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3 Questions for Pandora Media, Inc. Ahead of Earnings

By Steve Symington – Jul 23, 2015 at 9:45AM

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Sometimes beating Wall Street's earnings and revenue expectations just isn't enough.

With shares of Pandora Media (P) down more than 20% so far this year, investors would love to hear some good news when the streaming music specialist reports earnings Thursday after the market close.

Analysts, on average, are modeling 29.3% year-over-year growth in Pandora's revenue to $283.1 million, and net income of $0.02 per share. By comparison, Pandora didn't provide guidance last quarter for earnings per share, but did tell investors to expect revenue of $280 million to $285 million, with adjusted EBITDA of $8 million to $13 million. 

But if last quarter's post-earnings plunge is any indication, it probably won't suffice for Pandora to simply beat analysts' expectations. So what else should investors look for?

Here are three questions I'll be asking when the report hits the wires.

1. Is listener loyalty still growing?

First, the primary culprit behind last quarter's drop was not revenue or earnings, but rather disappointment as Pandora's active listener base grew just 5.1% year over year to 79.2 million. 

But though Pandora continues to insist it can grow to at least 100 million active listeners over the long term, CEO Brian McAndrews has long argued investors would be better served by focusing instead on the loyalty of those users to gauge Pandora's success. As a result, Pandora will likely share stats on growth in total listener hours (up 11% year over year last quarter to 5.3 billion), as well as user engagement in the form of hours per active user per month (22.3 hours last quarter).

As streaming music options continue to proliferate, Pandora should also inform investors of its share of total U.S. radio listening. Last quarter  Pandora's share exceeded 10% for the first time ever, up from 9.1% in the year-ago period.

2. Are investments in local advertisers paying off?

Next, equally crucial to Pandora's business is its ability to monetize those listeners. And one of the most effective ways to do so is to narrow its scope by focusing on local advertising. Last quarter, local advertising revenue rose 67% year over year to $43.3 million, representing a solid 24% of total ad revenue during the quarter.

But that was also a notable deceleration from the 90% local ad growth Pandora enjoyed when it reported fourth-quarter results in February. That said, Pandora also noted that result was due to a combination of normal seasonality and the fact Pandora's local ad business is still growing from such a small base.

What's more, as of last quarter Pandora was still making significant investments to expand its sales force, while at the same time rolling out a new programmatic buying solution for mobile advertisers.This quarter, I want to know whether those efforts are bearing fruit, and will be listening closely to what management says about one of its most promising avenues for top-line growth. 

3. How is the Web IV royalty battle progressing?

Finally, I want to hear a progress update on Pandora's ongoing "Web IV" royalty rate-setting proceeding. To review, Pandora is arguing against a proposal from SoundExchange that would require it pay the royalty collector drastically increased rates. And in February, Pandora announced it had filed its written rebuttal statements with the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board.

Unfortunately, last quarter we didn't receive any further updates on the process. But to their credit -- and according to the initial timeline laid out by McAndrews in a conference call late last year -- another hearing was scheduled for shortly after last quarter's report from April 27 through May 29. Then closing arguments were to be heard from both sides on June 3, followed by a final determination from the CRB by the end of the year. In the end, I'd be shocked if Pandora management didn't give investors at least a hint of how the hearing played out.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Pandora Media. The Motley Fool owns shares of Pandora Media. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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