Last.FM versus Pandora: community wins again

I have had a bunch of questions recently about how is different from Pandora after the CBS-Last acquisition and I thought it might be worth a quick note. 

Pandora is a programming play with some social networks features injected into the mix (not very convincingly).  I love Pandora because I am old school and not really into social networks.  Its backbone is the "music genome project", a detailed database of the characteristics of every song in the database that was created by music experts.  Think tags done by gurus.  Pandora then "programs" a station for you based on a starting song or artist and you help it by identifying songs you like or dislike.  Today my "Boards of Canada" station, which I have listened to a lot, is pretty much perfect.  Because of licensing issues (and I am not talking about the recent challenges) Pandora has always been slightly long tail by nature.  Pandora wins hands down on "ARPU".

Last.FM started as audioscrobbler wich was a resident app that would look at what music you listen to and would feed this to a server to recommend music that people with similar tastes also like to listen to.  In other words, you would find your "music neighbours" and you could discover new bands by looking for what was popular in your "music neighbourhood".  Last.FM wins hands down in its ability to attract people and generate traffic.

As I finish writing this and do my Technorati homework, I stumble across this good post on the topic from Steve Krause courtesy of Matthew Ingram.

So to simplify:
— Pandora = really smart database built by pros to provide automated programming
— Last.FM = completely community centric music discovery tool
If you like analogies, one is Yahoo Directory whilst the other is Google Search.  Enough said :-)


Question on everybody’s lips: why does CBS buy Last.FM when royalties seem to be killing online radio ?  Is CBS really about to fight back

I have had some data recently that suggests that a very small proportion of Last.FM users actually use the radio.  Conclusion:

  • is really a social network focused on music (with supposedly 6M weekly uniques and 20M registered users)
  • radio usage is tiny so they have really no license problem
  • with CBS’ great might they can build a killer online radio around or use the community as a target group for the rest of CBS’ services

The real question for me is why CBS, and not MTV, bought Last ?

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4 Responses to Last.FM versus Pandora: community wins again

  1. Andrew Rhomberg says:

    Hi Fred,

    Why would CBS Corp. buy MTV, when the whole purpose of the Viacom demerger (into CBS Corp. and the “new” Viacom) was to seperate the “old” CBS businesses from the MTV cable network?

    Also Last FM was bought by CBS Interactive so they obviously view it more as an online play than a radio play…..


  2. Fred Destin says:

    hi Andrew, I meant of course why did CBS buy Last and why did MTV not buy Last. My grammar was lazy which I have corrected. The whole purpose of the demerger at the time was to create a cash stock (CBS) and a growth stock (MTV) so that Viacom would stop suffering from a constant rerating. They then of course proceeded to make CBS look like a growth stock and piss off MTV’s original management, but that was a while back !! I am just surprised that the uber-music player MTV was not the buyer for this killer app of online music, is all.

  3. Steve S says:

    I must say that I am firmly in the Pandora camp, however., while being extremely interactive just reads as a bit too complex for my tastes.

    I don’t mean complex as in hard to navigate. What I am getting at is complex in the Microsoft Word sense, where the average user gets very little use out of the majority of the features.

    I guess this goes against common Web 2.0 thought, but I tend to believe that the best products are the ones that maximize interaction will minimizing interface cruft., while entirely entertaining when I have the time to deal with it, may be being touted as the MTV of Web 2.0 for good reason. Like MTV, It provides content that is entertaining for a wide band of users, but lacks the ability to gain niche traction.

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