- Pandora partnered with music recognition app SoundHound to introduce a virtual assistant that lets listeners control its music streaming app with voice commands. The Pandora app's Voice Mode uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural-language processing (NLP) to understand a wide range of verbal requests, according to an announcement.
- The wake phrase "Hey, Pandora" followed by a request lets users change stations, control volume and skip or pause music, among other features. Users also can request customized playlists, songs by specific artists or thematic music for moods and activities like workouts or relaxing.
- Pandora's Music Genome Project for music recommendations helps to power the voice assistant's suggestions. Pandora is gradually rolling out the digital service to select iOS and Android users with a wider launch coming soon.
Pandora joins a long list of tech companies that are equipping their services to handle verbal commands, including Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Samsung, among others. This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) featured a wide range of products that featured voice-powered capabilities, mostly by integrating with the two established voice assistants: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Pandora's new service is another sign that voice technology isn't as exclusive as it once was among major tech giants.
The virtual assistant may help Pandora as it faces greater competition from Spotify and Apple Music. Sirius XM, which is in the process of acquiring Pandora, has about 28.5 million paying subscribers and Pandora has 6.8 million, compared with 87 million for Spotify and 45 million for Apple Music. Verizon this week announced plans to include Apple Music in its Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited mobile plans at no additional cost to subscribers, making it even more difficult for Pandora to gain on its rivals in the fiercely competitive music streaming space.
Despite somewhat lagging behind competitors, Pandora grew its subscription revenue by 49% to $125.8 million in Q3 2018 from a year earlier, according to its quarterly report. Pandora in November launched a pilot program for podcasts that uses similar technology to its music recommendation engine. Pandora is also working to back major experiences, including sponsoring a concert by Zac Brown Band this month as part of the pre-Super Bowl festivities in Atlanta.