The Oakland-based radio service has lost half of its market value over the past two years amid a pushback from artists seeking compensation and the high-profile entrance of Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report Music. Even Viacom (VIAB) - Get Viacom Inc. Class B Report hasn't fallen that much and the owner of Paramount Pictures has had its dirty laundry aired for months.
For a company that went public in 2011 and enjoyed steady growth, Pandora's revenue declined in the first quarter comapred to the preceeding three-month period, its first sequential decline the last quarter of 2014. That was a bad sign, and Pandora shares have consequently struggled to get their footing.
To be sure, Pandora has been hurt by increased competition most notably from Apple Music but also Spotify, which Bloomberg reported could be headed for an initial public offering later this year as it looks to cash-in on its $8 billion valuation. (Pandora is currently valued at $2.8 billion.) Even Jay Z's Tidal, which has exclusive contracts with a number of top artists including Prince and Kanye West, has shown
But the stock's under-performance masks Pandora's pathway to growth, given that the company has always argued that its biggest competitors are terrestrial radio, which is struggling to sustain advertising sales. iHeartMedia (IHRT) - Get iHeartMedia, Inc. Class A Report , the company once known as Clear Channel, currently trades over the counter as it tries to stave off a default, and Cumulus Media (CMLS) - Get Cumulus Media, Inc. Class A Report has descended into a penny stock. CBS (CBS) - Get CBS Corporation Class B Report , meanwhile, couldn't find any takers for its radio unit.
By comparison, "Pandora offers a great service and revenue growth potential," Rich Tullo. media analyst at Albert Fred, wrote in a July 8 investor note.
Pandora has also increased its use of sponsored-advertisements whereby a user receives 30 minutes of uninterrupted listening if the click on a video advertisement. "Time allotted to video advertising has significantly increased as compared to January 2015 and July 2014," Canaccord Genuity media analyst Michael Graham wrote in a July 15 investor report.
Advertising sales has been a saving grace, an important point given that a mere 3.9 million users out of a total subscription base of 80.2 million pay for the service. (Spotify's breakdown is 30 million paid subscribers and 70 million on its ad-supported platform, according to Macquarie media analyst Amy Yong.) Ad sales at Pandora jumped 19% in the first quarter of this year.
As investors are keenly aware, an on-demand service could be a game changer for Pandora. CEO Tim Westergren has hinted that Pandora is building a more robust on-demand service by combining its Rdio acquisition with its Thumbprint Radio and Music Genome Project, making for a "compelling product," Yong wrote in a July 18 investor note. "The service will be priced competitively and at various points to attract a wider user base."
Canaccord's Graham goes so far to argue that being late to the on-demand game could actually benefit Pandora. Spotify has been entangled in legal battles with artists and The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is potentially in talks to buy Tidal, which has exclusive deals with artists.
"We think by going slow, Pandora strategically will enter streaming as a change agent and not a commodity competitor," Graham wrote.
Investors, though, are eager to see Pandora improve it financials. Afterall, the company lost $170 million in 2015. Pandora on Thursday was slipping 0.8% to $12.25.