Four months ago, Swedish podcast giant Spotify found itself in free fall of its own pop culture.
The CEO apologized to employees over the controversy surrounding popular podcaster Joe Rogan and questioned whether the company’s violent foray into podcasting was backfiring. Rogan himself also apologized, and several musicians, including rock artist Neil Young, called for a boycott of Spotify.
But ultimately, Young’s boycott didn’t have a major impact on Spotify’s business. The streaming service gained more subscribers in the first quarter, and even Rogan said he gained more listeners.
Rather than back down, the company says it’s doubling down on podcasting, continuing a strategy that has transformed Spotify from an audio medium maverick into a dominant rival to Apple, a pioneer in the space. The plan – to continue creating exclusive, original content through its own podcast production companies and partnerships, and create enough tools and monetization opportunities to drive new audio artists to bring their podcasts to Spotify.
“With the investment and attention Spotify has brought to the podcast business, I think it’s really made it to a place where you now feel like the sky is the limit in terms of audiences,” said Julie McNamara, head of Spotify’s talk studios. in an interview.
The goal, McNamara said, is to build a podcast library of exclusive original programming that includes a mix of scripted narratives like Batman Unburied and shows created by podcast creators like Call Her Daddy host Alexandra Cooper and Rogan have been licensed. The platform is also supported by other audio creators who upload their work to Spotify.
“The Joe Rogan Experience” has long ranked #1 on the Spotify podcast chart, but this year it was surpassed by a Spotify original, “Batman Unbury” by more than two weeks for the first time. The audio series from Spotify’s deal with Warner Bros. and DC tells the story of Gotham’s crusaders in pursuit of the Harvester, a criminal who eats his victims.
The cast includes Hollywood talent Winston Duke from Black Panther as Bruce Wayne, comedian Hasan Minhaj as Riddler and Gina Rodriguez from Jane the Virgin as Barbara Gordon. The podcast, which debuted May 3, ranked #3 on Spotify’s US podcast chart on Wednesday.
Spotify has more than 4 million podcasts on its platform this year and an estimated 32.5 million podcast listeners in the U.S., accounting for about 26% of the market. According to research firm eMarketer, Apple has 28.5 million podcast listeners.
“We feel we have all the tools in place to move to the next chapter in our audio evolution [with] really big variances, although we know we also cover the types of podcasts that current podcast listeners seem to enjoy the most,” McNamara said.
The television programming veteran joined Spotify last September as head of US studios and video. She oversees Spotify-owned podcast production studios such as Gimlet, Parcast and The Ringer, as well as high-profile partnerships including Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Archewell Audio production company.
A recent hit for Spotify is Parcast’s Scotland Yard Confidential, which details criminal cases handled by Scotland Yard. It ranked No. 18 on Spotify’s US podcast chart as of Wednesday, but was ranked as high as No. 2 after its debut on 19.
McNamara felt the show had global potential and built on the success of Parcast with true crime stories.
“Obviously ‘Scotland Yard’ is at the root of true crime and I think I just activated that for myself and realized that we need to look at Parcast as an international brand,” said Max Cutler, founder of Parcast and Spotify’s head of conversation builder content and partnerships.
Recent successes have helped defuse some criticism that Spotify hasn’t had much to show for its heavy investments in podcasting, which began in 2019 with acquisitions of podcast production companies like Gimlet and Parcast. The aim was to diversify the company’s business and make it less dependent on music streaming.
Then came a string of high-profile deals, including one with Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company, Higher Ground.
However, the results of these deals have been mixed. Some podcasters like Last Podcast on the Left have decided to end their exclusive contracts with Spotify.
Spotify said it has opted not to renew its exclusive deal with Higher Ground when it ends later this year. It produced a handful of shows for Spotify, including “The Michelle Obama Podcast,” which was the fourth most listened to podcast in 2020. But there were some creative tensions with Spotify over how prominent the Obamas would be on the podcasts compared to other voices that aren’t as well-known, sources said.
Spotify executives said deals are evaluated individually.
“We don’t want to feel like we’re someone’s sixth or seventh supporting actor,” McNamara said. “They want to feel like it’s a priority for them … and [they’re] really committed and enthusiastic about the form and have something they want to say and do.
One of Spotify’s most controversial podcast deals was Rogan in 2020. This year saw mounting backlash against Rogan, sparked when scientists and medical professionals urged Spotify to clarify its policies on moderating COVID-19 content after they raised concerns about misinformation about vaccines on Rogan’s podcast. Pressure mounted after Young and other musicians announced they would be removing their music from Spotify in protest.
Rogan apologized and vowed to pay more attention to providing counter-views in his podcasts. Spotify has made its COVID-19 guidelines publicly available and has announced that it will direct listeners to its COVID-19 information page for COVID-related podcasts.
“It’s been a great opportunity to speak with key partners and to listen and learn from both the developers and our employee base, and a lot of changes have happened,” said Cutler. “We’ve now been very open about the guidelines that apply to all creators.”
Finally, despite some people promising to boycott or shut down Spotify, the company said its monthly active users grew to 422 million in the first quarter, up from 406 million in the previous quarter.
“They’ve done a reasonably good job of differentiating their service with podcasting led by Joe Rogan,” Jeffrey Wlodarczak, principal and senior analyst at Pivotal Research Group, said in an email. “There was some controversy with his show earlier this year, but they seemed to be handling it well. Overall I think [the] The move to podcasting made sense and still makes sense.”
However, as Spotify expands its podcasts, content moderation could be a challenge, analysts say.
The company has hired more people over the years to moderate the content on its platform, but declined to specify how many staff it has in this area. Users can report inappropriate content and Spotify uses technology to flag inappropriate content.
“As Spotify scales its podcast-first philosophy, so must they scale the way they hold creators to their misinformation policy that they have in place,” said Kelsey Chickering, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-06-10/spotify-podcasts-batman-joe-rogan-scotland-yard How Batman and Scotland Yard are helping Spotify