Pandora’s Ad-Supported Model Will Begin Letting Brands Sponsor Playbacks and Skips

While offline listening will be available to subscribers

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Pandora is making major changes to both its subscription-based and ad-supported streaming services, bringing new options such as offline listening, additional skips and offline playback.

Today, the company announced it's rebranding the classic Pandora One subscription model as Pandora Plus, an improved $4.99 option that will allow listeners to have as many as four music channels available offline, when users might want to listen without having internet access. The news comes on the heels of Pandora's announcement earlier this week that the streaming service signed direct licensing deals with several major music labels, including Merlin Network, Sony Music and Universal Music Group.

"You'll be able to go on a run, or a cross-country commute on a plane or a train commute in a tunnel and never lose Pandora," Lizzie Widhelm, Pandora's svp of ad product strategy, said in an interview.

The "predictive offline mode" notices when internet connection is cut and automatically caches three of the stations a user listens to the most. The offline mode will also cache a user's Thumbprint station, which is based on songs they've given a thumbs up.

Pandora is adding new advertising options to its free ad-sponsored model. For the first time, the company is letting brands sponsor playbacks and additional skips. In exchange for watching a 15-second ad, users will be able to listen to a song again or skip more of those they don't like.

Widhelm said sponsored listening brings engagement to the advertising experience, since users have to watch the entire ad or give up getting playbacks or skips. While desktop display ads are sold programmatically, the sponsored playback will be sold directly.

The updates to allow for offline could also be a big boost for gaining ground in the mobile space. More than 85 percent of users' total listening hours come from mobile devices. (The company now has 78 million total active monthly listeners in the U.S., with just 3.9 million paying subscribers.)

"The biggest opportunity is to grow the ad-supported side of the house," Widhelm said. "It's always been the biggest focus for us. It's the greatest opportunity in terms of reaching new Americans and gathering more time spent."

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.