July 28, 2014

Behind the Curtain: A conversation with Stitcher

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You’ve probably learned this by now, but we’re huge fans of podcasts, talk radio, and other “educational” stuff that seems boring to the kids.  Thanks to a myriad of Android apps and platform capabilities, we’ve fallen deeper in love with that type of content.

One app that we’ve really come to appreciate over the last year or so is Stitcher Radio.  In fact, we’re such big fans of the app and service that we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to speak to their team.  We recently had the pleasure of talking to Todd Pringle, VP of Product Management, where we learned about the special ingredients that go into their sauce.

Thank you for taking the time to chat us up.  Please, introduce yourself!

I joined Stitcher about a year and a half ago to lead the Product team – my  background is in consumer web and mobile products at both big companies like Netscape and eBay as well as smaller start-ups.  I’ve always had a particular interest in the intersection of media and technology and have loved working at a company that is bringing disruptive change to one of our oldest media businesses.

Not all of our readers are familiar with Stitcher.  Can you briefly describe the service?

Stitcher is personalized internet radio for the world beyond music. We let you create custom Stations from over 10,000 on demand radio shows, podcasts and live radio streams.  Basically we want listeners to be able to enjoy their favorite programming on the go and on their own schedule instead of a traditional radio schedule.

What is it that you want Android, or mobile users, to know about Stitcher?

We’re committed to delivering a great user experience – we’re  constantly listening to users and observing behavior through data to make the product better.  We think traditional radio listening is far  from a great user experience currently because it lacks basic features users have come to expect when consuming media like on demand listening, personalization and discovery of new content.  Our goal is to create an experience that changes the way people listen to radio. In doing so we also believe we can help a brand new set of content producers build viable businesses in this new radio medium.  At the most fundamental level, we feel like keeping people informed about their world and entertained is an exciting and worthwhile mission.

How do you differentiate from the myriad of other podcast and radio apps on Android?

Podcasting apps tend to go really deep around a specific set of features for power podcast listeners at the expense of the average  listener.  The word “podcasting” scares off a lot of potential users given some of the historical complexity of consuming them. It’s not  really about the format anyway, it’s about the content so we try to keep it focused on that and deliver an experience that can get someone who’s never listened to a podcast using and enjoying the app while still providing some of the key functionality podcast listeners expect within a “podcast” app.  The other major differentiator for us is discovery – we’ve pioneered talk audio content recommendations and built a reputation for helping listeners find new shows they love.  On the radio app side, there aren’t any other major apps with a laser focus on non-music content – most are either heavily music focused or are simply taking existing live radio streams and porting them to mobile devices.

Have you worked with Amazon for distribution? If so, what can you share?

Amazon’s a relatively small but a growing distribution channel for us. We’ve had our app in the Amazon App Store for a while and early this year we added support for Kindle Fire.  Our view in general is that Amazon is a continuous innovator and understands how to deliver great consumer experiences – they’ll continue to improve their Store and products like the Fire, and we’ve been early to the game with them for that reason.  From a development perspective it’s been easy for us to  support given that the platform is Android and we already had an existing product that could be optimized for the Kindle Fire.

Can you tell us about Smart Station and how it learns from me?

We launched our “Listeners also like” recommendations last year and it’s been extremely well received – this is the feature that displays shows that listeners of a show you’re listening to also like so you can discover new favorites.  Smart Station takes our recommendations a step further – it creates a station for you that is personalized to you specifically.  We do this via an algorithm that factors in things like what you’ve listened to most, what you’ve favorited, and what you’ve thumbed up or down.  We constantly adjust our recommendations based on your behavior and our tens of millions of listening hours from everyone else to help you find relevant new shows.

What challenges have you faced in working with Android?

The flexibility the Android platform provides is both an opportunity and a challenge.  Much like other Android developers, platform fragmentation at the OS and hardware level has been at times difficult for us to navigate.  The fact that our application is one that relies on media playback functionality is an additional level of complication given that some manufacturers customize and ship their own media players that we are often trying to rely on.

Is there something in the platform that prohibits Stitcher from realizing a particular feature or service?

Not that we’ve come across to date.  In general we find that we’ve been able to do everything we’ve wanted to and that we can do on other platforms (and some things we can’t on other platforms).  The only drawback as noted above is that fragmentation can often cause design, development, and QA cycles to take a bit longer/require additional resources.

You guys recently announced some Facebook integration tools.  Can you tell us a little bit about the update?

Since initially incorporating Facebook Timeline into its iOS app earlier this year, Stitcher has seen 400%  new user growth and 300% fan page growth. Now on the heels of this successful iOS integration, Stitcher is released an update to their Android app enabling Facebook Timeline integration for all Android users. Android users are now able to login with Facebook and seamlessly share what they’re listening to, liking, and adding to their favorites with their Facebook friends. Via Facebook, Stitcher users can find out what their Stitcher friends are listening to as well, helping them discover great new shows. Please find more in the FB developer spotlight here: https://developers.facebook.com/blog/post/2012/08/08/developer-spotlight–stitcher/

Let’s talk about usage and growth for a moment – Where does your usage come from?  Is it a half-half mix?

The vast majority of Stitcher’s listening (90%+) is via mobile devices.  We’ve historically focused our efforts on mobile as the most common use cases for radio listening tend to be on the go.  While we have a web based desktop version, it is currently undergoing a major redesign.

Wow!  That’s an insane amount of mobile use.  Where are your new users coming from?

Also 90%+ driven by mobile.

Again, a crazy figure. So, is there anything cool coming down the road from Stitcher?

We’re going to continue to innovate on discovery – helping users navigate the vast library of content out there, dive deeper into social – we inherently believe that a lot of talk content is the type of content  listeners love to discuss with friends or like-minded listeners, and take technologies like transcription that we’ve applied in the Election Center and test application of it across all of Stitcher’s content to improve things like search results and allow users to jump directly to segments of interest.

How does a user get in touch to provide feedback?

There’s a feedback feature in our app that will come to us or users can just sent their ideas to [email protected]. The more the better!