Los Angeles Times
Spotify wants more video
The audio-streaming giant announces plans for new podcasts and more after troubles.
Spotify on Wednesday unveiled a series of new podcasts, partnerships and features as part of its effort to dominate in all things audio, despite recent challenges and controversies in the space.
At an event near its offices in Los Angeles’ Arts District, the Swedish music streaming giant unveiled a partnership with popular online content creator Markiplier — whose shows “Distractible” and “Go! My Favorite Sports Team” will launch exclusive video episodes on Spotify.
The company also announced a scripted Batman spinoff series called “The Riddler: Secrets in the Dark,” starring Hasan Minhaj, who played the villain in last year’s scripted project “Batman Unburied.”
Though podcasts are traditionally an audio-focused format, Spotify is hoping shows that incorporate video, like Markiplier’s, will be a big part of its future.
The firm reported having
70,000 video creators currently on the platform. A second season of “Uncut Gems” star Julia Fox’s video podcast, “Forbidden Fruits,” is set to premiere later this month, Spotify said, while TikToker Drew Afualo’s podcast, “The Comment Section,” will become a Spotify exclusive in April.
Spotify Chief Executive Daniel Ek boasted about Spotify’s rapid growth in podcasting, saying the company has gone from about 10 million podcast listeners in 2018 to more than 100 million currently.
The company, Ek said, is building “the best home for creators, where you can establish your career and where the world can be inspired by your creativity.”
But the announcements follow a shakeup for Spotify’s podcasting operations. Spotify’s continued podcasting gambit comes during a period of stress for both the company and the wider market in which it operates.
Last fall, amid an ongoing downturn across the tech and entertainment sectors, Spotify cut 11 podcasts from its roster and laid off people from some of its podcast brands. In January, the company announced that Chief Content Officer Dawn Ostroff — one of the main players in Spotify’s shift toward podcasting — would be leaving, and that 6% of staff had been cut.
In May, the company put Julie McNamara — then overseeing American studios and video — in charge of its acquired podcast networks the Ringer, Gimlet Media and Parcast. Around the same time, the firm named Bill Simmons, founder of the Ringer, as its new global head of sports content as well as the Ringer’s managing director.
Spotify has been trying to establish itself as a leader in the podcast space, looking to draw in new subscribers and diversify its offerings beyond music, even as investors have sometimes expressed doubt about the play. Competition is fierce, with Apple and YouTube serving as major platforms for podcasts and TikTok and Twitch attracting hordes of young, digitally savvy viewers.
The company acquired a handful of podcast networks including the Ringer — a popular sports and culture brand — Gimlet Media and Parcast, as well as the podcast distribution platform Anchor FM. In 2020, Spotify became the exclusive home of the influential “The Joe Rogan Experience” in a deal said to be worth around $100 million.
Partnerships with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Meghan Markle and Jordan Peele helped Spotify make inroads into the densely packed podcasting space.
But these high-profile projects were sometimes marred by controversy. Markle’s podcast took a notably long time to materialize, and an exclusive deal Spotify inked in 2019 with Higher Ground, the production company run by former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, was ultimately not renewed after the Obamas pushed for a nonexclusive distribution plan.
Higher Ground had produced “The Michelle Obama Podcast” as well as the Bruce Springsteen vehicle “Renegades: Born in the USA” for Spotify.
Over two years ago, at the 2021 “Stream On” event, the company announced a partnership with Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors behind Marvel blockbusters “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” The partnership does not appear to have yielded any podcasts yet.
The company’s partnership with Rogan — known for giving guests free rein to talk for hours about contentious subjects — has landed Spotify in hot water over and over again. Last year, criticism that Rogan was spreading COVID misinformation on his show prompted some artists, including Neil Young, to pull their music from the platform.
Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay also cut ties with Spotify, ending her partnership with the company before her art collective Array had released any projects. Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Roxane Gay, David Crosby and Stephen Stills announced their own withdrawals.
Spotify on Wednesday also announce a handful of new tools meant to make the platform more accessible to podcasters. A “reenvisioned” Spotify for Podcasters hub will centralize the company’s podcasting tools — including monetization tech as well as video podcasting and interactive episode capabilities — in one place, the company said. A new partnership with digital subscription platform Patreon is aimed at making it easier for podcasters to turn listeners into paying customers.
Netflix has signed on to use Spotify’s podcast platform for companies, Spotify announced, and NPR is slated to begin monetizing through the app’s ad marketplace.
Podcasts aren’t the only thing on the company’s mind.
Last year it began selling audiobooks on its U.S. app and also acquired Heardle, a music guessing game. In 2021 it bought Locker Room, a live audio conversations app similar to Clubhouse.
Gustav Söderström, Spotify’s co-president, chief product officer and chief technology officer, unveiled a new home feed for the app. Evocative of TikTok’s vertical video scroll, the feed features a mix of everything from audio books to music videos and, Söderström said, will emphasize content discovery.