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Pandora Media (NYSE:P)

Cowen Technology, Media & Telecom Conference Call

May 29, 2013 8:00 am ET

Executives

Mike Herring – Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Okay, thanks. Good morning everyone. I think we’re going to get started. Here we have – I’m John Blackledge, I run the Internet, Equity Research Team at Cowen. I’ll cover Pandora. I’m here with Mike Herring, CFO of Pandora. Thanks, thanks for coming Mike.

Mike Herring

Okay, thanks.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

So for those of you that may not know Pandora is leading Internet Radio Company in the U.S. with over 75% share of online radio, and over 7% share of total radio. Pandora has over 200 million registered users. They ended April with over 70 million active users and they ended fiscal first quarter of 2014 with over 4 billion visiting hours. Mike recently joined Pandora, I think it was four months ago?

Mike Herring

Four months ago, yeah.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Prior Mike was the VP of Operations at Adobe and CFO at Omniture. So you guys just reported last week. The stock had a great run into the quarter, you guys had a really strong quarter, you raised guide. Maybe what do you think some of the highlights were coming out of the quarter, some of the issues that you guys heard kind of after the call and over the last couple of days?

Mike Herring

Sure. So I think the first quarter was a busy quarter for us, but a lot of things are kind of going the right direction and that was the story that came out of the quarter for us. What people were looking for and got to hear was that RPMs continue to build particularly in our mobile business, so revenue per 1,000 hours. I think key metric in understanding where leverage is going to come from.

We have a lot high licensing cost from our payments to artists and that we call LPM and so the distance between those two is – that’s our leverage in the business and how we can drive dollars to the bottom line and we continue to execute on our mobile business, which is 80% of our listening and that mobile RPM is up to $26 for the quarter, which we are very proud of, we had very strong advertising quarter, mobile advertising revenue was essentially on absolute dollars basis flat from quarter-to-quarter, RPM basis flat from quarter-to-quarter, which was a big victory.

I think in Q4 is a seasonally really high advertising quarter. Going into Q1, if you go look back historically, we’ve always seen a dip in advertising revenue and to see that actually be flat quarter-over-quarter and it’s building nicely for the back half of the year driven by audio. This will be the time here, right about now we’re going to see the audio advertising in mobile crossover and overall become the majority of our advertising dollars over digital for the first time. So that was all exciting news about the momentum in that side of the business.

The kind of new news in the quarter was related to the number of subscriptions that we have to our paid service. So we implemented a mobile listening limit that limited free listening to 40 hours in the quarter. We did most of that to control cost. We paid purely on a per song basis, so the more hours we stream, the more dollars we paid irrespective of the revenue we generate.

And that limit impacted about 4% of our users and also had the outcomes that we expected. We had about 10% drop in hours associated with it, but users continue to grow. We hit that 70 million user limit. And of that, those people will hit the limit, a higher percentage of them converted into subscribers than we would have thought.

We added over 700,000 net new subscribers in the period to over 2.5 million in total, that’s more than we added in terms of net new subscribers in all of the prior year. So it was a big jump and that jump was unexpected that also droves immediate revenue impact in terms of looking into next year or looking into the balance of the year. So, we finished the year with advertising going strong and sort of a nice lift in our subscription business and those two things together gave us confidence to guide a little bit higher for the year for Q2.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

All right. One thing you mentioned is that this year you expect audio ads to be over 50% of total revenue and I think part of that maybe…?

Mike Herring

Total ad revenue, yeah.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Total ad revenue, yes, I think part of that maybe helped by the local effort. Maybe you can talk about kind of remind us again the sales force buildup that you’ve done…

Mike Herring

Yeah.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Where you think you’re at and I think you even referenced on the call is that highest growing part of the advertising segment albeit off a low base, but…

Mike Herring

So the free radio ad supported business had huge opportunity and it takes scale to be a player. We have to get to that north of 7% total radio listening, 70 million users, number one and number two in every local market in order to be relevant to advertisers in these places. So scale there matters, scale from advertising footprint and infrastructure matters in order to be able to sell advertising and deliver it in high quality way that delivers ROI to our advertisers that takes scale too.

