Roger Lynch joined internet radio company Pandora as chief executive almost a year ago at a time when the company’s wasn’t doing so great.
Now, things are looking a little better. On Thursday, the company announced a new tie-up with AT&T that will bring Pandora to the telecom company’s “&More” plan.
Lynch, whose digital bonafides include starting Sling TV, is spearheading Pandora’s battle for a slice of the $15 billion terrestrial radio ad business. He told NBCNews.com how he is trying to reverse user declines amid competition from Spotify and Apple Music. Lynch is set on growing partnerships beyond Pandora’s tie-ups with Snap, AT&T and T-Mobile and personalizing the business of podcasting.
Q: What made you join Pandora and what are its challenges?
A: I was intrigued by the scale of the business. Almost one in three adults in the U.S. uses Pandora every month. There was a lot of negative press around the time I was joining. It’s starting to turn now mainly because we are making some changes and the momentum of the business is starting to change. I thought it had real strength in digital audio advertising and I looked at that as a growth opportunity.
When I worked at Sling TV, it was let’s go kill cable and satellite and replace it with internet delivery and that’s what going to happen in radio too.
Q: What are you active uniques?
A: Seventy-two million last quarter. Last year the business saw year over year declines start to slow towards the end of the year.
Q: What do you attribute that to?
A: It was competition having an impact. It was more execution challenges. Think about how much growth has happened in music streaming services. Pandora has been surprisingly resilient. Job one was stopping that decline. We were able to do that quickly by the end of the first quarter. Hopefully, we will be back to user growth.
Q: How will you do that?
A: Pandora has huge capabilities in data science, and we use it well for our advertisers. That’s why we can generate well over a billion dollars in ad revenue. Pandora didn’t use it very effectively in its own marketing. That to me was one of the quick wins. We built a new marketing team, built new marketing datasets for our marketers, so that is starting to happen now.
Q: Marketers are looking for a hedge against big technology firms and mega-media mergers. Audio streaming is something that’s growing. How are home voice assistants changing that too?
A: Digital audio is one of the only formats not controlled by one of the FANG [Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google] stocks. That to me is one of the opportunities. There is a lot of growth around new devices and new content. To be really good at creating anything around monetization around voice, you have to have the data and you have to be really good at audio.
Q: Let’s talk about rights deals with the three big music labels? They don’t like free. They’d rather have a piece of a subscription model.
A: We have a good relationship, which was not the case three to four years ago. That’s changed dramatically.
If we could all wave our wand and turn every listener into a paid customer, we would, but that’s not how consumers behave. and the labels are starting to understand that. They were and are enamored with a subscription, as are we. Subscription revenue grew 62 percent last quarter. But huge numbers of consumers aren’t going to be [subscribs] and it’s not about ability to pay. Lebron James said he still uses the ad-free version of Pandora. That’s an example of how it’s not a money issue. He just prefers not to pay. As Pandora gains share from radio, the labels benefit. They don’t get paid from them — they get paid from us. Pandora in 2016 did its first deals with labels and those were two to three-year deals.
Q: What are you doing in talk radio?
A: We have announced we’re moving into podcasts and spoken word in a much bigger way. Think about podcasts today. It’s about lists. It’s not really personalized. What Pandora has done for music, we’re going to do for podcasts. Use all the data science we have to promote content to you that we know will be relevant. In some ways, podcasts are still in the stone ages.
Q: Where do you see the future of the media business on a macro-level?
A: Given the AT&T ruling, I think you are going to see lots of changes. I was a bit surprised [the Department of Justice] tried to block that deal. The judge’s ruling really reflected that the dynamics have changed. It’s not about companies that produce content and companies that distribute. Its about big, vertically integrated tech companies. It remains to be seen. Someone will write a book about what [spurred] the initial investigation in the first place. How politically motivated was that?
Time magazine has published a variety of covers about President Donald Trump, but few have struck a chord like the one released on Thursday.
Against a red backdrop, the image of a crying immigrant child — a cutout from a Getty Images picture from photographer John Moore that has come to represent the ongoing border crisis — is juxtaposed next to the president. Trump looks down at the child alongside the words, “Welcome to America.”
The cover comes a day after Trump signed an executive order to stop his administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the U.S. border. The policy has become a flashpoint across the U.S., drawing extensive media coverage and fundraisers for nonprofits dedicated to helping immigrant families.
