Pandora CEO wants to add “podcast genome project”

Pandora is making plans to broaden its podcast offerings. CEO Roger Lynch spoke with Variety during CES and said his goal is to create “the equivalent of the podcast genome project.” Lynch said the company is working on a system that would allow listeners to browse and discover new shows on Pandora. He also mentioned plans for an alternative monetization option other than host-read ads, which he called “not the most effective advertising model.”

The move isn’t unprecedented. Pandora has been keeping pace with the growth of podcasts’ popularity, snagging exclusive streaming distribution for the second season of Serial, the show that sparked the current renaissance. But Lynch emphasized that even with moves to add more podcasts, music will remain the core offering of the company.

While the idea of a “podcast genome project” is certainly catchy, there are some questions around the move. The original Music Genome Project that drives Pandora’s lean-back recommendation approach took years to build, and is still building up a catalog of Genome-analyzed music.

It’s also up for debate whether streaming audio companies benefit by also offering non-music content. Before podcasts had their moment in the sun, many of the platforms were scrambling to get video content on their services. But that effort has stumbled at Spotify, and while Apple Music continues to put money into programming, few of its video series have made waves. Expanding into podcasts, which are so different from music tracks, is a challenge. Lynch’s criticism of traditional podcast advertising is contradicted by research — host-read ads are actually effective and positively received. This will be interesting to watch.

Anna Washenko