Control Freaks — that’s what you might call Pandora listeners.  Because the choices and control it offers is the difference they perceive between Pandora and FM radio.

And yes, Pandora and radio are quite different.  Last month’s ListenerThink research among Pandora listeners revealed that they’d be as  likely to listen to other music sources (like iPods) as radio, if Pandora wasn’t available. This month, we sought to quantify the difference between FM and Pandora…

We conducted an online survey April 10-12, netting 1,177 Pandora listeners age 18-64. (To qualify, they answered “yes” to the question: Do you listen to Pandora?)  We asked them to rate seven music sources on a 1 to 5 scale… “one” meaning “Totally different from Pandora”; “five” meaning “Exactly the same as Pandora.”

Of the sources we tested, Pandora listeners see  iHeartRadio as most like Pandora, YouTube least like it.  (In itself, this revealed that last month’s “substitution” research was not a proxy for similarity…it showed YouTube as  the #1 alternative if Pandora wasn’t available. )

Most important to us, we learned that FM is more different than similar to Pandora:

Here’s the percentage breakout for iHeartRadio…

IHeartRadio  vs. Pandora
1: Totally different 13%
2: 10%
3: 25%
4: 32%
5: Exactly the same 21%

And the breakout for FM:

FM RADIO vs. Pandora
1: Totally different 29%
2: 20%
3: 23%
4: 17%
5: Exactly the same 10%

Note that the averages shown in the graph and percentages in the table are among those who have an opinion.  For FM, 5% of 18-64 Pandora listeners respond “not sure” to how different or alike it and Pandora are.  For iHeartRadio, 36% are not sure…due primarily  (we think) to their lack of familiarity with iHeartRadio.

So, nearly half of those who have an opinion see FM as quite different from Pandora. But what is the difference???

We asked them. Responses were unaided — volunteered by respondents — and coded into categories for tabulation.  Multiple responses were permitted…that’s why they add up to more than 100%:

In what way (or ways) do you think FM radio is DIFFERENT from Pandora?
Not as much choice (in what I listen to) 31%
More/Too many commercials 26%
Can’t select genre   8%
Can’t choose artist(s)   6%
Not personalized   5%
Less variety   4%
More/Too much repetition   4%
Can’t skip songs   4%
More/Too much talk   4%
Has DJs   3%
Has More Variety   2%
Doesn’t require internet/PC   2%
Not as good sound quality   2%
Other 30%
Don’t know   1%
Among those who rate FM “1” or “2” –
i.e., quite different from Pandora

CHOICE is the key difference.  Pandora listeners think it gives them more choices, more control over what they hear than FM does. Not only is choice the #1 response…many of the other comments reflect the same idea…with FM you can’t select genre, can’t choose artists, can’t skip songs, etc.

FM’s commercials are the #2 response. And the older listeners are, the more likely they are to see commercials as a difference between FM and Pandora. Only 14% of 18-24’s say FM’s commercials are the difference, rising steadily to 39% among 55-64’s.  And, surprisingly, it is 55-64’s who perceive the biggest difference between FM and Pandora…39% of them say FM is “totally different,” and only 5% say it’s “exactly the same.”

Regardless of the age group, most of FM’s differences are clearly negative for these Pandora listeners.  So it’s no surprise that the differences they perceive skew heavily in Pandora’s favor:

Does that difference make FM radio better to listen to or worse to listen to than Pandora?
BETTER to listen to 11%
WORSE to listen to 76%
Don’t know 13%
Among those who rate FM “1” or “2”
and who express an opinion.

NOW, KEEP IN MIND WHO THESE LISTENERS ARE!  They think FM is either totally different or very different.  They represent nearly half of Pandora listeners.  They overwhelmingly think Pandora is better.

So, Pandora may not be radio, but that doesn’t make it any less of a challenge to radio.

The question is: How does radio meet this challenge?

One way, of course, is to compete with Pandora on its own terms, as Clear Channel is doing with iHeartRadio’s “Create Your Own Station” option.  But that’s not going to help terrestrial radio in general.

Instead, we need to get an even better understanding of Pandora.  This research shows its strengths, but what are its weaknesses? In what respects do listeners perceive FM and AM as superior to Pandora?

We need to focus on radio’s assets in this battle, and we’ll do that in next month’s ListenerThink.