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By Alvin Mak
Spotify seems to be slowly shifting its focus to long-form media. Here’s what’s happening.
It’s undisputed that Spotify has grown to become one of the leading providers for audio entertainment.
The Swedish company, founded in 2006, was a breath of fresh air from the iTunes pay-as-you-go model, where users had to download and purchase individual tracks one by one. Instead, Spotify let users listen to music for free in exchange for listening to an ad every few songs, while simultaneously offering premium plans for ad-free listening.
The app also added an element of social interaction by showing users what their friends were listening to. This planted the company inside the slipstream of the social media boom of the 2010’s, setting up all the pins for a strike.
Spotify’s model evidently resonated well with the world; the company is now streaming over 50 million tracks to each corner of the world. 248 million active monthly listeners and 141 million paid subscribers call Spotify their home of music.
As a result, the company raked in total revenue of $7.44 billion in 2019—a 28% increase from the year before. As of June 2020, Spotify is valued at $50 billion.
With services like Apple Music, Soundcloud, Tidal, YouTube Premium, and others competing for dominance in music streaming, Spotify is now in a comparable situation to that of Netflix. In order to come out on top, Spotify needs to become something more than a music streaming app. Thus, the company decided to branch into longer-form audio with podcasts.
Initial community responses have been positive; streams of these longer tracks have achieved 200% year-on-year growth. However, this was not enough for the company: it needed to invest in original content to truly seize the podcast scene. To that end, Spotify has made a number of aggressive moves, and so far, it seems like this could be a game-changer.
The Joe Rogan Experience
Joe Rogan is an American comedian, mixed martial arts commentator, and TV host. Most importantly, he is the host of what is perhaps the most popular podcast in the world—The Joe Rogan Experience.
Not only did his program rank first on Apple’s podcast platform last year, it was also downloaded over 190 million times per month. Over 9 million loyal fans are subscribed to Rogan’s YouTube channel, eagerly anticipating every new episode.
It’s no question that Rogan’s show holds powerful influence in the world of popular culture. He’s been able to secure big-name guests the likes of billionaire businessman Elon Musk, infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, legendary boxer Mike Tyson, and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Things changed, however, when Spotify acquired The Joe Rogan Experience in a monumental deal. The music company bought out the rights to Rogan’s program for a rumored $100 million—the monetary equivalent of 26 billion streams of the show. The Joe Rogan Experience will start streaming from Spotify exclusively in September.
The migration of such a major-league show from YouTube to Spotify had clearly got investors excited. This deal not only marked an important milestone in Spotify’s foray into longer-form media, but also demonstrated Spotify’s commitment to being a serious podcast provider. Yet, this was only the beginning.
A month after the Rogan deal, it was announced that American media personality Kim Kardashian West had also sold the rights to her upcoming podcast to Spotify.
Kardashian West is known for her prominent social media presence and her starring role (as herself) in reality TV show Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
Her podcast however, is an effort to divert attention away from her family’s lifestyle and toward her pursuits in academia. Kardashian West has been studying law in an apprenticeship program since 2018, with hopes to become a fully-fledged lawyer by 2022. She has also collaborated with the Innocence Project—a non-profit organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals.
Although this deal is unlikely to exceed the size of the Rogan deal, it garnered a similarly positive reaction nonetheless. Spotify’s stock surged once again, this time by 15%, hitting an all time high the day after the announcement.
More Big Names
Popular Formula 1 Internet show Paddock Pass has also migrated to Spotify. The program—an interview show hosted by premier F1 journalist Will Buxton—had quickly become a fan favorite on YouTube, but saw itself become a Spotify exclusive podcast when the 2020 season began.
Michelle Obama also has an exclusive deal with Spotify, where her program—The Michelle Obama Podcast—will air starting July 29 on the platform. Obama’s show will focus on deep-dive conversations geared towards fostering personal and community bonds. Its pilot episode is set to feature Barack Obama as a guest.
Brian Baumgartner, best known for his role in legendary NBC TV show “The Office,” also started his own Spotify-Exclusive podcast—An Oral History of The Office. Baumgartner, who played “Kevin Malone”, interviews other cast members and producers of the now-complete sitcom series, and tells stories about the show’s inception and development.
It’s evident that Spotify is rapidly constructing its fleet of top-notch podcasts. The app is definitely not just for music anymore.
As if Spotify wasn’t already gunning for YouTube’s spot at center-stage, the company has also started rolling out video content for its podcasts.
The company has started providing video content for programs such as The H3 Podcast, Book of Basketball 2.0, Fantasy Footballers, The Misfits Podcast, and many more. Listeners have a choice to either watch the video with the podcast audio or go audio only.
This is practically a direct shot at YouTube’s podcast platform. A big part of what draws listeners to YouTube is its video capabilities. However, with Spotify’s expansion into video, the podcast ecosystem is sure to change. Perhaps YouTube’s dominance over the video-sharing industry is finally coming to an end.
In order to keep the momentum going, the company’s next step needs to ensure that Spotify-native video and podcast content is easily searchable from Google. This is essential for taking on YouTube and bringing more listeners to Spotify’s podcast offering.
It’s clear that Spotify is committed to an expansion into long-form media. For this company, the days of purist music apps are long gone. Its exclusive deals and generous spending into exclusive content and video are likely to just be the first of many power plays to capture the long-form content market. Soon, we could possibly see the emergence–and dominance–of the first truly all-in-one video and music streaming platform.