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Slacker Radio tries to break through a flooded streaming music market

One of our final meetings at CES last week was with Slacker Radio's VP of Marketing, Jonathan Sasse, who sat down in a Las Vegas lobby restaurant to tell us what his company has been up to lately. Slacker Radio is one of the many streaming radio offerings that have apps available on the App Store (Pandora, Rdio, and Spotify are a few other examples), and Sasse says that after a few years of building up the service with content and technology and making sure it can be accessed almost anywhere, his main goal these days is just telling people why they should choose this service over all the others.

His first reason: Content. Sasse says Slacker Radio has more than ten times more music to play than Pandora does, which is a pretty impressive figure. Slacker's been working hard to make content deals with record labels for quite a while, which means there's a large library of different tunes to choose from. And in addition to all that music content, Sasse said Slacker has been making a big push for non-music to listen to as well. The service has already added in ESPN Radio and ABC News to listen to, and there's streaming comedy stations to tune in on as well.

Additionally, while Pandora and other services also have their usual music selection systems for computer-generated radio stations, Slacker's genre stations are actually curated by real DJs, which is a fact that Sasse said is often hard to get across to the public. Slacker's hired former radio personalities, including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Marco Collins, to actually choose, curate, and even narrate the music on its genre stations, which means that "he curates that station by hand," Sasse said.

The company is also working on deals with partners to make sure that users can find and access it anywhere. Slacker already has a deal with Ford to show up in the company's cars, and there are also deals being worked out with phone carriers for special data access, as well as other possible partnerships. Slacker's plan, Sasse said, was to learn to monetize first and then grow, and it's time for the company to really make a marketing push and grow that audience. "We're kind of ready to step on the gas," he said.

One of the biggest obstacles, so far, has been a boogeyman that we've heard a lot about during this year's CES: Apple's subscription rules. Slacker Radio also was originally bound by Apple's rule that you can't sell subscriptions on the App Store without paying a 30% cut -- Slacker at first decided to not sell subscriptions through the app at all, which led to just a login screen being shown when users opened up the app. But the call of Apple's audience was too much for the company, and Slacker is now able to sell its Radio Plus subscription (the cheaper of two offerings) via an in-app purchase. Users still can't subscribe to the Premium Radio service through just the app, however. "That margin is still too high," Sasse said.

In addition to a big marketing push later this year, Sasse said Slacker is still beefing up its library and trying to figure out ways to differentiate its offerings even further. One goal is to work with users to tag and respond to content while they're listening to it, so the company can provide an even better experience. Already, users can customize ESPN Radio content with their favorite teams and shows, and Sasse wants to bring that kind of customization to other content as well, so listeners can hear exactly what they're looking for. Slacker is also working on more original content, like band-curated radio stations, and maybe even podcasts, Sasse said.

Finally, Sasse said the last goal is to create a "unified, clean experience" across the entire platform, so that users see the same setup on the website as on the company's various mobile apps and platforms. Slacker Radio has already done a lot of work on its service, and while the streaming radio market is already full (and growing even more crowded almost by the day), time will tell if the company can push itself in front of the other choices out there and really find a majority audience.

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