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Spotify begins tests on podcast playlist feature

This came in overnight. Fresh off its run of podcast company acquisitions, Spotify is now taking a crack at the problem that’s perhaps most groaned about in the community: discoverability.

Starting this morning, the platform is kicking off what is being described as “a very small test” around a discoverability feature in the form of podcast playlists. If you’re familiar with Spotify’s normal music playlist products at all, then you already broadly know what’s up: each playlist will give users a collection of podcast episodes constructed around a specific genre or theme. In these early goings, only five playlist genres will be available: “Comedy,” “True Crime,” “Geek Culture,” “Walking (Motivational),” and “Relaxing (Mindfulness).” (Shout-out to Headspace.)

As mentioned, the tests are starting out with a small scope. A source at the company tells me that the feature will initially roll out to 5% of users in a few markets: the US, the UK, Canada, Sweden, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina. (Playlist composition will apparently vary by language and region.) I also hear that these playlists will start off being curated by a team of flesh and blood humans. But Spotify being a technology company and all, I’m willing to bet that software efforts will come into play at some point in the future.

Again, it’s still early days for the feature, and it was further emphasized to me that many, many things remain up in the air. As such, one should expect a fair bit of tinkering up ahead, including the rate at which these playlists are updated. Which is also to say, I suppose: it’s a process.

Cool. Three things off the top of my head:

  • In my mind, the playlist construct assumes the episode as the atomic unit of content, and it’ll be interesting to see how it grapples with differences between ongoing programs, a serialized limited-run series, and something weirder like a week-long Dan Carlin episode. It’s one thing to curate music playlists, in which most of the units are approximately the same length, but it’s another thing to curate a broad universe of spoken audio things altogether.
  • Getting in front of somebody at Apple to get placed on the Apple Podcast Carousel has long been a marketing concern for podcast creators. What are the odds that similar dynamics will come into play for Spotify’s Podcast Playlists in the future?
  • Given that discoverability is one of the most consistent grumbles I hear from the podcast community — second only to analytics, frankly — I imagine lots of people would be excited to hear about this. Would love to hear what you think, and particularly, if you think otherwise.

Quick shout-out to the CBC’s Podcast Playlist (to which I’m a contributor), which may have to deal with some branding issues in the near future.