Pandora Acquisition? Not Likely

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With rumors swirling about Apple ( AAPL) reportedly entering the Internet streaming music service, there's been speculation that Pandora ( P) could be an acquisition target for Google ( GOOG) or Amazon ( AMZN). While Apple's presence in any market causes concern for competitors, an outright acquisition seems less likely.

Amazon, for example, has been in the business of building its own services, such as Amazon Video, its app store, and Amazon Cloud Player, to name a few. Buying Pandora doesn't fit in with this strategy.

Pandora, despite reporting stronger-than-expected second quarter earnings, has yet to turn a profit since going public, which could also detract from its appeal. Google and Amazon, who now compete with Apple in the mobile device market, are not charities. They are for-profit businesses, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos noted at the company's recent Kindle event in Santa Monica.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of indications that Apple could step into streaming music.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based firm already accounts for a 64% share of the digital music market in the United States according to research firm NPD, and Apple entering the space makes sense, says Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group.

"The rising popularity of online radio helps explain Apple's rumored interest in streaming radio," said Crupnick in the press release. "As listening migrates from downloads on laptops to streams on phones and tablets, it would make sense for iTunes to offer customers the same integrated experience they have been known for by adding a streaming capability."

Amazon and Google, of course, do not have the pull that Apple does with the music industry, and would likely not be able to lower content costs, which Pandora recently said were increasing as users use the service more.

JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth recently expressed concern about a potential Apple foray into the market and what it could mean. "... We recognize Apple poses considerably more risk given its strong brand and device install base, existing relationships within the music industry, and its balance sheet-creating potential to structure advantageous content licensing agreements.

Both Pandora and Apple could not be immediately reached for comment for this story.

In its recent 10-Q, Pandora noted the potential problems that could arise as more users use its service. " Given the royalty structures in effect with respect to the public performance of sound recordings in the United States, our content acquisition costs increase with each additional listener hour, regardless of whether we are able to generate more revenue," it said. "As such, our ability to achieve and sustain profitability and operating leverage depends on our ability to increase our revenue per hour of streaming through increased advertising sales across all of our delivery platforms. To date, we have not been able to generate additional revenue from our advertising products as rapidly as we have been able to grow our listener hours on mobile and other connected devices, which have experienced significant growth."

Pandora has nonetheless racked up more than 150 million registered users, successfully competing with rivals such as Spotify, Turntable.fm and iHeartRadio. While the Oakland, Calif.-based company has deflected these competitors, however, it has not faced a rival like Apple.

Apple entering a space it's already entrenched in with iTunes would vastly hurt any chances of profitability for other companies, given its largesse and vast number of iOS devices it around the world.

Pandora shares sank 17% the day the article in The Wall Street Journal suggested Apple was getting into the Internet streaming business, and have not recovered.

Pandora shares are higher in Thursday trading, up 2.46% to $10.84 on the acquisition chatter.

Interested in more on Pandora? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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