It takes up to 248 quota-bearing sales reps by the end of the quarter, over 70 in local market, specifically in 28 local markets around the country. It’s still a high touch sales process. Those things have to happen in order to drive that piece of revenue. It’s not in automated adverts type of environment. It’s a consultative sale. We go in, we sell the value of the Pandora audience in it and the advantages you get from advertising in Pandora, and that’s how we secure budget within advertisers. That’s been building for a long time.

We started historically selling to digital buyers and selling digital assets. And then audio was like a companion to that digital asset. Especially as we moved more to mobile company, we’ve been focusing on selling audio first with digital companion assets and the result of that is the audio side of the business from a revenue perspective within the ad revenue line has been growing very quickly.

You mentioned local, I’ll just touch on that. We had eight markets last year moving to 28 this year is an important part of that growth story, although still a minority piece is the audio revenue, it’s the fastest growing. We think it will able to be a meaningful piece of our revenue opportunity over the rest of this year and into next year.

And when you talk about the $15 billion in ad revenue budgets that gets spent on radio today in that most of the dollars we’re trying to attract at Pandora, a majority of those dollars are spent by local advertisers. Our targeting ability gives us just a natural place for those advertisers to spend their dollars.

We can help them reach the right people at the right time. Now we’re giving them the tools. We’re giving them the salespeople who know how to speak their language, who know these markets and we’re giving them the integrations into the buying platforms that they use to make those decisions, those two things together at scale that’s what allows us to capitalize in that market.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

It’s great. And maybe you could just remind us, the thought load, the number of units...

Mike Herring

Sure.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Audio units are running how many minutes in the pricing dynamics that you’re seeing in the local market?

Mike Herring

Right, so we’ve run an average of about 2.5 up to a maximum, of about 3.5 spots per hour. And we only run 15 and 30, if we don’t run 60 second ad. So we keep the ad load in terms of time down to a minute and a half, to say an hour, which is much less than typical terrestrial ad supported radio, which is north of 10 minutes, 13 minutes of ads in an hour.

And that’s all about balancing the promise of the personal experience, personalized experience and the internet video experience with our need to monetize that piece.

Now we price, when we go to sell, even though we’re selling a much less cluttered product, a more targeted product, a more measurable product, we are targeting at what market rates are from a CPM basis for those ad. So when we’re going up against a local radio station in the New York market, we’re selling the same CPM with what we consider a much higher value product and that’s getting us a lot of traction in these local markets.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Right. So I think you said you’re 72 feet on the ground…

Mike Herring

Yeah.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

In 28 local markets, can you talk about kind of where those people came from? Did they come from the terrestrial guys and what they...

Mike Herring

Yeah.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

And what they’re selling, how they’re being compensated?

Mike Herring

Yeah, I just got back from my Sales Conference in Austin, Texas which is one of my favorite weeks of the year because I’ve learned so much about the business in that short time. And we’ve had so many new sales people. I spent a lot of time seeking them out and asking them where they came from and every one of them was top one, two or three seller at their local station, Cumulus, Clear Channel, CBS radio. And it’s fascinating – they take somewhat of an initial pay cut coming to Pandora with the opportunity to be part of something that’s growing and they see they are probably just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

So we’re getting these really, really sharp highly tuned sales people who can hit the ground running. They’re selling what they know, we’re giving them integrations into the buying platforms that the customers they’ve been selling to for 10 years are all used to using, we’re putting in the language of radio. We’re building backend systems to create page text and insertion orders and bill and correct all in the language of radio. So we that friction out and giving them all the tools that essentially the ones they know how to use, then giving them additional stuff.

On top of that, measurement digital companion pieces in such and they just get very excited. They think they can blow their number out and that’s, that’s what you want, you want to people to feel that way. So I think we got great momentum among the sales people. I get asked a lot, 72 people sound that’s great into more than we use to have, right, but I mean, so rest of the radio companies have hundreds in that thousands of sales people in these markets.

