Pandora Adds Continuous Playback Feature to Sidestep Apple, Tidal Exclusives

Music streaming service Pandora launched a new feature for its premium tier Thursday that will effectively allow the company to sidestep exclusive album deals, and play music that might otherwise only be available on Apple or Tidal. The feature, dubbed AutoPlay, automatically transitions to a personalized radio feed whenever Pandora’s app is done playing an album, song or playlist.

AutoPlay, which launched on iOs and Android for paying subscribers of Pandora’s $10 on-demand tier Thursday, builds on the company’s strength as a personalized radio service, and effectively fuses on-demand listening with a more leanback-type of experience.

For consumers, this means that the music never stops. They can listen to an album, and Pandora automatically picks related music for a personalized radio station that’s generated on the fly once that album is over. Listeners influence the selection of that mix by giving songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and can also skip over tracks — much like they’ve long been able with Pandora’s free, ad-supported service.

But for the company, there is an added benefit in fusing on-demand listening with this type of personalized radio experience. The moment an album ends and Pandora transitions to a personalized radio stream, the licensing terms for that music also change. This allows Pandora to effectively play any song, regardless of whether it has the rights to serve up that song on-demand or not.

One example: Taylor Swift’s album “1989” is currently available on Apple Music for on-demand listening, but not on Pandora. However, Pandora premium users can listen to Swift’s previously released album “Red.” Once the last song of that album is played out, Pandora’s  app is going to switch to AutoPlay mode — and chances are, the service is going to mix in some of the more popular songs from 1989 sooner or later as well.

Pandora launched its premium tier to better compete with Spotify and Apple Music in March. The company said Thursday that on-demand has helped to increase engagement among consumers who signed up for a free trial. Half of trial users listened to Pandora for six days or more per week, and the number listening hours per listener was up 30 percent for trial participants, according to data released by the company.

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