Pandora (P) has been waiting for this moment for many years.
At a New York event complete with rock 'n roll bands and hundreds of young fans, CEO Tim Westergren introduced the Oakland, Calif.-based company's long-awaited on-demand subscription service, Pandora Premium.
Yet, while Westergren and Pandora product chiefs described the new service, and teased many of its finer functions -- playlist creation, search and browse -- it won't be launched until sometime in the next quarter.
Pandora Premium's top offering will be priced at $10 per month and allow subscribers to rewind, skip and listen to songs when not connected to the Internet. Leveraging what Westergren says is the company's deep well of data on its nearly 80 million monthly users, the new service will create song lists tailored to an individual's listening history.
"We believe this is the first truly premium product in the space," Westergren said before a crowd of about 200 people in a warehouse space on the east side of Manhattan. "To do this, you have to have a deep knowledge of your listeners, which we do, and I would wager we know the listeners of other services better than they do."
Pandora is betting that it can convince at least 10% of users of its free, ad-supported Internet-radio service to subscribe to its premium product. As Westergren has often said, the goal of Pandora Premium isn't necessarily to dethrone Spotify as the industry leader with 40 million paid subscribers worldwide.
Rather, it's to give Pandora more options to appeal to listeners who seek a more engaged, "lean-in" music experience of picking and curating song lists as the company maintains its core business of ad-supported Internet radio, a service which competes more directly with traditional so-called terrestrial radio stations.
The new service will feature a playlist creation feature that Chris Becherer, Pandora product chief who came to the company from Rdio, said "is the best curated playlist creator on the market."
The question for Pandora is whether its on-demand service can reverse a third-quarter decline in active listeners, which dropped to 77.9 million from 78.1 million during the same period a year ago. Fewer listeners to its ad-supported service has slowed the company's growth through 2016, a signal to investors that users were abandoning Pandora for on-demand services, principally Spotify and Apple(AAPL) - Get Report Music.
At present, Pandora holds a roughly 10% share of the U.S. terrestrial radio market.
The success of Pandora Premium could determine whether the company is able to consistently generate a profit. For the fourth quarter, Pandora forecast in October it would lose $39 million to $51 million, falling well short of Wall Street projections at the time that projected a profit of $15.6 million.
Pandora Premium owes its creation, in part, to the engineers of Rdio, a competing online music streaming business that it acquired a year ago for $75 million. Rdio, which filed for bankruptcy as part of the transaction, was well respected for its technology though its business had yet to gain the traction of Spotify or Apple, a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS.
In September, Pandora revamped its ad-free radio platform called Pandora Plus, a $5 per month service which gives users the same curated Internet without commercials. The company said in October it had signed-up 250,000 subscribers who had been users of its free service.