I think there is a lot we can do with just a handful. We’re not chasing down every corner case of local radio advertising at this time. We’re more focusing on larger regional players where the higher CPMs are and the more committed dollars are and I think over time, we’ll probably continue to expand in these markets and build further down that chain, but there is no need to do that right now at the ad loads we are at and the investment dollars that we can sustain.

And we have limited investment dollars because of the newness of our financial model. So as we can hire another sales guy, I’d rather in some cases go for a high value sales guy in a number 28 market then my next sales guy in the number two market and that’s the decision we look out right now. We look at productivity, who is hitting quota, who is blowing quota out. We look at pipeline and we say, you know what, the next sales guy we need a number two person in Cleveland rather than number 15 in New York because the next dollars are going to be much more easily pulled out of the Cleveland market.

So it’s really great. It’s great time to be in sales in Pandora.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Yeah, yeah. It seems like early days. I think it was really interesting as you’re doing like roughly about 1.5 audio per hour…

Mike Herring

Yeah.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

But at a minute and a half, if we think about terrestrial of 13 to 15 minutes, so the minute and a half, that’s going to be over half of your ad revenue at some point this year. So I think if you’re just going to talk about the current mix of that national, local and then where you think those spot loads can go over time with the unfortunate benchmark being threshold 13 to 15 minutes, which is arguably too high obviously but…

Mike Herring

Well, I think it got to 13 minutes because you needed to generate revenue and there was no alternative source. And the beauty of about Pandora is where we can do digital advertising, we can do video advertising, we can do calls to action, there’s all kinds of things we can do within app that the mobile environment, that the Internet environment provides just doesn’t exist in a broadcast environment.

So we can drive RPMs that approach what they’re getting in radio without getting anywhere near that. So I think that is a win-win for everybody. The advertisers don’t get lost in the quarter. We can maintain some space between ads within the product. We give them higher ROI by all the companion and add-on services we can do and the consumer experience stays.

The reason we have 70 million users is people love the product. We don’t want to spoil that. We have a commitment. Our ethos is built around, delivering people music they love and connecting artists with their fans. And we wanted to do right by our advertisers, give them a high quality ROI advertising experience, but we need to balance that out. So at 1.5 minutes, this is how eventually becomes three minutes in the right context with the right testing how we build things. I think that’s certainly a possible outcome.

What’s key is that we make sure we do that in a way that optimizes the business and that’s my job, right. I need to make sure that we’re balancing the cost from a lost users or because if you lose a user, you’ve got to go acquire the next one towards the cost of acquiring a next user versus the incremental contribution margin from doing that extra 15 second ad in the experience.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Right, and just on the mix right now is what – on the audio side is largely…

Mike Herring

So it’s actually largely national right now. And we started the national, we started with our first offices that we’re selling audios specifically in New York and LA and Chicago. And then we’ve gone to national spot in our local side and national still dominates depending on where you live the radio advertising you are going to hear, if you happen to be living here in Manhattan, you probably and you’re listening to our product from an (inaudible) basis, I’m sure you’re giving a lot more local ads, because as these markets get keyed up from a local advertising perspective, we allocate more as the share of the inventory to local.

That’s a balancing we want to take care about national accounts and we do, we want to make sure that we have plenty of rooms to the local accounts. They have higher CPM, but much shorter lead times and national accounts by month in advance, national spot by weeks in advance, local spot by days maybe a week in advance.

So there’s a much shorter time length frame we have that is a pretty complex planning process, but one that – we didn’t have to advance, I mean radio has been doing that to some extent for a long time. It’s one of the reasons they consolidated up in order to allow for national buying to be easier. But we already consolidated that and we built that same structure. But as local grows, the CPMs grow, allows us to grow our RPMs without increasing the ad growth.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Okay. Maybe you can talk about one of the drivers of local over time will be the integration of the buy side platforms as STRATA and Mediaocean and maybe you can give us an update when the integration is going to be final and what you see coming out of that?

