Pandora Holds Off Apple Again

Pandora (NYSE: P  ) isn't growing its user base, but its listeners are spending more time enjoying the leading music streaming service.

Pandora announced its metrics for the month of March this morning. Active listeners clocked in at 75.3 million, flat with its unique user count from February and an 8% uptick from a year earlier. However, listener hours spiked to hit a record 1.71 billion. That's 14% ahead of the audio volume that it served in March of last year, and that year-over-year growth rate is actually the highest that Pandora has posted since November of last year.

That's comforting. Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iTunes Radio was introduced seven months ago, and Pandora's monthly metrics have been spotty since the rival ad-supported streaming service hit the market. Apple isn't as chatty about Pandora in divulging monthly metrics, but it's clear that iTunes Radio is just getting started. It recently added NPR as its first non-music content offering, and Billboard reported two weeks ago that Apple is considering an iTunes Radio app for Android devices that would dramatically widen the platform's potential audience.

For now, Pandora seems to be stepping up to the iTunes Radio challenge. The accelerating year-over-year growth in usage is encouraging, and this comes at a time when terrestrial radio continues to meander. Pandora's announcement this morning also points out that its share of the U.S. radio listening market has increased to a record 9.11%. 

Market share matters, especially since it makes it harder for radio advertisers to dismiss Pandora as a way to get noticed. Pandora's advertising revenue soared 45% last year and 39% in its latest quarter. We know that Pandora's user base and listener hours aren't climbing at anywhere close to those rates, so it's clear that sponsors are paying more per listener than they were before.

Naturally, we can't just assume that Pandora has vanquished the Apple beast. March is just a single month. It will be important to see how this plays out over a longer stretch of time. Unfortunately, Pandora won't be giving us this luxury. Last month, it announced that it would be putting an end to these monthly metrics reports after offering up data for April and May. 

We won't be entirely in the dark. Pandora will still be offering up quarterly glimpses into its performance. However, it wouldn't be too shabby for Pandora shareholders if the leading streaming audio service closed out these next two months as strong as it held up in March.

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