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Pandora enables podcast downloads — only for Plus and Premium users

In its latest app update, Pandora now offers offline listening to podcasts — in other words, downloading them. We had read that the feature was exclusive to subscribers, of which there are two tiers: Plus, and semi-interactive streaming service, and Premium, a fully interactive audio listening and collection service.

We thought this limitation was unusual, and reached out to Pandora for confirmation, which we received. Downloading podcasts is available only to Plus and Premium members, not to ad-supported listening in the free version of Pandora.

This might seem confusing. The podcasting business is traditionally measured in terms of downloads — a proxy for listens, or plays. The truth is that under IAB guidelines, which serve as an industry standard, the difference between streaming and downloading is blurred or erased. The most important blunt point to advertisers and publishers is how many people hear the show, no matter how the platform delivers it.

Still, downloading a podcast for offline listening is universally offered for podcasts which are not themselves exclusive to one platform, living behind a paywall. So Pandora’s decision is peculiar, and the company declined to provide an answer for this post.

We do note that Pandora entered the podcasting realm with a streaming-only presentation of Serial, the podcast which kickstarted the modern resurgence of podcasting. The presentation was unique. In its  agreement with Serial, Pandora carved up the series into small pieces, about the same length as a song. The rationale was to fit a popular spoken-word program into streams which contained songs, without stretching that playlist out of shape. Pandora was, at the time, a pure internet radio station, and it serialized Serial in a format which might lure the Pandora audience into podcasting in a more substantial way. Training wheels for podcast listening, you might say.

This historical perspective doesn’t exactly explain why non-paying Pandora listeners cannot download a podcast for offline listening, now that Pandora is a deeply involved podcast distributor.

We note that Pandora is owned by SiriusXM, which perhaps complicates licensing in a non-obvious way.

Enough speculation. The feature has arrived, much to the convenience of Plus and Premium users. (The app also has a rebooted design. It looks nice.)

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Brad Hill

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