Mike Herring

So, this is really watershed moment for Internet radio, the conclusion of Pandora into these buying systems. It’s taking over a year, year and a half to get at this point, getting our data properly measured with in Triton, getting that Triton data MRC certified and then getting STRATA and Mediaocean to pull that data into the buying platforms and present it next to the same data or comparable data from other systems, from other advertising options.

It’s really big deal for us. That process started like I said over a year ago, STRATA started rolling out the integrations on their side in February, Mediaocean in April. We’re seeing transactions flow through both systems and it’s a vast improvement over the prior paper insertion orders part of the business that existed for that. And it takes a lot of that friction out of it. We think that it will allow us to grow within agencies that adopt these integration.

It will allow us to add new accounts that would otherwise not look at Pandora because they weren’t willing to step out of the box and they’re buying platform. So we’re very bullish and that’s going to be an important part of taking the friction out of growing our business.

We can hire sales people. We can pitch, but if it’s too hard to work with us, with just some level of the market that’s never going to buy Pandora and if we can make Pandora easy to buying Z100 or any other station in market then we think we have a significant advantage because we can bring our other assets to the table.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Okay.

Mike Herring

Right. We think that that we are so in the process of training, doing a lot of people information to understand what the data is, how it works, how to place orders through the system, we built the backend system that automates a lot of the invoicing and collection side to make it super easy for agencies to buy for us throughout the entire process and we think that that will be largely rolled out by the end of the summer across both the Mediaocean and the STRATA network.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

That’s great. I think you used Triton; Triton now is integrated into the buying platform. But Arbitron – maybe you can give us an update there on your thoughts assuming Nielsen, Arbitron deal closes. Would you be potentially rated by Arbitron which is obviously the, which measures obviously the (inaudible) operators?

Mike Herring

You know, they’ve been pretty quiet through the merger process. So, I don’t know, I don’t have an update beyond when they first announced it. They talked about the measurement of internet radio and including that Arbitron rating as an outcome of this merger, which we obviously would support and be excited about. We don’t think it’s a watershed moment, we think we crossed a lot of the barriers that get us in there already, but we would love to work with Arbitron to make that happen.

But we don’t know, I think it will, nothing will happen until mergers complete, right.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

It’s kind of a wait and see.

Mike Herring

Yeah.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

And maybe pivoting, you mentioned part of the quarter, huge uptick in subscribers, you added 700,000 subs, could you just talk about just generally how you view the ad opportunity, advertising opportunity versus the subscription side and this difference in the rates that you pay on the ad side versus the subscription side and is there any point where there is too many like the – there maybe too much sub growth and it will be disadvantageous from a profitability perspective?

Mike Herring

So, yeah, I think it’s important to understand that we actually paid different rates for content for the music whether the person is a subscriber or an ad supported user. So the content for that side is 80% higher than for the ad supported. So the RPMs of $40 for ad supported is more profitable than $40 RPM for a subscriber. So there is a balance that we have to make between those two lines in order to optimize kind of the way we run the business.

Right now because mobile is so hard to monetize the mobile at some level. We’re doing great on audio side. Digital is still nascent that putting the cap in and driving a high number of subscribers makes financial sense for us in terms of balancing out some of the mobile listening out there, getting paid for some of the listening that is less valuable from an advertising perspective.

Over time, as we monetize better, especially from advertising and both digital and audio and mobile, as that RPM and mobile increases, continues to increase then it will easily become a more profitable business and it already is a bigger opportunity. We think that the opportunity in terms of number of people who are interested in free radio and the potential advertising dollars that we can drive are dramatically bigger than the potential subscription revenue we can do.

That we definitely will tweak our business to favor the advertising business over time and that includes things like removing the caps or removing one of the reasons why you would subscribes listen, when that happens? I don’t know. It’s up two years when we did in the desktop business. But I imagine it will be much shorter this time around.

