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No Escape: Even Pandora, Hulu Airing Political Ads

Dalia Colón

Jonathan Milton spends six or seven days a week at Tampa's Powerhouse Gym training for an upcoming fitness contest.

He passes the time by streaming Pandora Internet Radio on his iPhone.

"I'm usually listening to Dubstep," Milton said. "It's a new style... that's becoming really popular."

The music helps Milton really concentrate on his workouts, which last about two hours a pop.

"I like to get what they call 'in the zone,'" Milton said.

One thing that takes him out of the zone? Political ads.

Milton knows he could pay $3.99 a month to subscribe to Pandora's commercial-free service. But hardly any of Pandora's 58 million users actually do that, according to the company's vice president of ad sales, Sean Duggan.

"When users sign up, we ask for three pieces of information. We ask for age, gender and zip code. That's the primary way that every ad is served on Pandora," Duggan said.


Milton, who's 30 and lives in St. Petersburg, is an attractive target. And if a Pandora advertiser wants to reach Milton -- be it a political candidate or a pizzeria -- he can't dodge the ad by just changing stations.

As Duggan explains, "The way terrestrial radio has been bought for years -- you buy country, you buy rock, you buy hiphop or classical to reach a specific age and gender.

"We actually have that information. We can actually give you 18 to 24, and we can get even the kids who are listening to classical music, who you might not reach if you were just buying a rock station," he said.

It Could Be Worse...

Last spring, Pandora hired its even first-ever political ad director. That's why when residents of swing states turn to online entertainment to try to avoid political ads, they often run right into them.

Streaming TV sites, like Hulu, work pretty much the same way...with a twist. For example, the Obama campaign runs Hulu Ad Selector, which lets viewers which type of commercial they prefer -- say, one about taxes, education or the economy. 

Duggan says it could be worse. Pandora could be running even more political ads than it already does. 

"My guess is a lot of people in states like Florida and other places are a looking for a place to get away from all the ads at this point," Duggan said.

"We're a safe haven from that because our ad experience is still consistent," he said. "Certain states where we know we probably could've added more ads an hour, we've kept it to basically one audio ad every 20 minutes."

But even that's overkill for Milton. Although Pandora can tip off advertisers to Milton's age, gender and ZIP code, there's one other bit of information political candidates would find useful: his religion.

"I'm a Jehovah's Witness, and basically we don't get involved," Milton said. "When it comes to politics, we stand neutral on that."

In other words, he's not planning to vote at all.

"I host a food podcast" is a great icebreaker at parties.
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