Pandora jacked up ads for 35m of its users, and old people paid to make them just stop

Research shows that the success of ad-based and subscription-based models varies by user age -- and that young people are a lot less susceptible to ad bullying.


May 2, 2018

Pandora assaulted 35m listeners with ads to see just how much they’re willing to put up with and found that young listeners just switched platforms instead of paying — while older listeners opt to pay a subscription fee instead of taking their streaming business elsewhere.

The study, published in the Social Science Research Network with Pandora’s blessing, blitzed users with 3 to 12 ads per hour to measure ad-related audience decline.

Hold up: So were the researchers academics or tech workers?

The answer is: yes. The study’s authors were David Reiley, a UC Berkeley professor who works in ad-science at Pandora, and two Pandora interns named Jason Huang (Stanford Ph.D. researcher/ Uber data scientist) and Nickolai Riabov (Brown Ph.D. researcher/ Netflix senior research scientist).

The report wasn’t peer-reviewed like most academic articles, but it was undertaken by academics over 21 months among 35m users in 3 countries.

The age-old digital debate: ads vs. subscriptions

The publication of the paper comes at a time when many ad revenue-based internet companies debate the merits of subscription models, especially as companies struggle with privacy concerns associated with advertising.

The main takeaway? Using ads to force users to upgrade to a subscription only works when they don’t have many other options. Or when they’re old.

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