We could increase pricing on the subscription side as well and something we’ve never done. It’s not in the plan today, but there is definitely a chain. We’re definitely going to be a lot more focused on what that paid landscapes looks like, not just a simple subscriptions but lots of different ways of thinking about paid listening on Pandora whether it’s buying small segments of it or paying for a different experience, live streaming experience or whatever. So it creates a much more customized user experience, but also allows us to drive ARPU on that user to better balance with what the advertising opportunity is.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Okay, that’s great. Maybe moving onto the competitive environment, I think Google announced a couple of weeks ago; they’re coming out with service. Obviously, there is a lot to talk about in Apple radio service and then we have Spotify as well. Can you maybe just describe that Pandora, which is non-interactive versus you guys often get compared to a lot of interactive radio services, so just maybe explain the difference and what you see from the competitive landscape right now?

Mike Herring

Sure. I mean there is a lot of activity. I think that’s indicative of the market opportunity. People have clearly shown that they want to listen to music through these devices. And the big players here are Apple and Google specifically Amazon et cetera are all trying to figure out how they fit into that ecosystem.

And Pandora’s success on iOS and Android platforms specifically I think has gotten their interest and Google just announced that IO that Pandora is by far the highest grossing non-gaming app on Android platform. So there is no surprise that they’re interested in figuring that out. The licensing piece is a huge barrier to doing, to jumping in this business.

The music industry is very consolidated; it’s a nice way of saying it. So they hold the lot of power when it comes to pricing and that’s turned out to be a difficult negotiation across the board and I think Apple, from the rumors – you all can read the same ones I can is having a challenge getting the right structure together.

From our perspective a lot of those services lack something that we have whether it’s scale in the context of the smaller competitors whether it’s an advertising sales force that’s established that can monetize free radio whether it’s a high quality radio product, those are all things that we do extremely well.

The big difference, most of these services are going – it has been characterized as the Spotify route, which is on-demand route. You pay a subscription, Google is $7 to start I guess and $10 starting in June and you can go on there and they have a radio function but mostly it’s about playing album side, you want to listen to front side or dark side of the moon, you go on there and you click it and you play it.

So it’s not the way Pandora works, it’s not an on-demand service, from that perspective, you can’t rewind songs, you can’t listen to a specific song. You can see the station with the specific song and it’s likely to come on over time but it’s not it’s about giving you a musical experience based upon your profile and your preferences rather than playing a specific song for you to different use case that’s worked very well for Pandora, that’s not the direct – so far no body else is really going that direction in part because it’s they’ve been all choosing the direct deals with the labels themselves and trying to carve out a way to make that work financially.

Nobody has really figured out how to create profitable business out of that.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Okay, great. Maybe one more question and then I will open it up to the audience. On the content cost side, interestingly on the call, there wasn’t too many questions on just generally on the content cost, but as you thought about joining Pandora and you see this negotiated rates, just maybe can you just give us a sense of like how you think about it maybe and remind us what, when you can start to negotiate for the new rates, what outcomes could be likely and how you thought about it, given that I think content cost are over 50% of our revenue standpoint.

Mike Herring

Yeah, 64.5% in last quarter. Yeah, so, as I joined, I said a lot of times, of course thinking about this issue and thinking about the music industry in general, I think it’s very odd that you have such disparate cost structures depending on what the delivery mechanism is, if we had a transistor radio here and you’re listening to right music, they pay nothing to the artist, but if you’re listening to your speaker on your iPhone, same experience, that we’re going to pay 64% of revenue like it’s an odd outcome of many years of legislation that all happened in a bubble.

I’m optimistic that over time, someone that this can become rational, that’s being really optimistic; my realistic part of me says that the rates are what they are at least for the next two years. The CRB, the three judges that make these rate decisions start hearing from us and from the music industry in January just, just like with Sirius, if you are familiar with Sirius went through and concluded last November. And it’s essentially a rate setting court, and they look at a lot of evidence about market rate transactions and then come to conclusion about what fair to the artist and fair to the licensees which is, and we’ve got a for the first time, we actually get to our case.

