It Weird" and "Mike and Tom Eat Snacks."

"We're seeing talent that 15 years ago would have worked its way up through local radio stations," says Orrell. "Now, that talent is spending its time building its audience on YouTube, and we're trying to build that talent on an advanced interactive and personalized radio platform. We're trying to get back to a world where radio was less corporate, less driven by Clear Channel, and focus on reinventing radio for a post-YouTube era."

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Slacker's new platform counts 125 of these "highly curated" stations, from "I Am the DJ" to genre countdown stations, artist "DNA" stations (playing an artist's influences), and Slacker Top 40, Hip Hop/R&B, '80s, '90s, and Today, etc. Additionally, Slacker partners with 27 stations from media groups including American Public Media and Univision, and hosts its own 233 personally-curated stations that are updated at least once a week, though most are updated daily. 

At about 35 million registered users as of last year, Slacker maintains about half of Pandora's user base (76.5 million according to Recode) but bests Sirius XM's subscription base of roughly 26 million at the end of last year. Slacker ascribes to the "freemium" model with a combination of lean-forward -back listening: after the free tier, for $3.99 a month, users have unlimited skips, can listen offline, and customize ESPN, ABC, and Radio Disney feeds ad-free; for $9.99, they get those features and on-demand access to Slacker's fully-licensed -- unlike Pandora, Slacker doesn't go through SoundExchange, opting instead for direct licensing deals with labels and publishers -- music library.   

Orrell-Jones is also aiming for a bigger piece of the burgeoning automaker streaming market. Currently the No. 3 most-used dashboard radio streaming service behind Pandora and iHeartRadio, Slacker will be integrated into 100 car models by the middle of 2015 and 167 by the middle of 2016. "We're vying for the top spot," says Orrell. 


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