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When Will Microsoft or Google Buy Pandora or Spotify?

The rich get richer in tech, and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  )  finally making its $3 billion deal for Beats Music and Beats Electronics official is an event that doesn't happen in a vacuum. Apple, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) , and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  )   (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) are never too proud to copy one another. Google's success as a search engine eventually led to Microsoft rolling out Bing. Apple's iPod phenomenon led to Microsoft's ill-fated Zune. Acquisitions also trigger reactions when they're not the reactions themselves. Google's purchase of Nest finds many speculating that Apple is about to roll out a smart home platform. Microsoft's acquisition of Skype came shortly after Apple introduced FaceTime.

In a world where playbooks and blueprints are copied, what do you think Microsoft and Google will do in light of Apple's push into audio accessories and an on-demand streaming service? Spoiler alert: They won't be standing still.

Apple's move into acquiring the Spotify-like Beats Music isn't a surprise, and not just because it's been churning loudly in the rumor mill for weeks. Apple is struggling in digital music now that consumers aren't buying downloads anymore. It has clearly benefited from the mobile and cloud computing revolutions, but when it comes to the iTunes Music Store, a nasty byproduct of connected consumers is that they would rather stream than own. Last September's launch of iTunes Radio was supposed to help fans discover new music to download, but that's just not happening. Record label bigwigs recently told Billboard that iTunes download sales have fallen 15% over the past year, and that's with last year's iTunes Radio rollout.

Apple is going to enjoy having the premium high-margin Beats headphones to peddle as its own, but this is largely a deal for Beats Music. Copying Pandora (NYSE: P  ) with iTunes Radio wasn't enough, so now it wants in on the Spotify model, where premium subscriptions -- not advertising -- bring home the bacon. This brings us to Microsoft, which rolled out Xbox Music in late 2012, and Google, which introduced Google Play Music All Access just four months before iTunes Radio was unveiled. Those are on-demand services just like Spotify and the Beats Music that Apple just picked up, but neither seems to be gaining serious traction. Why wouldn't they want to get their mitts on Sweden's Spotify? It announced earlier this month that it has surpassed 10 million premium accounts, a far cry from the roughly 250,000 Beats Music accounts that Apple is inheriting. 

Google and Microsoft could also go after iTunes Radio by snapping up Pandora, which is the category killer serving up 1.7 billion hours of audio content last month. Apple claims that it has more than half as many of Pandora's 76 million active users, but engagement levels for iTunes Radio are likely well below what Pandora is commanding. Apple has clearly made discovery and on-demand two distinct battlefields in the war of digital music, and its tech giant rivals aren't much of a force in either front. An acquisition is the only way to not only get up to speed but to beat Apple at its own game. It's clear that as successful as Microsoft, Google, and Apple have been that they are not cool or impressive enough to make a dent in streaming through organic means. Whoever snaps up Spotify immediately trumps Apple's Beats Music. Whoever decides to pay up for Pandora has the lone music discovery platform that can look down on iTunes Radio. 

Neither deal will come cheap, but Google and Microsoft have the money. More importantly, this is yet another market that they can't afford to let Apple run away with if they can buy a solution. They can. Now it's just a matter of seeing who buys what -- and how soon.

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 12:26 PM, tjc206 wrote:

    Purchasing Spotify would give Xbox Music a serious subscriber base. They are making nice moves on the Xbox One. I like this article's thinking.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 5:27 PM, secularinvestor wrote:

    Oh dear, yet another Foolish, ill informed article.

    iTines is still the largest music download site and by far largest music retailer in the world, by a huge margin.

    iTunes Radio is a great success. Only launched in September last year by the earnings call 6 weeks ago it had already amassed 20 million subscribers, making it by now the second most popular music cloud service, overtaking Spotify and even about to overtake Sirius radio!

    What makes this growth even more stunning is that iTunes radio has only been available in North America, but is now starting to be rolled out to the rest of the world.

    iTunes radio is fast catching much longer established Pandora, with its 70 million global subscribers.

    Beats Music is nothing like Spotify. Instead of computer generated play lists it has lists curated by 200 expert, music loving human beings, which results in a far better music experience. Adding that expertise to iTune’s radio's massive number of fast growing subscribers will greatly enhance their enjoyment and give iTunes a huge competitive edge.

    That same Beats human curated expertise can also be added to iTunes downloads site, stimulating interest and demand among music lovers around the world.

  • Report this Comment On June 02, 2014, at 7:21 AM, TomFoolery wrote:

    Microsoft acquired Nokia and thus Noakia Music and thus their streaming service, Nokia MixRadio.


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Rick Munarriz

Rick has been writing for Motley Fool since 1995 where he's a Consumer and Tech Stocks Specialist. Yes, that's a long time. He's been an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers and a portfolio lead analyst for Motley Fool Supernova since each newsletter service's inception. He earned his BBA and MBA from the University of Miami, and he now lives a block from his alma mater.

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