Joe Levi:
a cross-discipline, multi-dimensional problem solver who thinks outside the box – but within reality™

MSN Messenger + Pandora

MSN Messenger has teamed up with Pandora to bring Internet Radio one step closer to the masses. Launch MSN Messenger and open the “MSN Radio” tab, from there you can provide the email address that you registered with Pandora (or create a new account — it’s free!) and you have access to all your stations.

Unfortunately, that’s where the coolness stops.

Sure, this puts your Pandora stations one-step closer, and yes, more people will be exposed to the Pandora service. But, Pandora still opens in a full browser-window (which is susceptible to inadvertent closures and/or other programs hijacking). MSN should have taken the opportunity to play the Pandora content through the Messenger Window. This brings up the issue of what makes Pandora free (the advertising). To solve this issue, MSN could have opted to:image

  • Show the “advertising makes it free” branding inside the Messenger window,
  • Fade in/fade out an unobtrusive advertising “bubble” a user-selected corner of the screen,
  • If the user opts NOT to see any advertising instead a 15 second “commercial message” is played every few songs.

Of course, as with “regular” Pandora, if a user has paid the optional “commercial-free subscription” they don’t hear or see any advertising.

Additionally, in my tests, MSN Messenger doesn’t know what Pandora is playing, and thereby doesn’t display that in your status. Also, you cannot navigate your current playlist (thumbs up, thumbs down, skip, pause, etc.) via the MSN Radio tab (or by right-clicking the MSN Messenger icon).

Unfortunately, they missed the boat. Hopefully we’ll see an integrated version of Pandora and MSN Messenger soon, one with in-Messenger advertisements (as much as we all hate advertising), in-Messenger song ranking, and “what I’m listening to” integration. In the meantime, I’ll stick with OpenPandora (which does have a right-click status bar menu, doesn’t require a dedicated web browser window/tab, and does integrate “what I’m listening to” data with MSN Messenger). 

(Hat tip to Mike Dopp for pointing out both the MSN Radio tab in MSN Messenger and the OpenPandora project!)


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4 Responses

  1. Tom Conrad says:

    Hi Joe,

    Good critique. Glad you noticed our first little attempt in this area. You’ve touched on the weaknesses of the first implementation as well as what’s at the crux of the issue. Pandora is an expensive service to run; our bandwidth and licensing bill dwarfs the norm for websites. As such, having a functioning advertising model is hugely critical for us. We’d love to have a way to recoup our costs while delivering Pandora in the tiny frame available inside of Messenger, but the tough reality is that right now no advertiser is willing to shell out the kind of dollars required for an ad unit that is so small an unobtrusive. Certainly our vision for how this should work is lined up with yours; sadly the current state of the art in web advertising is not.

    Also on the same page with respect for the need to integrate with the status message. For the moment we don’t have a mechanism for doing so without requiring the install of additional end user software which we’d like to avoid. We’re working with Microsoft in the hopes of coming up with an answer that will let us set the status message from inside a web-only solution (of course, you can imagine the security implications of such a thing).

    Thanks again for the critique. Spot on.


  2. Joe says:

    Tom, thanks for the reply! Out of curiosity, what’s your title over there in Pandoraville?

    I’m really glad that you have seen many of the points that I outlined in the overall process. I think the MSN Radio tab is definitely a step in the right direction for Pandora (regarding audience expansion and general adoption).

    Okay, brainstorm with me a little here… no bad ideas, right?

    The issues at hand are operating costs versus revenues, correct? Operating costs in this context consist mainly of licensing fees and bandwidth costs. Revenues consist of advertisements sold or subscriptions sold (as a subscription negates the ads, right?).

    So how can we address each of these? Again, no bad ideas, just brainstorming…

    Reduce bandwidth overhead: give non-subscribers “radio quality” music (which takes less bandwidth, and hence costs less in operating expenses). Paid subscribers would get higher quality music (“Pandora HD”, or something like that), these users would also see the ads, but wouldn’t hear any ads in their music stream.

    Increase advertising revenues: I’ve listened to Pandora a lot… no, really A LOT! In all that time listening I’ve heard ads a total of 3, maybe 4 times. I’m not a paid subscriber at present. Perhaps advertisers don’t digg audio ads, but that’s not logical because “OTA” radio has plenty of ads.

    Increase advertising revenues: Sell local ads by using the listener’s relative location as defined by their IP address. The “relevancy” of these ads could be greatly increased for location-based businesses.

    Increase audience base: This will both increase bandwidth costs, but will also increase your listener-base (and should bring in more advertisers). One possible way to do this could be to offer a “Widget” to ‘blog authors (I could put a Pandora station on my blog, for instance; visitors would see a 160×240 (for example) Pandora box with basic interaction controls, after a few seconds, those fade out and all that’s left is the Pandora Radio logo and the sponsored ad. Another possibility would be offering a Windows Vista or MacOSX Gadget that would have basically the same features and dimensions mentioned above.

    Back to the blog widget, one could offer the website owner two forms of widget, a “free” (read: ad based) widget, and a paid (read: no ads, but the website owner pays a monthly “no ads” fee to cover, say, the first 1500 minutes of listening through their site).

    Again, just thoughts… what’re yours?

    PS: Say hi to Tim for me. 😉

  3. Joe says:

    Hey Tom, another thought on the weblog widget thread:
    Why not drop a bottom-left, fixed position, transparent image sporting the current advertisers branding (complete with hyperlink) in the corner of the blog… maybe that would not only be branding, but controls and “Power by Pandora” bug as well… it’s down and out of the way, but definitely visible. Anyhow, let me know what you think.

  4. Rufinus says:

    it is vrery good

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