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Pandora Not Happy With Criticism As 'Regular Radio' Lives Again

In a phone conversation with Pandora PR, I said everything (and more) I have said and will say in this and other articles. I was told -- in a nutshell and in no uncertain terms -- that my recent work has been extreme, radical and outrageous, bordering on the ramblings of a mad man. Funny ... because I was quite the mad man in 2011 and 2012 when I was writing about how Pandora would crush people short the stock and that it was outclassing broadcast radio at its own game. Pandora didn't seem to mind the way I delivered that message. But, suddenly, they're not so comfortable with my approach -- one that's constant across companies and sentiments. I cheer as loud and hard as I boo. And vice versa.

From a personal standpoint, I like the people who work at Pandora. But I never considered them my friends. In this business, you can't. There can never be loyalty in the relationship between somebody who does what I do for a living and a company. Part of me feels bad for taking a bearish turn and exposing Pandora as I have, but I feel as strongly about what I'm writing now as I did between 2011 and 2013. As such, I simply can't keep the way they have decided to handle me secret; readers/investors need to know how they're operating in this regard. From there, they can make their own decisions on the present and future state of Pandora.

Anyway, my work is starting to make its way out of the financial media niche.

On Wednesday, widely-read industry publication Digital Music News summarized my Tuesday article -- The Company Most Likely to Collapse in 2014. Digital Music News refers to me as a "top analyst," which makes me laugh as hard as it probably does you. I'm a columnist. With a well-thought out and educated opinion. Sometimes I'm right. Sometimes I'm wrong. But I think my prescient calls on Pandora over the last three years give me the street cred to go where I'm going now.

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And Pandora's scared because they're being called out for things people inside the building are and absolutely should be concerned about.

It goes something like this ...

I still have the utmost respect for what Pandora does in the two core aspects of its business. (I have said as much in recent, albeit largely pessimistic articles).

One -- there's nobody better at music personalization and discovery. Two -- Pandora's sales team -- culled, in significant part, from Clear Channel staff -- is fantastic. It does an excellent job selling what amounts to standard (though highly-targeted) broadcast radio advertising. That's all fantastic. It's exactly what brought Pandora to the dance. And, to a certain extent, it should remain the company's bread and butter. However, a hyper-focus in these two areas could -- without a serious change of course -- doom Pandora.

Pandora likes to pass that off as hyperbole. But, again, they were fine with the same level of intensity and pluck in my writing when I was (rightfully) bashing broadcast radio. I call it "regular radio" in the headline of this article because it's easy for readers to categorize.

"Regular radio" -- as in the one we all grew up with. The one where you push the button and choose AM or FM. But to tell this story properly, you have to understand that "regular radio" is no longer run of the mill. It really never has been. But it certainly did suffer through somewhat of a lull as Pandora burst onto the scene post-Apple (AAPL) iPhone.

In 2011 and into 2012, it was perfectly fine, dandy and accurate to refer to broadcast (aka terrestrial) radio as "regular." But something happened -- Clear Channel's hiring of Bob Pittman started to take, Cumulus Media (CMLS) decided to wake up, I don't know. All I know is that "regular radio" now looks as dynamic as Pandora did when it was busy disrupting and Pandora looks as deer in the headlights as "regular radio" did 2-3 years ago.

You can't simply make an analysis on the basis of what's happening today. In and of itself, Pandora's present strategy is solid. However, you have to consider that strategy in a forward-looking context. Put another concrete way -- when regular radio lulled it was busy lashing out at Pandora rather than evolving its own practices. It still had hundreds of millions of listeners and was growing -- even if modestly -- but it wasn't anywhere near prepared to effectively compete in a digital world led by tech companies such as Pandora and Spotify.

In a short period of time, regular radio shifted. In business jargon, they pivoted and displayed impressive nimbleness. (Or maybe they were shifting and being nimble all along and I didn't notice or it was hidden. Doubtful, but that's a possibility). Regular radio stays true to and grows its core, but fully realizes it must be dynamic beyond its core of selling 30-second spots and sponsorships.

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