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What to Watch When Pandora Media Inc. Reports Earnings

Image source: Pandora Media Inc.

Listen up, Pandora Media (NYSE: P) investors. Your favorite music-streaming specialist is set to report second-quarter 2016 results this Thursday, July 21, after the market closes. With shares up more than 40% over the past three months on the heels of Pandora's first-quarter beat and raise in late April -- but still down around 4% year to date after the market's historically painful start to 2016 -- you can be sure Pandora would love for another strong showing to sustain its recent momentum.

But for what, exactly, should Pandora Media investors be listening this time around?

First, recall that three months ago Pandora told investors to expect Q2 revenue of $345 million to $355 million, good for 22.6% year-over-year growth at the midpoint. Keeping in mind both an expected increase in royalty costs and its ambitions plans to invest a total of $345 million this year to scale infrastructure and build new lines of business, Pandora anticipates that it will incur a quarterly adjusted EBITDA loss in the range of $30 million to $20 million. We'll also be looking for any revisions to Pandora's full-year guidance, which currently calls for 2016 revenue of $1.41 billion to $1.43 billion, and an adjusted EBITDA loss of $70 million to $50 million. 

To that end, Pandora should offer fresh color on the underlying drivers of its business. Last quarter, for example, active listeners climbed a modest 0.3% year over year, to 79.4 million, and fell sequentially from 81.1 million in Q4 2015. But total listener hours also increased a more impressive 4% year over year, to 5.52 billion, continuing to outpace actual listener growth and demonstrating greater listener engagement with the platform. 

Pandora will also highlight metrics measuring its efficiency turning those hours into revenue. That includes RPMs, or revenue per 1,000 listening hours, which climbed 14% year over year last quarter, to $49.84, which itself included 19% growth in ad RPMs, to $45.47. For perspective, overall advertising revenue grew 23% year over year last quarter to comprise more than 74% of Pandora's total, including a 42% increase in local ad revenue, to $61.3 million.

Meanwhile, Pandora enjoys another fast-growing revenue stream with incremental contributions from TicketFly, a live-events specialist it acquired in a $450 million deal last October. In Q1 -- which marked its first full quarter under Pandora's wing -- TicketFly achieved pro forma year-over-year revenue growth of 30%, to $22.3 million. 

Next, listen for updates from management on the fruits of their aforementioned investment plan. Three months ago, Pandora's founder and recently returned CEO, Tim Westergren, voiced excitement over its early progress in its five-year plan to scale Pandora's platform to $4 billion in revenue, including over $1 billion from new services and $300 million from live events.

"We know exactly what we need to do," Westergren insisted, "and we know exactly where we're going."

That's not to say Pandora has stayed entirely quiet over its progress since then. Early last month, Pandora raised my eyebrows when it unveiled a new visual ad experience meant to focus on presenting "more impactful and effective" ads to its large base of mobile users. To be fair, Pandora's chief product officer, Chris Phillips, noted at the time that its "old" platform was already generating a "better-than-average performance" compared with alternative mobile ad platforms.

But in addition to giving advertisers greater control with the formats of their ads and abilities to measure detailed listener engagement metrics, it also gives users greater control over the ads they see as well as more seamlessly adjusting to the size of any given phone's screen on the fly. As a result, Pandora teased initial beta testing of the new platform -- which it stated won't be available to all advertisers until later this year -- demonstrated an 11% increase in time spent on brands' landing pages, while doubling the number of listeners engaging with a landing page for more than 30 seconds.

All told, though Pandora technically remains unprofitable right now, this week's report should most notably give shareholders a valuable look at Pandora's progress as it pours resources into -- to borrow the words of Westergren -- "rapidly bringing Pandora's audacious strategy to life." As long as Pandora shows that strategy remains intact and moving forward, investors should be more than happy with where the company stands.

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Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Pandora Media. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.