Will Apple Buy Pandora?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I understand I'm breaking my own rule here, but this exercise can accomplish a few things with respect to Apple (AAPL) and Pandora (P).

Don't worry -- I won't dip my toes in the pool of inanity that says Apple should buy Netflix (NFLX) or some such.

But there's just too much contradictory craziness spewing from Pandora of late. Something's got to give. And I'm warming to the possibility it could be an acquisition.

Because Apple's name always comes up first, I feature and address them first. Then we'll move through as many other possibilities as my peabrain can come up with (without devolving into complete drivel with a dash of boredom).

If Apple's really serious about iTunes Radio, buying Pandora could make sense. However, it's more complicated than that.

Ideally, if you're Apple, you buy Pandora for the technology and advertising infrastructure. The Music Genome Project (MGP) instantly makes iTunes Radio as good as what we now know as Pandora. And Pandora's salesforce and sales infrastructure meaningfully aids Apple as it, reportedly, aims to become a bigger mobile advertising player.

But I've always been convinced that these areas -- doing radio and collecting the advertising dollars associated with it -- are small potatoes relative to Apple's monstrous core. Going after these relatively minuscule dollars can only distract Apple from focusing a majority of its effort where it needs to be. And that's on hardware.

Plus, Apple would be faced with a choice -- do we blow Pandora as we know it up or leave it pretty much as is and clumsily replace iTunes Radio with it?

Blowing it up would mean jettisoning non-iOS platforms, most notably Android. So streaming radio -- Pandora-style -- would cease to exist for the masses, opening the door for Spotify and others to take charge. That's purely buying the company for its technology (the MGP), infrastructure and chunks of its staff.

Clumsily replacing iTunes Radio with Pandora, but leaving it as a going concern on Android and other platforms means Apple's streaming platform isn't exclusive to iOS users. It would look more like regular old iTunes on the desktop.

I can't imagine Apple going for the latter or Pandora's Board being OK with the former. So we have an impasse, which brings me back to what I have thought all along -- Apple ain't buying Pandora.

That said -- other possibilities exist. Without shame, I order them in such a way that you'll be compelled to read this entire article. And, believe it or not, the speculation actually gets stronger as the article wears on.

So onto other possible and potentially more realistic acquirers ...

The Record Labels

These dopes should have acted a long time ago.

There's no reason for the major record labels we now know as the key cogs of the music industrial complex to have even allowed Pandora to exist. The second they saw streaming radio gain even a whiff of traction (like when Apple introduced iPhone) these guys should have either purchased Pandora (for the technology) or built their own platform to distribute the content they (for all intents and purposes) own and ultimately control.

But to expect Sony (SNE) Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group to come together and do anything of the sort was, is and will continue to be absurd. They could still make an aggressive move for Pandora or create their own platform, but does anybody in their right mind think these guys are capable? They're more than content to farm out their content, rely on outside companies for technology and receive dwindling revenue many of their stakeholders can't stop complaining about.

Ideally, the music industry reassumes control of its music and does things to market it, with data, that will extract more value than Pandora or any other third-party Internet radio player has the inclination or will to dive into. But if we lived in an ideal world or one any of us could otherwise make sense of, the major labels would already own outright the primary distribution methods for their undervalued content.

Yahoo! (YHOO)

Whenever the idea of somebody buying Pandora comes up, so does Yahoo's name. And I don't quite understand why. Or maybe I do. I'm unsure.

I guess if Yahoo dove headfirst into live concert streaming, as I absolutely think it should, it would make perfect sense. There's probably not a better marriage than one between live concert streaming and Pandora. If you're broadcasting tours and/or big shows, you can logically move users back and forth between the live video stream and artist-specific stations on Pandora. And, from an advertising standpoint, the power of that (I hate this word) synergy is evident.

But there's no reason to believe, at least not at the moment, that Yahoo plans to move into the space the way I think it should. And, without that, no real compelling synergy exists. Marissa Mayer appears set to go all the way with video streaming, which sits outside of the music-based opportunity I outline in the above-linked article. So I'm not sure where radio fits, if at all.

Yahoo's not a crazy choice; in fact, it could make a lot of sense. I just don't see it happening based on the little I know about what Marissa Mayer's thinking when she sleeps with her head down at her desk.

Facebook (FB)

Why? Because Mark Zuckerberg can. That's as good a reason as any.

Personally, I would throw up if Facebook purchased Pandora. But if Zuckerberg wants to keep people on the page (Facebook's newsfeed) longer (advertisers like that) there's no better way to do it than to somehow make the Pandora platform part of "the page." Plus Zuckerberg's building an empire. And what's an empire without music?

With Pandora, Zuckerberg could take the ultimate step of expanding Pandora globally -- no matter the cost or red tape involved -- and tapping that big ass WhatsApp user base that's just waiting to be exploited out of another $1 a year or a month or whatever it is. He could also integrate Pandora with Instagram. And then ... and then ... and then ... Zuckerberg could replace live concert streaming before it even becomes a thing that's happening by allowing you to virtually experience live performances of whatever song you're streaming NOW on Pandora.

The more I roll through that stream of (un)consciousness the more attractive it sounded. But now I actually do feel like I want to vomit.

Google (GOOG)

Google might make the most sense of all the possibilities.

First it would be just like Google to make such a move. But, to add more meat to that statement, Pandora could provide the ideal catalyst for Google's plan to make Google Plus a bigger part of our everyday lives.

Not only could Google integrate Pandora from a social standpoint, but it would be the perfect complement (and compliment) to YouTube. In fact, Pandora could bring order to YouTube while YouTube could bring -- though I'm not convinced it's needed -- diversity and breadth to Pandora.

Imagine a YouTube with better curation plus the ability to skip over to an artist or some other type of themed station (powered, of course, by The Music Genome Project) and a Pandora with an on-demand option and unlimited songs (which also means unlimited karaoke versions of all your favorites).

Google's not all that absurd of a brainstorm.

I guess, if the chips fall the right way, none of the above is all that absurd.

But if I had to bet right now, I'd put my money on Google or Facebook or maybe Yahoo or, heck, even Apple buying Pandora. But not the record labels. Drivel. Boredom. Big fun. 

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is a full-time columnist for TheStreet. He lives in Santa Monica. Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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