Issue 268,  published July 28, 2020

Spotify rolls out video support

Let’s do a little bit of Kremlinology.

Last week, Spotify officially rolled out support for video podcasts, initially limiting the experience to a small number of shows. This comes after a period of testing around Zane and Heath: Unfiltered, a podcast fronted by two YouTube stars, originally announced in early May.

The initial batch of video-enabled podcasts include: The Ringer’s The Book of Basketball 2.0 and Higher Learning with Van Lathan and Rachel Lindsay, along with The Misfits Podcast, H3 Podcast, and The Rooster Teeth Podcast, among others. In other words, it’s a mix of Spotify-owned shows and podcasts that already have some sort of video presence established over YouTube. (One imagines that The Joe Rogan Experience, which commands considerable viewership over YouTube, is part of this conversation.)

I thought the way Spotify framed the rollout in the official blog post is somewhat noteworthy: “Spotify Fans Can Better Connect to Creators With New Video Podcasts.” Centralizing the notion of “creators” in the value proposition strikes me as the tell here — this might be a quick-trigger experimental move, but the intent seems to be laying down the foundation for Spotify to swerve into the highly lucrative influencer lane. In addition to working with Zane and Heath: Unfiltered, the company has already moved to sign a few YouTube stars to exclusive podcasts, and this puts them in competition with efforts from operations like Studio71 and Cadence13.

Quick thought: this marks a kinda interesting loop back into history. Podcasting as we currently know it is overwhelmingly associated with audio, but there was a point in the earlier days of the technology when the distributional premise was evenly split between audio and video. Which is to say, this lane isn’t entirely new, and what we’re seeing here seems to be an attempt by Spotify to reorient and control it within a new context.

For what it’s worth, I’m not a big consumer of repackaged podcasts over YouTube, though I understand there are very many people who are. (That said, I am, admittedly, a massive YouTube consumer in general. You may or may not be surprised to learn that I’m mostly a travel and food vlog kinda guy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.)

In any case, there’s an interesting friction point to think through: not everybody is good on video or audio, and an even smaller number of people are good at both, which means that this feature is likely only suitable for a small percentage of podcast makers on the platform. Which probably doesn’t matter much for the platform over the long run: all they need is a few major hits on the product, and the means to control the value extraction from those hits.

One more Spotify thingFrom Wall Street Journal:

Money could soon be flowing from labels back into Spotify Technology SA’s coffers, thanks to a new deal struck with the world’s largest record company.

Spotify reached a new licensing agreement with Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group that secures its massive catalog for streaming and signs the label giant onto Spotify’s “two-sided marketplace.”

Given that one of the bigger factors driving Spotify towards diversification (and into podcasting) is the nature of its relations with the big labels, it’s worth keeping an eye on how that pressure point is shifting.

I run this thing.