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Why Apple Could Squash Pandora, But Won't

Stocks in this article: AAPLP

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Can Pandora (P) fend off iTunes Radio?

That's the headline of an article I read Tuesday evening.

There's no use linking to it because it's representative of nearly every other thing you've read or heard on the subject. Ever since I started covering Internet radio, the media -- be it scribes who rely on intuition or TV types who live and die by sensationalism -- has been several steps behind on the matter. Scratching at the surface only intensified when Apple (AAPL) entered the game.

Let's get something straight ...

Competition between huge companies that happen to have some type of Internet radio service and the smaller companies who have made streaming music their core mission and lone source of revenue does not exist in any meaningful way. Of course, on some level, Apple feigns competitive salvos at Pandora. But, ultimately, the turf Pandora occupies is just too small for Apple to aggressively pursue.

Because, let's face it, if Apple wanted to, it could do any number of things to wipe Pandora off the face of the Earth. It could buy Pandora or spend a tiny fraction of its cash to challenge Pandora in areas it should dominate by now.

You have to attempt to move away from the drug the media feeds of you. These guys turn everything into a dichotomy. Us versus them. Either/or. Black and white. They dilute multi-faceted issues into binary mindlessness.

So it's not a question of can Pandora "fend off" iTunes Radio.

Instead, it's a question of can Apple drive hardware sales via its massive ecosystem, of which iTunes Radio plays a small, but still meaningful part. Apple would love to have exclusive access to digital releases ... it would love to see its iTunes Festival overshadow Pandora's Discovery Den at SXSW ... it would love to ding Pandora in any number of ways. However, that's not the goal.

The goal is to sell hardware. Doing radio and hawking music downloads is merely one means to that end. Any drama that involves Pandora along the way is merely that.

The same applies to Amazon.com (AMZN). Some way, somehow it will enter the space. There will be drama. The media will make sure of it. But Amazon's music service will be just another means to the end of extending Amazon Prime and driving core e-commerce.

Pandora, as a pure play, doesn't concern itself with selling hardware and building an e-commerce business. Instead, it's hyper-focused on taking advertising dollars away from broadcast radio. While that's fantastic in some respects, I'm concerned ...

Because I reckon most everybody's mired in talking about Internet radio like we're living in 2013. It's 2014. And the space continues to rapidly morph into one where it's not as much about the music or doing radio as it is about what you do with your data. As in, how do you monetize your data.

That's the multi-million -- and maybe even billion -- dollar industry that will make or break Pandora and the other players who did not come into this thing with already successful and long-established foci.

I get into where Pandora should look when it has its head down in Sell Pandora: It's About to Become a Thing of the Past.

Speaking of selling Pandora, the stock has begun its descent, up just 1% over the last month, but down 14% in the last five days. I suspect investors understand that the phase of growth that took Pandora to $40 isn't being replaced, at the moment, by an equally-as-formidable subsequent driver. Pandora bulls are calling Uber, but, sadly, there are no cars driving around this bad neighborhood. 

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

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