Because Apple's name always comes up first, I feature and address them first. Then we'll move through as many other possibilities as my peabrain can come up with (without devolving into complete drivel with a dash of boredom).
If Apple's really serious about iTunes Radio, buying Pandora could make sense. However, it's more complicated than that.
Ideally, if you're Apple, you buy Pandora for the technology and advertising infrastructure. The Music Genome Project (MGP) instantly makes iTunes Radio as good as what we now know as Pandora. And Pandora's salesforce and sales infrastructure meaningfully aids Apple as it, reportedly, aims to become a bigger mobile advertising player.
But I've always been convinced that these areas -- doing radio and collecting the advertising dollars associated with it -- are small potatoes relative to Apple's monstrous core. Going after these relatively minuscule dollars can only distract Apple from focusing a majority of its effort where it needs to be. And that's on hardware.
Plus, Apple would be faced with a choice -- do we blow Pandora as we know it up or leave it pretty much as is and clumsily replace iTunes Radio with it?
Blowing it up would mean jettisoning non-iOS platforms, most notably Android. So streaming radio -- Pandora-style -- would cease to exist for the masses, opening the door for Spotify and others to take charge. That's purely buying the company for its technology (the MGP), infrastructure and chunks of its staff.
Clumsily replacing iTunes Radio with Pandora, but leaving it as a going concern on Android and other platforms means Apple's streaming platform isn't exclusive to iOS users. It would look more like regular old iTunes on the desktop.
I can't imagine Apple going for the latter or Pandora's Board being OK with the former. So we have an impasse, which brings me back to what I have thought all along -- Apple ain't buying Pandora.
That said -- other possibilities exist. Without shame, I order them in such a way that you'll be compelled to read this entire article. And, believe it or not, the speculation actually gets stronger as the article wears on.