Terrestrial radio giant aims to compete with online music services

Radio giant Clear Channel on Thursday launched the beta version of its iHeartRadio platform, the terrestrial radio giant’s first concentrated attempt to compete with Pandora in the online radio market.

The Clear Channel platform will allow online and mobile access to 800 of the conglom’s broadcast stations, as well as Pandora-like user-created custom stations. Clear Channel said it has a catalog of 11 million songs from which those custom stations will draw, substantially more than existing online radio services.

Like Pandora, iHeartRadio’s custom stations allow users to select a seed song or artist, with the platform then developing a playlist of similar material. Unlike Pandora’s Music Genome Project, which involves musicologists analyzing individual songs for compatibility, iHeart Radio’s custom stations will use the algorithm-based platform Echo Nest, as well as input from Clear Channel’s programmers and institutional research.

Most interestingly, and uniquely to the platform, iHeartRadio will also feature a form of catalog depth control on its custom stations, in which a sliding bar controls whether the station plays mostly hits, or reaches further into the back catalogs. Also unique is the availability of content from talk-radio mainstays Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Steve Harvey and Jim Rome.

Starting Thursday, users could access the platform by “liking” it on Facebook; it will open to all comers on Sept. 14.There is as yet no plan to introduce an on-demand streaming function to the service, which Pandora competitor Slacker Radio unveiled in May.

“We look at ourselves as being in the lean-back and listen category for now,” said Larry Linietsky, Clear Channel senior veep of product and operations.

There is no cap on listening hours, and the custom station service will be commercial-free through the end of the year. (After that, Linietsky said ads will be “eased in tastefully.”) Service will be tubthumped at the two-day iHeartRadio Festival in Las Vegas on Sept. 23-24, headlined by Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Coldplay.

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