For an entire hour, Pandora CEO Brian McAndrews and CFO Michael Herring managed to dodge the question on everyone’s minds during the company’s Q4 earnings call until someone finally asked: What about the New York Times report that Pandora was talking to potential acquirers?
McAndrews answered with the expected non-denial, saying that the company wasn’t commenting on what he called rumor and speculation. “We are very confident in our ability to continue to drive significant value for our shareholders,” he said. “We are focused on working as an independent company.”
McAndrews and Herring did spend much of the call talking about those plans, and specifically the things that Pandora aims to do in the coming year. The big picture is unchanged: Pandora acquired Rdio last year to build out its own music subscription service, and it bought Ticketfly to get into the ticketing and live events business.
All of this will lead to lots of synergies, to the point where Pandora lures listeners in with free music, gets credit-card data from selling them concert tickets, and then uses the same customer relationship to up-sell them on paid on-demand subscriptions. Or at least, that’s the plan — a plan that the company has been talking about for at least three months now.
However, this time around, analysts and investors actually got to hear some detailed financials on how all of this is supposed to work. Pandora aims to almost quadruple its revenue by 2020, to the tune of $4 billion. The company projects that $2.4 billion of that will come from its traditional, ad-supported radio programming. Its yet-to-be-launched music subscription service will contribute $1.3 billion, and its ticketing and live events business will add another $300 million.
But don’t expect those new businesses to add a lot of revenue this year. Ticketfly generated only some $5 million per month in Q4, and the company aims to grow that to $80 million-$90 million in 2016. The company wants to launch its Spotify competitor before the end of the year, and Herring said it could even be ready by the end of Q3 — but that all hinges on getting licenses from the major labels.
Either way, Pandora’s executives don’t believe that subscriptions will make a big dent in 2016 — except on the cost side. Pandora plans to spend a whopping $120 million, or 9% of its total projected revenue, on the development of its new music subscription service this year.
That’s why the company is trying to prepare investors for a year of losses, with the promise of a much bigger upside in the years to come. The question is whether the markets buy in on that five-year plan. Even while insisting on his focus to keep Pandora independent, McAndrews had to acknowledge that it is a public company, “with all that that entails,” as he put it.
In other words: Given the right valuation, potential acquirers might come knocking– even if Pandora’s executives may have other plans.