Winners and Losers: An Up and Down Week for Streaming Media


Companies put a great deal of effort into planning: Sometimes it works brilliantly; other times, things don't work out quite as expected. From the leading burrito roller kicking off a clever promotion to a surprising stumble from the country's top music streaming service, here's a rundown of this week's best and worst moves in the business world.

Pandora (P) -- Loser

Music streaming is still growing in popularity, but for Pandora, the beat has been slowing. The leading service revealed that listener hours were just 1.25 billion in June. That may seem like a lot of tunes, but listener hours actually clocked in at 1.35 billion a month earlier. There is some seasonality in play here: People do stream music less during the summer. However, the sequential dip wasn't this bad a year ago.

Pandora's share of the total U.S. radio listening market also declined, and that's a metric that naturally takes seasonality into account. The popular explanation is that free customers have started to scale back on their streams since Pandora capped mobile usage at 40 hours earlier this year for those who don't pay for commercial-free access. However, it's a case of lousy timing with iTunes Radio on the way.

Netflix (NFLX) -- Winner

One of the market's biggest surprises over the past year has been Netflix. Shares of the leading video streaming service have tripled over the past year. The secret to Netflix's recent success -- it has hit more than 36 million global subscribers -- has been a steady diet of content deals and original programming. It showed off a bit of both this week as it expanded its licensing deal with CBS (CBS) to add shows from the major broadcaster and rolled out its latest first-run series.

"Orange is the New Black" -- a series from "Weeds" creator Jenji Kohan that takes place in a women's penitentiary -- began streaming on Thursday. Every episode of the initial season became available at the same time, true to Netflix's strategy that encourages "binge viewing" over weekly cliffhangers on traditional television.

The model's working. Subscriber growth has exceeded expectations, and nobody has been able to come close to the service's market leadership position.

Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) -- Winner

The popular fast casual chain is turning 20, and it will be spending the next 20 days celebrating. Chipotle is kicking off its 20th anniversary in business with a 20-day promotion that starts this weekend at its new website. Offering 380 "first prizes," plus 20 "grand prizes" on the final day, Chipotle will wind up giving away 40,560 burritos to the 400 winners.

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It's a fair bet that Chipotle won't lose money on the free burritos. The winners will order drinks and chips. They'll bring friends along. So it's still a smart move for the chain that's starting to show growing pains as it closes in on 1,500 total locations. Same-store sales rose a mere 1 percent in its most recent quarter. A little promotion that should gain viral steam in the coming days is a winning recipe.

Barnes & Noble (BKS) -- Loser

It's not easy selling physical books these days, and it's apparently even harder to be the CEO of a company selling the hard covers and paperbacks. Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch is resigning from the troubled book retailer.

Stocks sometimes move higher when a CEO steps down from a struggling company, but it doesn't seem to be improving investors' outlook on Barnes & Noble. The stock slipped on the news. It probably didn't help that Barnes & Noble had revealed a week earlier that it would be backing out of the tablet business. Between the superstores losing traffic as digital media delivery grows in popularity and Barnes & Noble's Nook failing to challenge the Kindle, there may not be an easy way forward for Barnes & Noble.

Hasbro (HAS) -- Winner

The country's second-largest toy maker wants to get mobile. Hasbro is investing $112 million for a 70 percent stake in Backflip Studios, the popular maker of Paper Toss, Outworded, Dragonvale, and other apps that are typically free-to-play ad-supported downloads for smartphones and tablets.

It's smart timing on Hasbro's part. Buying into casual or social gaming would've probably been frowned upon by Wall Street if they'd tried it while market leader Zynga (ZNGA) was stumbling along with executive defections and sliding bookings last year. However, Zynga's acquisition of Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox boss to be its new CEO has renewed interest in the niche. Hasbro is moving into the cool neighborhood just as things are starting to heat up again.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill, Hasbro, Netflix, and Pandora Media. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Hasbro, and Netflix.

Originally published