Time’s previous covers have portrayed Trump in a variety of ways, including one from earlier in June in which Trump saw himself in the mirror as a king. No other cover, however, has so plainly questioned the morality of a Trump policy in a visual context.
Many journalists have pointed out that the separation of immigrant families is a policy owned by the Trump administration. But with its new cover, Time puts the issue, quite literally, at Trump’s feet.
Watch your back, MoviePass. AMC is coming for you.
AMC Theatres, the largest theater chain in America, says it is launching a subscription plan. AMC Stubs A-List will allow members to see up to three movies a week for $19.95 a month — and get discounts on concessions.
The move comes amid a tense battle between AMC and MoviePass, the app-based service that charges subscribers $9.95 a month to see one movie per day, upending the traditional exhibition business model.
In its press release announcing the news, AMC touted the “sustainable price” of the Stubs A-List program — an apparent shot at MoviePass, which has raised eyebrows with its suspiciously inexpensive monthly fee.
MoviePass, for its part, fired back in a tweet on Wednesday morning: “AMC has repeatedly disparaged our model as a way to discourage our growth because all along they wanted to launch their own, more expensive plan.”
“We want to make movies more accessible, they want more profit,” the company added.
AMC, however, plans to offer subscriber perks that might sweeten the deal. Stubs A-List subscribers will be able to watch all three movies on the same day, get into movies they have already seen, and reserve tickets in advance.
MoviePass, it should be noted, offers none of those perks.
Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts wants her company to distinguish itself from other tech companies by embodying a philosophy of enriching lives.
“Apple has taken a leadership position when it comes to environmental responsibility. We have human responsibility,” Ahrendts said. “I think it’s important that the largest tech company in the world invest in humans.”
The top Apple executive was interviewed at the Cannes Lions Festival in France on Wednesday by Tor Myhren, Apple’s vice president marketing communications.
Ahrendts revealed that for the first time Apple is measuring how well it is doing on that mission, surveying Apple store customers and examining employee feedback.
She explained that the company has an internal social network called Loop that is examined by Ph.D. students for data that helps improve systems.
Commenting on the retail environment in the U.S., where big retailers are often closing storefronts, she said that Apple was expanding its stores so that they are not just retail outlets but places of learning, adding that she told Apple CEO Tim Cook she wanted to renovate Washington D.C.’s Carnegie Library, which will become the city’s biggest classroom when it opens.
Apple staff, she said, were hired for their empathy skills.
“They are not hired to sell,” she said. “There is no commission, no quotas. What we’ve tried to do is keep uniting them around the big vision and the impact we want to make.”
Ahrendts, who said she hadn’t initially intended to join Apple from fashion company Burberry but was persuaded by Cook, noted that Apple was not measuring for quantity but measuring, “how we made you feel. We’re trying to be the largest platform ever built for enriching lives. Did we help you unlock your creative thinking?”
“I hope there are not too many finance guys watching,” she joked.
“Retail is not dying,” she said, but stores have serve a bigger purpose than “just selling things.”
One major media buyer is willing to put his job on the line to persuade advertisers to be more responsible about whether they put their advertising dollars.
Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Omnicom’s Hearts & Science agency, said in an interview that advertisers should think hard about what they are supporting and the societal effects of what some platforms are serving up to consumers.
Hagedorn criticized YouTube just moments after YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki delivered her keynote address at the Cannes Lions Festival, where she underscored the company’s commitment to openness and transparency in dealing with the ad community.
The ad executive, who is responsible for placing as much as $6 billion in ad buys a year, said he watched 30,000 videos as part of a client audit and was disturbed by some of the content he came across.
“As a client, you would not know where your ads ran,” he said. “They would aggregate together videos into channels, and it was done using an algorithm. When one video was vetted to start a channel, the rest of the videos were never vetted. So there was a complete lack of transparency.”
Hagedorn said the company had improved but remained a risky proposition.
“I’d say on extremist content they were failing 20 to 30 percent of the time to filter out, or didn’t figure out the [advertisers’ buying] criteria, and now its gotten down to 7 to 9 percent,” he said.
But Hagedorn added: “The system is not built for audits.”
The agency has partnered with Tristan Harris, the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and a former design ethicist at Google, to try to evangelize for better monitoring of the big tech platforms and to use the power of advertising as a weapon to demand improvements.
“This is about the future of society,” Harris said. “We need much more aggressive controls.”
