Friday, February 12, 2016

Pandora Said to Explore Sale of Company as Losses Mount

Written by Lucas Shaw — Pandora Media Inc., the largest Internet radio service, is exploring a sale of the company, according to a person familiar with the matter, as losses pile up and online-music competition mounts from Spotify Ltd. and Apple Inc.

The company is working with Morgan Stanley to reach out to buyers, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing a private matter. The talks are preliminary and may not lead to a deal, the person said Thursday before the online-radio provider reported fourth-quarter earnings that missed analysts’ estimates. Pandora and Morgan Stanley declined to comment on a potential sale.

Pandora shares jumped as much as 15 percent after the New York Times reported on the talks, then plunged 7 percent in late trading following the earnings release.

The Oakland, California-based company, which has been unprofitable each year since its initial public offering in 2011, is trying to grab advertisers from terrestrial radio while competing against Spotify and Apple and battling record labels and music publishers over how much it pays to play their songs.

The company reported fourth-quarter sales of $336.2 million, missing projections of $341.6 million, the average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Profit excluding certain items totaled 4 cents, trailing estimates of 6 cents. This year, sales will be $1.4 billion to $1.42 billion, the company said, below analysts’ estimates of $1.467 billion.

Total listener hours, a closely watched measurement that investors see as an indicator of future profits, increased to 5.37 billion in the quarter, compared with 5.2 billion a year earlier. On the year, listener hours were 21.11 billion, a 5 percent increase from 2014. Active listeners totaled 81.1 million in the fourth quarter, compared with 81.5 million a year earlier.

Overseas Expansion

Pandora aims to increase sales by expanding overseas and introducing an on-demand service akin to those offered by Spotify and Apple. The company acquired assets from streaming service Rdio to build out its on-demand options. Pandora offers its existing radio service in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, but would need to secure new rights to expand elsewhere.

“We believe we can convert millions of listeners for paying services, by offering a truly differentiated easy-to-use and incredibly enjoyable experience,” Chief Executive Officer Brian McAndrews said on a call with investors. “We also believe having a broader offering will attract and retain even more listeners to our core Pandora radio business. There will be every reason for music lovers of all kinds to stay on Pandora.”

Pandora also laid out a five-year plan that projects the Internet radio business will grow to more than $2.4 billion in revenue. Live events, subscriptions and commerce can boost total sales past $4 billion.

At the close of trading Thursday, Pandora was valued at $1.94 billion, or about 193 times its projected earnings. After the report on Pandora’s plans sent shares up Thursday, the company was valued at about $1.9 billion, or about 160 times its projected earnings. A DealReporter article in 2014 cited Sirius XM Holdings Inc., Inc. and Google Inc. as potential buyers for Pandora, without saying where it got the information.

Pandora dodged the worst-case scenario in a ruling in December that set music-streaming rates below the amount sought by performers and labels. Internet-radio companies must pay rights-holders 17 cents per 100 streams under the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board’s decision, which runs from 2016 to 2020. Pandora, which had been paying 14 cents per 100 streams for its free, ad-supported service, sought a rate of 11 cents. The music industry wanted 25 to 29 cents.

Days after that ruling, Pandora reached licensing agreements with songwriting groups Ascap and BMI, cementing its access to more than 20 million songs for several years.

Click here to read from this article's source.