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Spotify Watch: June 7, 2019

The Obamas, Spotify Stations, Playlist reactions... oh my!

Three things:

(1) Yesterday afternoon, the Swedish all-consuming audio company announced that it has struck a flashy multi-year deal with Higher Ground, the production studio created by the Obamas, that’ll see the latter develop, produce, and occasionally voice a slate of podcasts exclusively for Spotify.

As I mentioned in Vulture, there are absolutely no details whatsoever yet on any of those audio projects, but I mean, look, it took almost a full year for us to learn of what will come from a similarly-sounding deal between the Obamas and Netflix, struck last summer, so I imagine we’ll have to wait for a bit. In any case, that’s not the point, because the point is that the Obamas are making podcasts for Spotify, which isn’t a sentence that I would have known how to construct, like, three years ago.

Anyway, eye-catching move for Spotify. For what it’s worth, I doubt it’ll be the only one we’ll hear about this summer.

(2) This isn’t directly-related to podcasts, but… come on, in some ways, everything is, just as everything is related to everything else. Earlier this week, Spotify launched a second app, called Spotify Stations, here in the US, which isn’t so much a completely new product as a standalone spin-off experience built around a notable Spotify feature: Stations.

Now, there are a couple of interesting things about Spotify Stations — like the fact that it’s essentially a move to create a contrasting simplicity against a core product that’s become damn close to unwieldy, and the fact that the Spotify Stations experience is quite good — but most pertinent to our interests is the extent to which the app feels almost exactly like, and thus is in bald direct competition to, Pandora. Indeed, Spotify Stations also happens to feature a gratuitously purple color scheme, which isn’t too far from the color scheme of Pandora’s current app design. Cheeky, cheeky.

The ongoing Spotify vs. Pandora clash is worth tracking, of course, because both platforms have increasingly exhibited great interest in attaining podcast market share over the past few months. Whatever happens in the punches up there, affects us collaterals in the streets below.

(3) Turns out that more than a few readers had feelings about Spotify testing a podcast playlist feature. They were all over the places — some like the idea! Some hate the idea! Some have no idea how to feel! — but there were two lines of responses that stood out to me in particular.

The first is the following question, which was raised quite a bit: how many people will actually listen to multiple podcast episodes in a row, given the general heavy load required of a basic podcast?

FWIW, I can think of a few demographics: deep podcast obsessives like myself, people on long road trips, people on (very) long runs, workers whose job includes sitting in front of the computer all day, and people who like to leave talk radio on in the background but don’t like ads, among others.

But the point is well taken. It remains to be seen whether these demographics will be common or fringe cases. And in case they aren’t, we’re left to attend another question: is the commonly expected behavior of these playlists to browse, or is it to actually listen? I suppose a thought experiment one could use to think through this would be: if Netflix or Amazon Prime served you a playlist of TV episodes, would that be something that could be meaningful to your consumption?

The second is a skepticism expressed by a couple of readers about the notion of curated podcast playlists in general. They argue that a better scenario would be one where users are allowed to build podcast playlists of their own for sharing purposes… which isn’t something that you can do on Spotify just yet.

On this specific point, I don’t have much of a feeling one way or another, though I can’t help but think the notion of user playlist creation suggests a behavior where podcast episodes are actively revisited, which I’m not sure that’s necessarily something normal people do very much. I mean, I do, and I re-listen to interviews all the time, but I’m not normal.