Harris said the topic should be on the front pages every day until there’s a way to stop the ill effects of tech platforms exponential growth.
Hagedorn and Harris were part of an official Cannes Lions sessions called: “Addicted to likes,” outlining the need for a more responsible technology.
Hagedorn said his agency only uses Google search now and is still testing with YouTube.
“If these apps were built to be addictive and most of the money in advertising has shifted from traditional TV and traditional media into more of an ad base and mobile world, then how in the world is this effective?” Hagedorn said.
The folks behind “Gotti” are wearing bad reviews as a badge of honor.
The mafia biopic, starring John Travolta as the former head of the Gambino crime family, opened over the weekend to dismal box-office returns — and a zero percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
“That the long-gestating crime drama ‘Gotti’ is a dismal mess comes as no surprise. What does shock is just how multifaceted a dismal mess it is,” says The New York Times.
But the movie’s distributors, Vertical Entertainment and MoviePass Ventures, have apparently decided to punch back at the detractors with a tough-talking tweet.
And a new trailer ups the ante: “Audiences loved it … Critics put out the hit … Who would you trust more? Yourself or a troll behind a keyboard?”
How often do film distributors turn critical pans into a marketing strategy? And will other studios follow suit, perhaps in a similar bid to gin up populist resentment of the media?
We shall see.
P.S. Here’s a fun fact: “Gotti” was directed by Kevin Connolly, the actor who played the Hollywood hotshot Eric “E” Murphy on HBO’s “Entourage.”
Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snap Inc., is making nice with reality star Kylie Jenner, would love to hire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and thinks parents need to cool it with sharing pictures of their children.
In an interview set to air on “The Run Down,” the E! News Snapchat show, host Erin Lim asked Spiegel a handful of light-hearted questions but received some revealing answers.
Sitting under a giant poster of Kim Kardashian at the ongoing Cannes Lions festival, Spiegel was asked about his take on Jenner, who has 24 million followers on Twitter. Back in February, she tweeted her dislike of Snapchat’s redesign, a much-publicized comment that coincided with Snap losing $1 billion in stock market value.
“I love Kylie, the original,” he said. “She just had a baby. We both have new babies, so we have something to bond over.”
Spiegel, who used to dress in trademark white T-shirts, explained he’s switched to black because he’s usually spilling stuff on himself. He shared how he sees Snap evolving, with the service being a portal on the wider world and integrated with augmented reality.
“We’re going to come up with experiences that aren’t confined to your little screen but overlaid on the world around you,” he said.
The top Snap executive was asked which executive he’d most like to have work at the company and responded: “Jeff Bezos, no question. He’s incredible.”
Spiegel, who noted he was at Cannes Lions for a matter of hours since he wanted to get home to his family, was also asked what he would never Snap, saying: “My child. Parents are some of the worst piracy invaders.”
Amid serious conversations about technology use among children, he also revealed that he would likely let his own child use technology at around seven years old since his step son Flynn uses an ipod and emails him to say, “I love you.”
Spiegel also revealed he is guilty of sharing too many Snaps from the cockpit when he is piloting an aircraft. “I think it’s getting a little repetitive.”
When asked what is the biggest faux pas at Cannes Lions, he noted: “Day drinking. Especially in the heat.”
Kerry Washington, star of political drama “Scandal,” is at the Cannes Lions Festival for a host of events including a breakfast with Twitter and a soiree on Monday evening hosted by streaming media companies Spotify and Hulu at the Chateau St. George in Grasse, France, a little village outside Cannes.
Washington has a series with Hulu based on the book “Little Fires Everywhere,” which she is executive producing with Reese Witherspoon.
The Query caught up with her after a performance by singer Miguel and asked for her take on what’s happening in the news.
Q: Is this your first time in Cannes?
A: It’s my first time at Cannes Lions. I’ve been here for the [film] festival. I’m here speaking with Twitter, speaking as part of the women’s empowerment program. I’m also here with Hulu.
Q: How are things changing in Hollywood for women?
A: People are working really hard at Time’s Up making sure there are more opportunities and more equity and safety and equality in the workplace. That’s a big part of our mission and vision, and that’s what we’re working on confidently at Time’s Up, all people who feel like they are victims of the imbalance of power. Our legal defense fund is for people of any industry to help people in situations of harassment and abuse.