Last time these were set. We weren’t part of the conversation and we are looking forward to having being able to present the evidence about what we think is the right thing. I mean I mentioned earlier, artists are an important part of our ethos, serving them, we want to pay them. We’d love as a business to see and be a fair overall landscape across all distribution channels.

And that way artist could get paid more or get paid in every case that their music is played, rather than only in certain cases than in at very disparate levels, so we’ll see. In the meantime, the current structure I think we have a good business operating under that and I don’t expect that to change over the next few years.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Okay, it’s helpful. I don’t know if there’s any questions in the audience?

Question-and-Answer Session

Mike Herring

Yeah.

Unidentified Analyst

(Inaudible)

Mike Herring

So the known thing is that every January they increase, right. If you look at our LPNs, it increased about 9% this year is like something like that next year and then also in 2015. So that’s a known quantity, it’s published. The actual rates are in our 10-K, I mean there is nothing secret there.

And then this two year negotiation negotiates the post 2015 rates to where they go, whether they stay flat, do they decrease, do they change to a percent of revenue structure like everybody else haws done, do they go up? I mean I think a lot of different things could happen. And that’s why we’re going to be pretty involved in that conversation. This is a court decision. This has nothing to do with Congress, right. That’s the different conversation.

Unidentified Analyst

(Inaudible)

Mike Herring

Yeah.

Unidentified Analyst

(Inaudible)

Mike Herring

Yeah.

Unidentified Analyst

(Inaudible)

Mike Herring

Well, those prices ratchet up just like the cost content, ratchet up…

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

I think he is talking the price $3…

Mike Herring

Yeah.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

For the monthly subscription fee.

Mike Herring

So there is two things that would cause us to revisit what we charge, I think is what you’re asking, right? Okay, one is the content cost increasing, serious increases that they’re pricing every year based upon the schedule out there, their cost of content going up. We have not done that historically, but I think that would be a reasonable thing. It’s something you have to do because eventually we’ll actually lose money on each subscription, which I don’t think is a business that too sustainable.

And then the other thing is how it balances against the other side of our business? So as ad piece becomes monetizes better and becomes more profitable in order to even make sense from a resource allocation perspective. We would need to raise that subscription fee. I don’t see that happening in the short-term, but it’s definitely a conversation we’re having certainly.

Unidentified Analyst

(Inaudible)

Mike Herring

What I tell them is, since they are so seasoned and number one and everything immediately. But reality is it takes a few months to get kind of start to build your book. There is legal reasons why that becomes hard, is hard initially. But our experience is its closer to six months whereas their book is building the quarto.

Unidentified Analyst

(Inaudible)

Mike Herring

Yeah.

Unidentified Analyst

(Inaudible)

Mike Herring

Yeah, we think it’s a huge opportunity for us, because it’s such a big piece of radio listening and a disproportionately smaller piece of our listening, and Pandora listening. So over 90 models, now we’re in a lot of the models that are rolling out today, all new models. It’s a cycle though to get in. We’re few years behind from that perspective in terms of satellite radio other way is that radio alternatives have been built in.

But our goal is to have AM, FM, XM and Pandora like that tabs across the console, and we’ve been very successful at that. I saw in two different model commercials last night in hotel room. The Pandora button it used a lot and has a promotional item. The connected cars sort of the next big thing, when that happens, I think that’s one that sort of that’s the watershed moment in the automobile.

Now the secondary market is getting their best, but it’s really, really relatively small. It’s when GM rolled, it’s first connected car out 2015. So we’re looking out still a year until the first one on the road. But these Wi-Fi enabled cars will allow you do a lot more in dash, and Pandora, you’ll no longer have to use your phone, which is the connection point today. It just integrated into the dash, that’s awesome. But once you don’t even need your phone and you just hitting the button and going I think that’s when we’ve start to take real market share in the auto.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

I think that’s all the time we have.

Mike Herring

Okay.

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Thank you so much.

Mike Herring

Thank you very much for your time

John Blackledge – Cowen and Company

Thank you.

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