A unified front with respect to royalties and sales. That's just the beginning, but it begins to answer the question of what Pandora looks like if it remains an independent company.
When you think about what Pandora looks like independent, it only lends support to what I bet happens. A buyout. Things have been oddly quiet at Pandora lately. For as bearish as I have been on the stock, this might the time to buy because, who knows (?), somebody could be preparing to spend a lot of money to take Pandora out.
If you buy Pandora, you can participate in the relatively small potatoes of the business it has built over the last several years and remains hyper focused on going forward -- the business of poaching dollars from traditional radio's $14 billion advertising market. Pandora has done a fantastic job generating what is approaching $1 billion in annual sales from that pie. But it's unrealistic to think Pandora can replicate previous growth rates, particularly as broadcast radio continues to do a better job chasing existing and creating its own digital dollars. So, as anybody with an ounce of vision can see, you have to diversify and extend your business.
That's something Pandora doesn't seem to want to do and might have a hard time doing even if the will existed. The will to build a lucrative data business the way Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) is. The will to create and aggressively disseminate platforms to connect artists with their fans the way Apple and Beats will.
If Pandora really wanted to do these things -- and, via ultimately hollow words, it says it does -- it would realize that it's better off being part of a larger company. Just like the people at Beats Music realize they're better off being part of Apple. Just like the people at Twitter should realize they would be better off as part of Facebook (FB). It's much easier to execute righteous, not very profitable, but cash-intensive missions when you're subsidized by bigger, more financially sound companies.
Pandora's left unable to seriously execute initiatives that lie outside of its core. That's pretty much what it says (the official term Pandora trots is that they're "resource constrained" because of royalty payments), assuming it wants to do anything other than sell advertising in the first place. As an independent company -- based on the way things look now as per Pandora's public statements and actions -- Pandora will spend the next several years squeezing water out of what will look more and more like a rock. The $14 billion radio captures each year will not simply sit static because Pandora wants to keep poaching it.
The dynamics of that market will change considerably. They have already changed. And will continue to evolve. Not only has/will traditional radio worked/work harder and smarter to hang onto the sales revenue it considers its own, but other players will go after it as part of larger, more exciting strategies than the one Pandora remains married to. That makes Pandora -- simply put -- not very sexy anymore. On its own, Pandora's simply no longer a very sexy company. And, in tech, as the slump prior to AAPL's recent resurgence proves, you have got to have sex appeal to win with investors.
That's one reason why investors have sold the stock off. They have come to understand what brought Pandora to the dance. But they also realize that narrative has become stale. They either want Pandora to explain to them why that narrative remains fresh and intact and/or start telling other stories that legitimately portend the type of growth and attendant stock price appreciation they have become accustomed to over the last 18 months (recent nosedive notwithstanding).
--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.