Monday, August 15, 2022
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Spotify Struggles as it Can’t Afford to Drop Joe Rogan

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s everything you need to know: Neil Young gave Spotify an ultimatum on Monday: retain Joe Rogan or lose me. It is impossible to have both on the same service.

According to Rolling Stone, he stated in a now-deleted letter, “I am doing this because Spotify is distributing misleading information regarding vaccinations – perhaps causing death to people who accept the disinformation being propagated by them.” The main point of contention, he claims, is Joe Rogan, Spotify’s star podcaster, to whom the company reportedly paid up to $100 million for an exclusive license to his show.

Young kept his word and, together with his record company, took his songs off the service yesterday. Young then sent another post on his website, explaining how he found out about the problem, thanking his label, and encouraging others to do the same. “I genuinely hope that more musicians and record labels would abandon Spotify and cease promoting Spotify’s destructive COVID deception,” he says.

This is a significant turning moment in Spotify’s history. It’s no longer a music corporation, but rather one dedicated to podcasting to the point that it’ll jeopardize relationships with musicians to secure the success of its plan. To be honest, we could have predicted how things would turn out. Who would Spotify choose: a long-dead musician or a zeitgeisty comic who not only causes PR difficulties but also charges a minimum ad spend of $1 million?

I’m thinking about the scenario in a few different ways, one of which is evaluating the financial incentives. The reasoning for Spotify’s decision is clear. What does it mean to lose Young? The corporation isn’t financially dependent on his streams or subscribers — Drake or Taylor Swift, for example, may be a different problem — and, barring a large exodus of members due to his missing collection, business as usual continues. Spotify actually loses money every time someone listens to one of Young’s tracks, which is why the firm wanted to get into podcasting in the first place. Every time someone listens to Rogan, it produces money.

On the other hand, I’m not clear what Warner Records, Young’s label, gains from this. Maybe it’s looking for an advantage in a negotiation or to shift the focus away from streaming? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing there’s some backroom maneuvering going on behind the scenes that might lead to a Warner victory. Perhaps folks in other parts of the world listen to more Young? Purchase some CDs? Unclear.

Nonetheless, the lesson learned from the brawl is clear: Spotify cannot afford to alienate Rogan or his fans. The firm licensed his broadcast with the intention of converting listeners to the platform and profiting from ad sales. JRE has formed the backbone of the company’s whole podcasting system.

According to a source, if marketers buy advertisements on Rogan, they must also buy ads on the rest of Spotify’s repertoire, implying that Rogan’s success attracts more advertisers to Spotify’s other assets. Without Rogan, Spotify has Call Her Daddy and Armchair Expert, but neither of them is on the same level as Rogan. It’s understandable that Spotify didn’t give in so readily.

But it’s what this indicates about Spotify’s attitude to moderation that fascinates me the most. When we think of social media moderation concerns, we usually think of how algorithms promote and monetize sensational, provocative, and harmful material. Podcasting has mostly kept out of the discourse until recently. The business relies on word of mouth and curated lists, and software suggestions are expected to play a larger role in the future.

But we’re not there yet, which means Spotify is not only siding with its celebrity podcaster, but it’s also financially driven to push his material to listeners, and it can’t even claim a terrible algorithm.

Maybe if Spotify fully defined their content rules, this basic issue wouldn’t be such a significant deal. The closest we have is a December statement that says it “prohibits material on the platform that promotes harmful inaccurate, fraudulent, or misleading content concerning COVID-19 that may cause offline harm and/or constitute a direct threat to public health.” It further stated that “material that is marked for probable policy breaches is extensively evaluated by our in-house staff and, if required, outside experts.” If the content is deemed to be in violation of our policies, we will take the required action.”

Even worse, Spotify informed The Wall Street Journal Friday that it has removed 20,000 podcast episodes for violating COVID-19’s “strict content standards.” It’s unclear whether the policy I described above is the full policy or whether it’s just a line. Regardless, the issue remains as to what Spotify regards to be a violation of its terms of service. Is it true that Rogan hasn’t gone over the line? What did the other podcasters say that caused them to be removed? Who is this in-house staff, by the way? Is it software or people that are flagging these infractions?

I’ve gone out to Spotify for comment, and I’ll keep you updated if I receive a response.

Finally, Spotify may believe Rogan does not violate a line, which it should state explicitly. At the same time, we may all recognize its motivation to turn a blind eye or shift the moderation line. Spotify can’t afford to lose its biggest celebrity, even if it means ruining its image.

Bob Carlson
Bob Carlson
Bob Carlson is a business journalist, with over a decade of experience in the trenches of reporting up-to-date business news for publications all over the world. With a wealth of knowledge at his back, Bob strives to bring the most important insights into the business world for TheOptic daily.
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