Podcasts aren’t new to Spotify. In November 2014, a leak showed the company testing out
podcasts for the platform. Even though podcasts existed for nearly a decade, primarily within the Apple ecosystem and loose RSS feeds, this period marked podcasts emerging into the mainstream with shows like Serial
. Six months later at a press event, podcasts alongside video clips from major television channels were coming to the platform. TechCrunch in its writeup of the event
captured what’s become a years-long tension with the music tech company and broader record industry (emphasis mine):
Meanwhile, adding podcasts could rope in hardcore news and talk radio fans. Both could help Spotify get more users trying its free ad-supported tier, and then converting them into paid subscribers. Artists and labels might resent the free tier and Spotify bulking it up with more content types, but it’s how the service teaches people it’s worth paying for.
In winter 2019, Spotify purchased Gimlet
, the podcast company best known for shows like Reply All, for $230 million, and Anchor, a small app that allowed people to self-record and produce their own podcasts, for a little over $100 million. In March, Spotify purchased the podcast network Parcast
. A year later, the company purchased the Ringer
, a media company and podcasting company founded by former ESPN writer Bill Simmons. The price tag there was just under $200 million. Then to close out 2020, Spotify spent another nine-figure sum
($235 million) on Megaphone, a podcast ad technology company. Then, earlier this year, the firm bought Betty Labs specifically for Locker Room
, a live audio app focused on sports. A lotta purchases but the company wasn’t just collecting podcast firms, big-name talent was also on this spending spree.
Daniel Ek’s company gave headline-grabbing everyman Joe Rogan
over $100 million for exclusivity on the platform. The company signed a deal
with the Obamas’ entertainment company Higher Grounds Productions. And last year, Archewell Audio, the production company created by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, announced a multi-year partnership
with Spotify. Plenty of other celebrities have gotten into the podcasting game with Spotify but I do find it curious that the company’s money is being thrown at global political figures engaging in branding exercises. Global money must flow in some direction and in this case, it’s into the pockets of the world’s most powerful people to speak into a microphone for a company whose previous focus was all about music.
Spotify is clearly ready to spend money but what exactly is the company’s audio vision? The Hollywood Reporter got an uncommon Daniel Ek interview
for its November 2019 cover, where he claimed that his ambition for the company is centered on “becoming the World’s No. 1 Audio Platform”. The story follows Ek, along with Dawn Ostroff and Courtney Holt, in their mission to woo celebrity talent onto their platform, while navigating major label relationships. One part of the vision was to get big-name podcasts that cannot be found anywhere else in order to keep listeners hooked on the platform, but also to do something that Apple has traditionally not done in the world of podcasting: investing money into talent.
Recently, Ek bizarrely suggested that live audio content
(think: Clubhouse) is going to be the next “stories” (i.e. the Snapchat feature that Instagram stole). It’s hard to imagine that live audio, which already exists (see: radio and video streaming), might become the equivalent of stories, which has basically reoriented how people use photo-sharing apps. A less fully formed path Spotify offers with Anchor and other purchases is the ability for you,
yes you (!),
to become a podcaster. The only issue is that podcasting, similar to music creation, can be made simpler but does everyone
crave to create audio content to be shared with the world. The answer so far: No. Still, if the dream is to become the world’s biggest audio company, then it might be worth pondering what is the industry’s current trajectory.