Media

TuneIn at Outside Lands: It’s our year to take on Spotify & Pandora

Above: Phoenix make an appearance at TuneIn's radio tent at Outside Lands

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Roaming Outside Lands this weekend, I bumped into a startup that wants to make radio relevant and cool again. Ever heard of TuneIn?

This is TuneIn’s second year at San Francisco-based music festival Outside Lands. From its radio tent in the VIP section, TuneIn’s roster DJs live-streamed some of the biggest acts from the festival, including Phoenix and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, on its custom “Outside Lands” station.

Smart move. Outside Lands has been sold out for weeks with people traveling from all over the world to see music legends like Paul McCartney. For those who couldn’t snag tickets or make the trip, TuneIn lets you listen in live to the festival from the comfort of your own home, whether you’re based in San Francisco, Sao Paulo, or anywhere in the world. The company’s preferred marketing slogan: “TuneIn takes you places.”

TuneIn's packed booth

Above: TuneIn’s packed booth

Many of the artists stopped by TuneIn’s booth before or after their performance to show their support for the startup. Most agreed to a live interview. This implies that artists have no qualms with TuneIn, unlike European juggernaut Spotify. Thom Yorke waged war against the music on-demand service, claiming that they are being screwed, as the label is keeping most of the royalties.

For TuneIn, this appearance at Outside Lands is part of a broader strategy to gain the same level of brand recognition and awareness as Spotify in Europe and Pandora, Songza, Rdio or iHeartRadio in North America. TuneIn marketing lead Ryan Polivka said the app — which puts live radio (real, old school radio) online and on mobile — is making a huge marketing push this year.

It seems to be working. TuneIn smashed its records from last year — Polivka told me that almost 200,000 people tuned in to the Outside Lands channels on Friday, the first day of the festival. 170,000 of them were unique listeners.

“Live festivals are the best marketing tactic for fostering deep engagement with listeners,” said Polivka.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based TuneIn is funded by Sequoia Capital, a venture firm that rebranded the app and brought on game industry vet John Donham as CEO. Donham immediately overturned the business model — shuttering the premium version of the app, and building out the sales team to push in-app ads. Polivka told me the company is now on the upswing, and is ready for its moment in the sun.

“I think this year could be our year — we’re already number one for online live radio,” he said.

It’s a transitional time for TuneIn and the digital music ecosystem, with giants like Google and Apple announcing music services with radio-like functionality in recent months. Business models are still in flux and the competition is fierce, but consumers will have more choices than ever.

Read more here about how to tune in to Outside Lands — the Red Hot Chili Peppers are headlining tonight!