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With $2 Million In Funding, Senzari Prepares To Take On Pandora

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There are two main complaints that always crop up whenever you mention Pandora: its music catalog is too small and it’s not available outside the U.S. That’s room enough for another startup to move into the streaming radio space, at least according to the folks at the new Miami-based streaming music startup Senzari. The service recently launched into private beta in the U.S. and Brazil, with plans to expand further into Latin America, Spain and Australia in the future.

In addition, where Pandora currently offers a catalog of 900,000 songs, Senzari has launched with over 10 million. It also includes Facebook integration, including live chat with Facebook friends.

The new startup is backed by $2 million in funding from undisclosed angel investors in Silicon Valley and Boston (mainly friends and family) and a private equity group in Southern California. It’s the fourth startup from serial entrepreneur Bill Hajjar, who has previous experience in wireless, mobile and the location-based service industries.

Of course, the main value proposition for any new radio service is the same as Pandora’s: people want radio. “80% of the U.S. market would rather have a lean-back experience,” Hajjar explains. What he means is that the majority of listeners want to just push play to enjoy music and discover new bands, not search for tracks and build playlists.

But streaming radio doesn’t have to battle against the paid music subscription services, like the increasingly popular Spotify, MOG, Rdio or Rhapsody, Hajjar says. Both can co-exist.  It’s the like the difference between buying CDs versus just flipping on the (terrestrial) radio.

Still, taking on the newly IPO’d Pandora is no small matter. That’s why Senzari is focused on Pandora’s weakest spots, mainly its catalog’s size and the market it serves. Hajjar says Senzari has managed to secure the licensing rights for radio webcasting in the U.S., Brazil and Spain, which allows it to operate outside the U.S. (Spain’s launch comes later this month).

It also has a strategic partnership with RED Viacom, which represents ad sales for other Viacom properties, like Nickelodeon, VH1, MTV and Comedy Central. However, this partnership is only in Latin America right now.

As for Senzari’s web-based player, it’s not too bad (except that it requires Flash, that is). The uncomplicated user interface is easy to navigate and it pulls in photos from Flickr and Last.fm to provide an interesting background image to complement the music. While opinions are subjective, of course, coming from Pandora, I prefer Senzari’s darker colors and minimal feel. If anything, it looks more like Spotify’s desktop app than it does an online player. (See comparison shots below).

Also like Spotify, Senzari is focused on deep Facebook integration. You can see what friends are listening to (radio stations, though, not custom playlists) and like Pandora, you can post what you’re listening to on your Facebook profile. But Senzari goes a step further: it also functions as a Facebook instant messaging client, listing your Facebook friends in a column to the right of the player. You can click to see what they’re playing or simply start a chat session. Full Open Graph integration is planned for January.

Each station is personalized to an individual user, not just via your playing behavior, but also using data pulled in from your Facebook user profile and “likes.” That means your “Adele” station may be different from your friends’. To allow you to experience broader music discovery, you can favorite your own station but also subscribe to those built by others. An “Activity Feed” section is also available, which, much like Pandora’s (for those who authenticate with Facebook), shows you who’s listening to what and when.

As Senzari is still in private beta, there’s no advertising interrupting the radio streams just yet, but later, the site will feature a combination of takeover ads, banners and audio ads. Mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android will arrive early next year.

In order to get into Senzari, you’ll need an invite from a current user, sent to you via Facebook. TechCrunch readers, however, can go to senzari.com/techcrunch to get in today. This link will only be good for 24 hours starting now.

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