Pandora (P) may be a bit late to the streaming music game, but CEO Tim Westergren is certain he's built the smartest machine in the race.
Some sixteen months after buying the streaming service Rdio, Pandora on Wednesday will launch its own on-demand music service amid. The introduction of Pandora Premium come amid increasingly vocal calls for Westergren to either sell the company that he co-founded, or hand the CEO position to someone else.
That Pandora Premium, which will cost $10 per month, will put the Oakland, Calif., music streaming operator in direct competition with market leader Spotify as well as Apple (AAPL - Get Report) Music, Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) Music, Alphabet's (GOOGL - Get Report) YouTube and Jay-Z's Tidal has been enough for some to question Westergren's leadership.
Greg Maffei -- CEO of Liberty Media (LMCA) , the majority owner of satellite radio service Sirius XM (SIRI - Get Report) -- recently said Pandora erred when it decided to spend millions of dollars building a product that will enter a market already dominated by the world's largest tech companies in addition to Spotify.
Yet despite his criticisms of Pandora's management, Maffei has has intermittently expressed interest in acquiring Pandora. Liberty approached Pandora late last year about a possible buyout, Bloomberg reported in December.
For Westergren, the Premium service may be his last chance to demonstrate to skeptical investors that the company's growth strategy can succeed. Pandora shares have dropped 10% over the past three months. Pandora, which hasn't been profitable in eight quarters, is trading 24% below where it began trading when the company went public in 2011.
Its largest shareholder, Corvex Management, the hedge fund controlled by Keith Meister, has indicated it may be preparing for a proxy fight to oust Westergren, who co-founded Pandora in 2000 with two other partners.
In an interview Monday on CNBC, Westergren deflected questions that Corvex may mount a challenge to his leadership, countering that the company would generate more than $1 billion in revenue in 2017 and reach profitability. Westrgren wouldn't comment on speculation that it might need to trade equity for an infusion of cash to make ends meet.
"Ah, the joys of being a public company," he said in the midday interview. "It's on us to execute, and I'm confident in Pandora's ability to do that."
Pandora Premium, he added, will be successful if it can convince 10% or more of the roughly 81 million active monthly users of its free ad-supported radio streaming service to become subscribers of its on-demand platform. The service, which will cost $9.99 per month, will allow users to pick songs and create playlists, a contrast to Pandora's free service, which feeds listeners songs based on their individual preferences.
"We don't need to convert our entire listener base," Westergren said. "This isn't about losing money on free listeners. We make money on you as a listener and more money on you as an on-demand listener."
The on-demand service, he predicted, will be better able to feed listeners the songs that they really like, a claim based on the company's Music Genome Project, which uses a series of algorithms to determine song choice.
"We're solving this ease-of-use problem that plagues music streaming service," Westergren said. "When we look at premium products, we just don't think anyone has done it right."
BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield earlier this month in an investor note offered a counterpoint, asserting that rather than bolstering the company's finances, Pandora Premium risks becoming a drain on the company's already sensitive balance sheet. Greenfield said that Pandora Premium will be immediately under pressure given the minimum guarantee revenue deals it had to sign with music labels. Those deal could end up being at higher rates than those set by the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board, he said.
Pandora would be better off selling, the BTIG analyst argued.
The Premium service announcement, in the works for more than two years, was having little positive effect Monday afternoon on the company's shares. Pandora stock was up 6 cents to $12.19.
A Pandora representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.