After The Shakeup: Key Facts About Pandora’s Ad Business

John-Trimble-CRO-PandoraOn Monday, Pandora appointed a new CEO, CFO, COO and CPO. And the company has lately begun evaluating a possible sale. But at least one member of the C-suite is still standing: CRO John Trimble.

That may be because while Pandora’s user growth has stalled in the wake of competition from places like Spotify and Google Play Music, advertising revenue is up. And while many digital media publishers have struggled to monetize banner ads as users shift to mobile, that’s increased the importance of audio ads, what Trimble calls his “secret sauce” for mobile.

AdExchanger interviewed Trimble last Wednesday, four business days before the announcement. Trimble, who has been with Pandora since 2009, was unavailable to provide further comment Monday post-shakeup. But here’s what he had to say about Pandora’s ad business.

AdExchanger: The music streaming space has gotten crowded – Spotify, Google Play, TuneIn and Apple Music among the competitors. How do you differentiate on the consumer side and the ad side?

JOHN TRIMBLE: Streaming radio is a really hard business. Just about everyone has tried to come into it, and not many are left. We have 80 million users, and that gives us the advantage of being able to talk to advertisers about scale, engagement and a premium environment that is very different. I think about the competition, the other players, as validation of how strong an opportunity streaming is, and it validates that and drives more money into the category.

What are your plans around programmatic audio?

We’ve been pretty clear that programmatic is a key strategy. We are just in the early stages now of programmatic mobile [display], and we are learning a lot there. It’s still in the early stages from the brand and agency transactional push. The next step is how we think about an audio programmatic offering. We do see audio programmatic in our future, but not something I feel like we have to be there tomorrow with.

What are the pros and cons of programmatic audio?

I’ve been bullish from the start about programmatic. I never considered it to be a race to the bottom. If you have a good, high-quality audience, you have the ability to keep CPMs up. That’s what we see with our early entry into mobile. Targeting and segmenting gives you a lift on your CPMs. We think about the audio marketplace the same way. We only see upside from a CPM perspective with more intelligence, and the ability to serve ads at the right time and right place. 

Pandora acquired Next Big Sound, Ticketfly and Rdio last year. What’s the plan?

All three of them strategically provide similar value. Data has multiple opportunities in our business, and Next Big Sound and Ticketfly allow us to leverage more data in how our consumers are using Pandora. If you look at Rdio, what we acquired was their engineering talent. We see in the future an ancillary product that is an on-demand offering, and having 90 engineers will accelerate that build.

Is ad blocking dangerous for you?

So much of our business [80%] is driven through the mobile platforms that we haven’t felt an impact or spent a lot of time speaking to holding companies and agencies about it. It’s something I haven’t had to focus on.

What are you doing with the Internet of Things?

We’ve been involved in the Internet of Things for 10 years. We are on 1,700 devices, and there are not many consumer electronics where Pandora has not been embedded. We’ve been in cars for a handful of years, and the majority of cars coming off the line are Pandora-enabled. We are on Apple Watches, Sonos. The newest integration is with Amazon Echo.

How is Pandora using data now, and what’s on the horizon?

Our registered user data is key. If you look at our success, whether it’s in the political environment or retail or CPG, it’s because we are targeting key consumers via user registration. We have name, age, location, musical preferences, so you can infer things with our user base. We are challenging ourselves to think about cross-device matching. Cross-device for us is going from desktop to mobile phone to Sonos to car to iPad. They are not just on their phone, but using different devices at different times of day, so trying to map that is an opportunity for us.

Since you have all those email addresses, would you develop data onboarding capabilities similar to Facebook Custom Audiences?

At this stage, we leverage what we have within the Pandora walls.

How has the push to buy viewable inventory affected Pandora’s display ad business, given that it’s commonly thought that people listening may not see a display ad?

With video, to trigger an ad through Pandora, it’s done with a thumb up, thumb down and skip. We’ve been fortunate with video viewability, desktop, mobile – all our ad units. Because of the environment, the way the ads are triggered, our viewability numbers compared to the market are strong.

What’s different about how buyers are buying with you today?

When buyers think about us, it’s not if you are going to buy Pandora, it’s “how much?” and “where?” It took five years, but we are pretty darn close to a must-buy, and that’s a great position to be in. Now, that means we have to be much more strategic about how we think about building value for partners, and how the audience of Pandora can drive ROI against product needs and product objectives. Our ability to sit down with CMOs and heads of agencies has only gotten more prevalent over the past few years.

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