Pandora Needs to Get Serious About a Sirius Investment
Pandora CEO Tim Westergren

Pandora Media  (P) , the world's largest internet radio operator, is trying to have its cake and eat it too. That is, it wants to remain independent and get millions of dollars of fresh money.

So far, investors aren't buying it. Pandora shares fell again on Thursday, dropping 0.7% to $8.37, extending the stock's decline over the past four trading days to 9.5%. Pandora has fallen 35% since the end of 2016.

Yet just hours before a $150 million financing deal was set to close with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) , the giant private-equity firm, Pandora said it was postponing the transaction "to explore interest expressed by a strategic investor in making a substantial minority investment" in the company.

The announcement follows a Reuters report that Pandora is in talks with Sirius XM Holdings (SIRI) for an equity investment after merger negotiations ended in a disagreement over price. Sirius remains a natural partner for Pandora given that its satellite-radio business is becoming more vulnerable to competition from Spotify and Apple (AAPL) Music as cars become more connected to wireless applications. 

Pandora CEO Tim Westergren stands to gain if he can replace KKR with Sirius.

Westergren, a Pandora co-owner, has long resisted calls to sell the company, arguing that its new on-demand streaming service, Pandora Premium, can become a profitable and growing business despite the dominance of Spotify and Apple Music.

Investors have made clear that they'd prefer new ownershipas Pandora continues to decline dangerously close to its all-time lowest closing price of $7.18 reached on Nov. 16, 2012.

A deal with Sirius XM stands to nullify the KKR transaction, which was set to close at the end of the business day, June 8. By accepting KKR's money in exchange for preferred shares, Pandora CEO Tim Westergren would have signaled that he had exhausted efforts to entice a would-be buyer such as Sirius or even Verizon (VZ) , which the New York Post reported earlier this week had spoken with the streaming music operator about a potential deal.

With money from Sirius or KKR, Pandora could continue to operate as a standalone company further into the future, even unprofitably. Pandora burned through $241 million in cash last year, and hasn't posted earnings in nine consecutive quarters.

Meanwhile, Spotify and Apple Music have taken dominating position in on-demand streaming while developing their own radio features, a business that Westergren rode to fame and fortune after going public in 2011. Pandora's highest closing price was March 5, 2014 at $39.43.

Since then, Pandora stumbled in efforts to failed find common ground with sometimes jittery and often obstinate record labels. Pandora only completed its roll-out of Premium in April and said last month that it had attracted about 500,000 trial subscribers since March. Apple this week said it had over 27 million subscribers to its Music service. Spotify executives have said they have more than 50 million.

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If Sirius XM is going to buy Pandora, they've played Westergren and his longtime investors like a drum. Pandora's board reportedly rejected a $15 per share offer in July 2016 from Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media Formula One ( LMCA) , which controls Sirius XM. Since then Maffei and assorted Siri executives have alternated between expressing interest in Pandora and trashing its business model.

Either way, Pandora's value has plummeted, losing 31% in 12 months. With the prospect of closing on a $150 million cash infusion from KKR, Westergren will have both a financial lifeline, and the continued pressures of activist investors eager for him to sell.

Eventually, Pandora has to find a buyer. It just can't go to zero, right?

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