Pando

Pandora the TiVo-esque tragic hero?

By Sarah Lacy , written on February 12, 2016

From The Music Desk

Perhaps we’re only allowed to have one publicly traded Internet music company at a time.

Pandora beat extreme odds to survive long enough, and well enough, to make it to an IPO. And then almost immediately things started to go wrong. A $7 billion market cap has dwindled to just north of $1 billion-- a fraction of Spotify’s private valuation.

The New York Times broke a story yesterday that it was in talks to sell itself, halting trading for part of the day. There was no speculation on who the buyer might be.

Pandora may go down in Silicon Valley history as a TiVo-esque hero. A company that changed mainstream consumer behavior unlocking a new way to experience media, and yet, didn’t manage to build a lasting independent company from that achievement.

The Pandora founder story is amazing. No one wanted to fund it, the staff went years without a paycheck in the last crash, and once faced such a threat from legislation that its users broke congresses’ fax machines in protest. It was the only Valley-based music startup to survive long enough to build anything approaching a multi-billion publicly held company. There were some strokes of luck: The iPhone for one, which finally untethered Internet radio from a desktop.

But the story of Pandora’s struggles since isn’t as simple as Pandora v. Spotify. Spotify is under its own threat of Apple Music and YouTube is making life difficult for everyone. The RIAA has found itself longing for the days when Pandora was its biggest problem. The recording industry would much rather get paying listeners than a cut of ad spending, but at least Pandora needs to make money off of music to stay afloat. Google can give it all away via YouTube, and it doesn’t affect its bottom line one bit.

No matter how this story winds up, you have to respect how many times Pandora beat the odds. If you don’t know the brutality of their journey to this point, here’s our PandoMonthly interview we did with Tom Conrad and Tim Westergren a few years ago. It’s harrowing.