Pandora Media hit a conspicuous sour note on Wall Street today after it tacitly acknowledged that it will be hurt more than investors expected by music service competitors including Apple, Google, and Spotify.
Pandora shares are down more than 35% — and dipped to $11.50, their lowest price in more than two years — after execs told investors that Q4 revenues will come in lower than many anticipated and that listening hours will only increase about 3% vs the same period last year.
“Pandora management credibility should be an increasing concern for investors, particularly as competition for online music listening and mobile ad dollars increases,” says BTIG’s Richard Greenfield. CEO Brian McAndrews “tries to paint a sharp division between lean-in and lean-back music services, [but] in reality Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, etc are in both categories, whereas Pandora is disadvantaged by only being in the lean-back world.”
McAndrews says that his company “exited the quarter with strong financial results.”
He also hoped to impress the Street by announcing a $90 million agrement to settle a royalty dispute with UMG Recordings, Sony Music, Capitol Records, Warner Music Group and ABKCO Music and Records over use of pre-1972 content. The deal gives Pandora the right to offer the oldies through the end of 2016.
“This progress points to a greater opportunity to work collaboratively toward a bright future for music in a digital era, for those who make it, and the fans who love it,” McAndrews says.
But many analysts remained unimpressed.
The revenue projection for as much as $330 million in Q4 was “materially below” Wall Street expectations says RBC Capital Markets’ Mark Mahaney — who reduced his target price for Pandora shares by 16.7% to $20. The company plans to boost listening with a marketing campaign next year, but that “could significantly pressure profitability.”
Piper Jaffray’s James Marsh, who lowered his target 26% to $17, says that “teens are shifting their listenership to more interactive platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play (especially when they are subsidized or free!).” Record companies “may try to limit this.” But that probably won’t happen soon, while young listeners get used to being able to pick their own tunes.
But Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter is more sanguine, sticking by his $26 price target. “We expect Pandora users to grow once competitors cycle through trials, and we think it appropriate to value the company based on its number of users,” he says.