Internet Radio Is a Jack of All Trades

All roads in online streaming lead to Pandora (NYSE: P  ) .

Every major player seemed to have a unique angle in the digital audio space last summer.

  • Spotify washed ashore, offering music buffs in this country the ability to stream their own tracks and play lists.
  • iHeartRadio seemed content to be the streaming hub of hundreds of its own Clear Channel (OTC: CCMO) AM and FM stations.
  • CBS' (NYSE: CBS  ) Last.fm was a surviving pioneer of the traditional streaming platform where users created and shared play lists.
  • Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) offered streaming versions of most of its channels -- and a few extra online goodies -- as a stand-alone premium subscription or as a reasonably priced upgrade for existing members.

They're all playing -- or attempting to play -- the music discovery card now.

iHeartRadio introduced a Pandora-like service late last year. Spotify joined the fray three months ago, offering a Pandora-like option as a free ad-based service for mobile users. Sirius XM will introduce its own music discovery platform by the end of the year, at no additional cost to its existing premium streaming accounts. Last.fm introduced Last.fm Discovery to hop on the hot trend back in December.

If you think that the push to offer music discovery where a user suggests an artist or song that populates a related play list is the ultimate strategy, you would actually be wrong.

That's where the roads have led to now, but the key players are already heading in new directions.

iHeartRadio celebrated having 1,500 terrestrial radio stations last week. It got there by opening up to non-Clear Channel options. Sirius XM started offering on-demand access to several of its shows as streams this summer.

Heck, even Pandora is changing. Press releases now indicate how Pandora also streams comedy. It may be a small part of its allure -- and certainly an even smaller part of its heritage -- but it's Pandora's way to compete with the comedy channels available through Sirius XM and iHeartRadio.

In short, the Internet radio specialists have been forced to evolve into jacks of all trades. It's probably not the way any of them scripted it, but they have to offer a bit of everything if they want to remain relevant to consumers with a growing array of apps to satisfy their aural demands.

Music discovery -- with some jokes on the side -- may be perfectly fine for Pandora now. Revenue in its latest quarter soared 51% to $101.3 million, and it surprised Wall Street with breakeven results after backing out stock-based compensation expenses. However, success in the fast-paced apps universe is based on keeping up with the trends.

Internet radio will continue to evolve, and anyone that wants to live will just have to keep up with the sheet music that the new drummer is pounding out.

Running of the bulls
I remain bullish on Sirius XM's future. It should come as no surprise that I'm promoting the CAPScall initiative for accountability by reiterating my bullish call on Sirius XM for Motley Fool CAPS.

I also just put out a premium report on Sirius XM Radio, detailing the challenges and opportunities that await investors that are both long and short the dynamic media giant. A year of updates is also included with the report. Check it out now.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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