Pandora CFO Naveen Chopra participated in a fireside chat at the 19th annual B. Riley FBR Investor Conference where he touted the value of investing in the streaming music service, Pandora’s $145 million acquisition of digital audio ad tech firm AdsWizz and if Pandora, iHeartMedia and SiriusXM could get along if Liberty Media gains a stake in the country’s largest radio group.
When asked about the investment opportunity Pandora offers, Chopra said investing in the company is “really about a bet in the audio space more broadly.” He said the audio space is growing and undergoing a lot of change, including rapid growth in the digital music streaming industry. “In the midst of that you have Pandora, which is the largest music streaming platform in the United States today,” Chopra said. Chopra revealed that a lot of the company’s revenue comes from its ad-supported platform even as its subscription base grows. “When we look to the future of the industry, five to ten years out, we think that an ad-supported model is still going to be a big component.”
That belief is one of the reasons behind Pandora’s $145 million acquisition of ad tech firm AdsWizz. “We’re going to be the biggest publisher, we are going to own platforms and we are going to develop and lead on the innovation of the ad tech,” he said. “That, in combination with our scale, gives us a very strategic position while a lot of other people are dealing with things that are much more substitutional.” Capitalizing on the uniqueness of the audio format, Chopra said that advertisers “love a lot of the targeting and measurements and ROIs that they can do with social or search, [but] there are things you can achieve with audio in terms of the immersive-ness of the medium that are very difficult to do with anything else.”
The programmatic capabilities of AdsWizz were also a big reason why Pandora purchased the ad tech company. “We see that as a huge opportunity that we have a lot of control over,” Chopra explained. While programmatic ad buying has been a catalyst for other forms of digital advertising, programmatic audio advertising is still in the early stages. “One of the big reasons that audio programmatic is a small market today is that there isn’t a lot of supply out there,” he said. “The thing that is ultimately going to change that is Pandora coming into the programmatic marketplace. We represent about two-thirds of all digital audio inventory that exists today. Until we make that available through programmatic channels, it is very difficult for the demand to develop there. If we put inventory there, we create the market.” Pandora’s purchase of AdsWizz is expected to close in June.
AdsWizz’s global marketplace, including iHeartRadio, Cox Radio, Entercom, Spotify, TuneIn and others, positions Pandora as a frenemy to competitors. In the company’s first quarter earnings call, Pandora CEO Roger Lynch said that AdsWizz may not be able to retain all of its existing streaming audio partners due to competitive concerns. Chopra didn’t address those concerns during Thursday’s fireside chat.
Liberty Media, which through SiriusXM holds a 20% stake in Pandora, has made an offer to gain a 40% stake in iHeartMedia. Such a deal would put the country’s largest broadcast radio operator under the same umbrella with the only U.S. satellite radio operator and one of the leading streaming music platforms in the world. “There’s a lot of overlap between our businesses,” Chopra said. “We are not just competitors but also partners in the sense that iHeart is a big customer of AdsWizz so we will be working together on that.”
He downplayed any overreaching that such a deal would have on Pandora. “It is important to remind people that while Liberty and Sirius have a meaningful stake in the company and they are highly involved with three seats on the board, they don’t control the company.”