The fact that Pandora’s interim CEO, Naveen Chopra, was the company’s representative at Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference this week speaks to the state of transition in which the company has found itself in recent months. Pandora was a digital radio pioneer, but has lost ground — and many millions of dollars — in recent years in its attempts to become a full-service streaming company as it lost listeners to services like Spotify and Apple Music. In June, the company got a boost in the form of a $480 million investment from SiriusXM — although that deal has not closed — that will see it gaining a 19% stake in the company and three seats on Pandora’s board.
It also got $200 million from the sale of its Ticketfly business to Eventbrite; the latter venture, an attempt to integrate ticket purchases with its streaming service, was an awkward fit that saw the company offloading the acquisition at a big loss after its October 2015 purchase for $335.3 million (not $450 million, as widely reported). Days after the Sirius deal was announced, co-founder and CEO Tim Westergren left the company. New CEO Roger Lynch, formerly of Sling TV, starts on Sept. 18 (although apparently his cover band is on point).
In a “fireside chat” Q&A at the Communacopia conference, Chopra spoke at length about where Pandora is and where it hopes to go. (Edited for context and clarity)
“Our recent changes [in leadership] are consistent with our desire to shift and optimize strategy to play to our strengths. Whether you look at it in the context of changes in the management team, the board, or strategic partnerships, it’s all about giving our leadership the strategic support to rebalance the strategy, which has really been thinking about how we leverage our audience and maintain the health and growth of our listening ecosystem and monetizing it in the most effective way possible. Six to 12 months ago the company was really relying much more on pure subscription as driver of growth. Our rebalanced view [incorporating advertising] is more consistent with the changes we’ve made.”
“As for bridging the gap between 75 million users monthly and 100 million quarterly — there is work to be done but I think we’re starting from a position of strength. Monetization is a place we’ve been very successful in the past, but I think there’s a lot of room to grow and frankly improve. I think from an ad-tech perspective we’re not where we would like to be.”