Issue 225,  published September 10, 2019

Platisher, Ye Cometh

Spotify has made two interesting personnel moves to bolster its podcast development pipeline around two key genres, sports and news, according to a report by The Information that dropped on Friday.

Firstly, the company has hired Amy Hudson, most recently the sports media partnerships lead at Facebook, to oversee its sports programming assets. Secondly, David Rhodes, the former news chief at CBS, will now serve as a consultant on the all-consuming audio platform’s efforts around news programming.

Flashy. It’s worth noting that neither Hudson nor Rhodes come with explicit audio/radio experience, but that’s probably not the best prism to read this development: at heart, these moves seem to be driven by a partnership- and brand-first strategy, which feels broadly consistent with the way Spotify has gone about its non-music audio business, between the signing of individual talent like Jemele Hill and Joe Budden as well as studios like the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions. In some ways, you could say this is somewhat reminiscent of how the radio industry approaches talent and content development. Everything is a circle; we move forward only to return to the beginning. Or something.

The genres themselves are pretty interesting to me. There’s been some heat around the sports podcasts lately, between the recent news of ESPN developing a daily sports news podcast (just call it Sportscenter, guys, come on) and The Athletic signalling that it intends to have 80 (free) podcasts by the end of the year. And that’s on top of the already strong operations in the genre by publishers like The Ringer, the ever-controversial Barstool Sports, and ESPN itself. On the other end of things, news and newsy content has long been a pretty big driver of podcast programming in general, between the ever-growing daily news podcast genre and the strong spigot of newshooked programming, either in documentary or Pesca-discourse form.

The relevant question here, I think, is how all these machinations figure into Spotify’s position as both a platform distributor and a publisher. Will Spotify launch their own originated exclusive sports and news audio content, thus increasing competition for sports and news-oriented third party publishers? Or will they focus more on signing exclusive partnerships with said sports and news-oriented third party publishers? The answer probably lies in an iterative mix of the two.

A clue can be found in this LA Times profile of Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content officer, which writes: “Under her watch, the number of podcasts available on Spotify has grown to more than 450,000 titles, up from 185,000 in February… Next year, Ostroff says the plan is to have ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of new original podcast series in production or available on the platform.” (One should probably note that the 185,000 to 450,000 count increase is likely tethered to Spotify opening up its podcast submission process last October. Previously, inclusion of third-party podcasts into the platform was somewhat selective. Nowadays, it mimics Apple Podcasts’ self-serve infrastructure.)

In other words, more positional complication lies ahead, along with more headaches for strategists and those who think about competitive risk in their respective organizations. All hail Psyduck, patron saint of platishers.