Pandora's CEO is stepping down as digital music evolves

It reflects the company's challenges adapting to on-demand music.

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Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Pandora Media
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Pandora Media

The rumors were true: Pandora CEO Tim Westergren has announced that he's stepping down from the company he co-founded 17 years ago. He'll remain in the leadership position while the company searches for a replacement. President Mike Herring and marketing chief Nick Bartle are also leaving, the streaming music company says. While Pandora isn't clear about why the executives are bowing out, it comes after efforts to "refocus and reinforce" the firm by selling its ticket business and taking a $480 million cash infusion from SiriusXM. In other words, it's likely looking for fresh blood as it adapts to a changing digital music landscape.

Case in point: the company is replacing a former board member with Jason Hirschhorn, best known for his executive roles at MTV Networks, Myspace and Sling Media. He's no stranger to the digital media world, but his different perspective (his resume revolves around the social side of music) could prove useful as Pandora shifts its strategy.

Whatever happens next, Westergren's departure is more than a little symbolic of both the company's troubles and its eagerness to turn the corner. Pandora was hot in its early years, when streaming music was relatively new and just having customized internet radio was special. Now, however, on-demand streaming is where it's at -- and there's no question that Pandora is late to the party. Westergren has guided Pandora through some tough times, most notably a royalty battle with the recording industry, but he faced a particularly daunting challenge in keeping his service relevant at a time when Spotify and Apple Music dominate. While his successor won't necessarily fare any better, his exit is an acknowledgment that the status quo simply isn't good enough.

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