Q: What have you learned at Cannes so far? There are a lot of different industries here: music, tech…
A: It’s interesting to talk about how innovation is impacting all these businesses across the board, for me especially, moving from network television and working in streaming. My next series is for Hulu and I have a series on Facebook Watch called “Five Points,” so I’m working on creating as a producer for multiple platforms. We’re also producing theater. We’re trying to make sure our portfolio of storytelling is diversified. For me, it’s great to be here to be in the conversation.
Q: Tell me how it’s different working for a streaming company?
A: It’s all different. Every project is going to be different depending on the story and the audience, but definitely fun to work in a variety of ways. The Facebook Watch [series] is 10 episodes about 10 or 12 minutes [each], whereas the series I’m creating with Hulu is a limited series. It’s exciting to be working in the entertainment industry to tell stories to work in so many different ways whether it is short form, long form, limited.
Q: Are you doing anything with Twitter?
A: We’re beginning to talk about content creation over there.
Q: How do you feel about American politics and what’s happening right now?
A: What’s happening right now at the border of the United States is a violation of human rights. It’s far beyond anything I could have imagined on “Scandal.”
The revamp of the Los Angeles Times is under way.
The newspaper on Monday named Norman Pearlstine as its executive editor — the same day that the newspaper officially returned to local ownership.
Pearlstine, a legend in U.S. journalism, has served in a variety of high-profile editorial roles including as executive editor of The Wall Street Journal, editor-in-chief of Time magazine and chief content officer at Bloomberg.
Pearlstine’s hiring is the first big move for the newspaper’s new owner, Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire doctor and Los Angeles resident who bought the paper for $500 million in February. That deal took the LA Times out from under the ownership of Chicago-based Tronc, the newspaper company that had previously been known as Tribune Publishing Co.
The deal officially closed on Monday.
In unrelated news, Tronc is reportedly considering changing its name back.
Soon-Shiong and Pearlstine addressed LA Times reporters in the newsroom on Monday. Matt Pearce, national correspondent for the LA Times, reported on Twitter that Pearlstine told staff that he plans to add more reporters.
“If you want to be able to break news and write memorable stories, than you’re going to need more staff to do it,” Pearlstine said.
The world of advertising, once a bastion of overconfident men, is undergoing nothing short of a revolution at Cannes Lions this year.
The five-day event, which is Ted Talks meets CES with a dash of SXSW cool, is typically about exploring the future of the communications business. This year, men could be forgiven for feeling under siege here.
On Monday, futurist Faith Popcorn will host a session called, “The Death of Masculinity and its impact on Creativity.” Hearst’s chief content officer, Joanna Coles, is also hosting a conversation with Whitney Wolfe, the co-founder of dating site Tinder, who sued the company for sexual harassment and went on to create dating service Bumble.
“Gender will not be an agenda,” screams a giant billboard standing in front of the iconic Carlton Hotel.
There’s even an entirely separate track of pro-women sessions at the Martinez Hotel put together under the name of the “Girls Lounge,” an initiative that’s popped up on the global conference circuit from Davos to South By South West.
On the docket at Girls Lounge on Monday is Axios co-founder Mike Allen, pollster Mark Penn and John Gerzemo, chief executive of The Harris Poll. They’re set to unveil research as part of a session titled: “The New Small Forces Impacting Women, Female Entrepreneurship and Gender Equality.” The organizers are launching a chatbot aimed at providing women with information about topics such as how to get equal pay.
Later on Monday, a Girls Lounge panel featuring WPP Group COO Mark Read will address, “The Elephant in the Room: Relationships Between Men and Women at Work.” The topic is perhaps an awkward one given the lawsuit brought against WPP by Erin Johnson, JWT’s former head of communications, against her boss, Gustavo Martinez, who is accused of using the word “rape” repeatedly among other threatening behavior that he denied.
The five-day conference, which features a variety of celebrities including rap stars Migos, supermodel Naomi Campbell and actor Tyler Perry, is known for its late-night hedonism: giant parties on the beach featuring DJs and soirees on yachts are the norm.
For employers, it’s a petri dish for potential sex harassment. Ad firm Interpublic Group sent a memo to staff reminding them about behaving professionally, according to Adweek. The memo from senior vice president of talent Joe Kelly noted: “When our work is conducted outside the confines of an office environment, there can be a sense that this isn’t quite work or that we can behave different, especially if alcohol is present. That is not the case.”