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iTunes Radio Gets News Radio, Via NPR

Apple's Pandora rival branches out.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

When iTunes Radio launched last fall, the service was designed for music fans (and music labels). Now it is branching out: National Public Radio is adding the first news station to Apple’s audio streaming service, with more on the way.

NPR’s station, which should be live today, will offer a free stream, 24 hours a day, which mixes live news with segments from pre-recorded shows like “All Things Considered” and “The Diane Rehm Show.” NPR officials say that within weeks, some of the broadcaster’s local stations should begin offering their own stations, with a similar mix of live and taped news.

And since NPR’s executives have previously talked about plans for a mobile app that would generate on-demand programming that would change based on a users’ listening preferences and location, it’s possible a version of that service could migrate to iTunes Radio down the line.

For now, NPR gets to say that it’s the first news service on iTunes Radio, along with whatever spotlight Apple can shine on the station. NPR has been freely available via Web browsers and mobile apps for some time, and already attracts 30 million visitors a month. But increased exposure is always a good thing, says Zach Brand, the broadcaster’s vice president of digital media.

“The public radio audience is very digital savvy, but there are certainly some of the millennials and other folks who are looking for their listening experience exclusively on digital, so we want to reach them wherever they are,” he said.

Apple built iTunes Radio as an alternative to Pandora, and pitched it to music labels by telling them that it could help boost sales by promoting their acts and guiding listeners to iTunes’ music store. Label executives say that hasn’t happened, and downloads sales in general have been sputtering — last year, for the first time, they declined worldwide.

But iTunes Radio does seem to have some listeners. Apple said users had streamed a billion songs a month after launch, and a recent survey from Edison Research said eight percent of Americans had listened to the service in the past month, compared to 31 percent for Pandora.

Apple pays music owners whenever it streams their songs on iTunes Radio, and is selling ad time against the music. It’s unclear what, if any, business relationship Apple will have with NPR, which is run as a nonprofit organization.

“I would say that Apple has been very understanding of the business model and the connection that public radio has with their audience,” Brand said.

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