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Pandora Is Exploring Sale of Company: Report

Pandora has had talks to sell its company, according to a report from the New York Times. The company has enlisted Morgan Stanley to meet with potential buyers, according to the report, which characterizes the talks as preliminary. A Pandora spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by Variety.

Trading of Pandora’s shares was briefly halted by the New York Stock Exchange Thursday after news of the possible sale broke, but resumed soon thereafter. The company’s current market capitalization is around $2 billion.

Pandora has been struggling for a long time to monetize its significant Web radio audience. The company reached around 81 million monthly active listeners at the end of its most recent quarter, but continues to lose money as it tries to grow its audience and sales operations.

Financial results for Q4 of 2015, which were released after the markets closed Thursday, show that Pandora generated $336.2 million during the three months ending December 31, compared to $268million during the same quarter a year ago. But high marketing expenses and content costs led to a net loss of $19.4 million, compared to net earnings of $12.6 million during the same quarter a year ago. Pandora lost a total of $170 million in 2015.

The company does have some very ambitious plans for 2016, which include expanding internationally and launching an on-demand music subscription service that would directly compete with Spotify and Apple Music. To do so, Pandora acquired key assets and hired numerous employees from failed Spotify competitor Rdio late last year.

Pandora also acquired concert ticket sales upstart Ticketfly for $450 million last fall. Company executives have painted these acquisitions as a way to transform Pandora from a personalized radio service to a multilayered online music company that monetizes numerous parts of the value chain. According to that plan, Pandora’s free service would function as a funnel to up-sell music fans on concert tickets, paid subscriptions and more.

However, music subscriptions continue to be a very tough and capital-intensive business. Industry leader Spotify continues to pour millions into customer acquisitions while writing royalty big checks to the music industry. The company raised another $526 million from backers last summer, which brought the total raised by the company to more than $1 billion. Both Spotify and Pandora have come under pressure from Apple Music, which managed to grow to 10 million paying subscribers in half a year.

Adding to the troubles for Pandora, the company long had a less-than-friendly relationship with the music industry. That’s because Pandora has been largely relying on statutory licenses in the U.S. to stream music to subscribers, which means it didn’t strike any direct deals with labels and publishers.

More recently, Pandora has been moving toward direct deals to appease the industry — but it’s still far from certain that Pandora would get the necessary deals from all rights holders to launch its on-demand service without significant financial concessions — all of which may have contributed to the company looking for a plan B.

Update: 1:25pm: This post was updated throughout with results from the company’s Q4 earnings.

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