Will Public Displays of Arrogance From Pandora Executives Kill the Company?
If you believe Pandora's CEO (when he makes the rare public statement), the March deal between Spotify and The Echo Nest means nothing for Pandora. If you believe Pandora's CFO (who, along with other executives often speaks for the incognito CEO), the deal between Apple (AAPL - Get Report) and Beats means nothing for Pandora. If you believe Pandora's VP of Investor Relations (who also routinely does the CEO's job for him), broadcast radio only stands to lose from Pandora's success. And, if precedent holds, one of the above-mentioned (though probably not the corner office CEO) will claim Google's (GOOG) acquisition of Songza means nothing for Pandora.
That's what Pandora has become. Now more than ever, Pandora is a propaganda machine. But do these people really believe that nothing that happens around Pandora matters to Pandora? As pioneers, first movers and disruptors, you would think Pandora would know better. And -- because I know better -- I know that the people at Pandora do indeed know better. They'd better know better (!!). Because, if they don't, I might be right --Pandora could really be screwed.
There is absolutely no question that over the last two years, Pandora has absolutely schooled everybody from Spotify to Apple to traditional radio. I have chronicled and riffed on these realities at TheStreet. But you have got to move things forward, literally and figuratively. On the ground and in conversation. That's what I strive to do. And that's what I hope Pandora is doing behind the scenes; away from its public propaganda, which, on its own, is nothing short of misguided bravado. Arrogance disguised as competence and confidence.
These companies and entities, specifically Apple and traditional radio, have learned from their past mistakes. There's no question they made mistakes. Radio's have been heavily reported (and widely and roundly laughed at). I am one of the few to outline where Apple failed -- and miserably -- with respect to doing music as radio redefined. See, for example, Addressing Tim Cook's Biggest Failure at Apple and Is Steve Jobs Rolling in His Grave or Did He Dig One For Apple's iTunes?. But these things go in cycles. And we're in the middle of one of these cycles. Where companies who were disrupted and/or dropped the ball come back strong.
While it might not happen overnight, Apple and Beats will build out a complete ecosystem that not only challenges, but severely dings if not outright crushes Pandora. And -- finally -- traditional radio has started to do things that address what have been Pandora's competitive advantages. As this process takes shape, Pandora cannot ignore these moves. It must take them seriously as to ensure, in the next cycle, it remains pioneer and disrupter. In other words, Pandora cannot rest on history. It cannot operate on the belief that what brought it to the dance will keep it on top. It's this very mindset that caused Apple's iTunes to stagnate, iTunes Radio to fail early on and traditional radio to lose its way.
--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.