CES 2017: Otto Radio Looks to be the Pandora of Podcasts

Among the up-and-coming technical innovations of particular interest to radio broadcasters at CES 2017 is Otto Radio, which debuted in 2016 and has now received funding from Samsung NEXT, the venture capital arm of the Samsung Group. The funds will help push Otto Everywhere, a personalized radio app that plays news and podcasts, among other innovations.

Displaying its wares at the CES Eureka Park Marketplace—the conference’s primary destination for up-and-coming products—Otto aims at CES to find new partners and content providers to expand its footprint in the personalized media space relating to connected and autonomous cars, smart audio devices and appliances.

In essence, the Otto Radio template allows users to customize content from numerous content providers tailored by subject. In a demo by Otto Radio CMO Alex Loomis, users listened to curated content about the NBA, for example, or the stock market or cancer research. “It’s like Pandora for talk radio,” Loomis told Inside Radio. “We have figured out how to transcribe the whole podcast world into a personalized smart channel for users.”

Fred Jacobs, CEO and cofounder of Jacobs Media, added that Otto Radio “is really an interesting concept because podcasting is just this chaotic mess of content out there. It is still so difficult for people to be able to curate and use—and here’s a product that appears to be able to algorithmically put it together to match your lifestyle, your interests, [amount of time], all those things…and very much like the NPR One app, serves it up for you.”

Loomis explained that Otto Radio automatically curates top podcasts and audio news based on a listener’s interests so each audio broadcast/podcast is “relevant, compelling and entertaining.” On the provider side, the Otto Everywhere public API enables manufacturers, automotive OEMs and content distributors to provide customers audio content from leading news outlets and/or podcasts at no cost.

Company literature notes that Otto Everywhere is designed so that “with a few lines of code, partners can build experiences that allow listeners to start their day with a personalized news briefing on their smart speaker or appliance, launch a timed broadcast on their car’s infotainment system during their morning commute, finish listening at their work computer, get news updates in a car-share on the way to a meeting and end the day listening to their favorite shows on wireless headphones while working out.”

Otto Radio launched in 2015 out of San Francisco and gained access on app stores in October 2016. It is free to users and is ad-supported. In November, it completed its first integration with Uber to provide personalized audio news and podcasts timed to the length of rider trips. “As we move out of owning a car, how do we make that experience personal to each user?” Loomis said. “We think this is a perfect medium for the mobile world.”

Samsung certainly realized that benefit as well. “Our team saw Otto Radio’s potential to build a personalized media experience that’s transportable among different platforms, and they are poised to capture that opportunity with their growing suite of products and public API,” said Christina Bechhold, principal at Samsung NEXT Ventures.

“In this connected world, personalized content needs to flow seamlessly across multiple platforms and provide a contextualized experience better than the traditional source it’s displacing,” Otto Radio CEO and cofounder Stanley Yuan said. “The Otto Everywhere API provides our partners with a premium, personalized audio content strategy for free and the flexibility to design a listening experience native to their product environment.”

The question then becomes how to ensure traditional radio’s meaningful inclusion in Otto Radio’s platform. As Jacobs said, “First of all, radio needs to create podcasts so that it appears in the Otto Radio algorithm. That would be a start. Most commercial stations are not doing a whole lot of commercial podcasting with the exception of repurposing already existing shows, which at least some of them would make the Otto Radio algorithm. I think it starts with creating content.”

Otto Radio
Modern Life Podcast Network shows available on Otto Radio