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To compete with YouTube, Spotify now offers video podcasts

Daniel Ek, chief executive of Spotify.
The Swedish streaming giant Spotify is led by Chief Executive Daniel Ek.
(Ilya S. Savenok / Getty Images )

Spotify, known as a music and podcast streaming service, is making a bigger leap into video.

Seven podcasts available on Spotify, including “Higher Learning With Van Lathan & Rachel Lindsay,” “Fantasy Footballers” and “Book of Basketball 2.0,” will show footage of podcasters recording their programs.

For years, many podcasters have uploaded video versions of their programs primarily on YouTube.

Now Spotify wants to claw back a share of eyeballs and imagine itself as the destination for all podcast content, including video footage. Previously, Spotify only streamed podcast audio.

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The Swedish streaming giant has been snapping up deals with celebrities and popular podcasters for exclusive shows.

A deal announced in May with podcaster Joe Rogan was worth roughly $100 million for an exclusive video and audio podcast, according to a person familiar with the matter who declined to be named because the person was not authorized to comment on it. Video podcasts will help draw a larger audience and ad dollars to Spotify’s platform, analysts said.

“Video is still the top medium to drive engagement,” said Eunice Shin, a partner at consultancy Prophet. “Spotify wants to own and control engagement on their platform — which drives numbers for this revenue model.”

Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content officer, says she plans on making hundreds of original podcast series next year as part of a strategy to expand the streaming platform’s podcast offerings. The company aims to have 20% of the listening on its service be non-music.

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Users on Tuesday will be able to see the videos when they press “play” on the podcast episode.

Rachel Lindsay, co-host of “Higher Learning,” a podcast that discusses Black culture, politics and sports, said her fans have been craving this feature. “Higher Learning” is produced by the Ringer, which is owned by Spotify. In the past, the show would be uploaded to the Ringer’s YouTube channel, which has 284,000 subscribers, but now the video version will also be available on Spotify.

“There’s so much that gets lost sometimes when you don’t capture it in video form,” Lindsay said.

Her co-host, Lathan, agreed. “When you put the video content out there, it’s a better way for people who are outside of your immediate listening sphere to be like, ‘Oh, what are they talking about over there?’ and get into it,” he said. “I think it’s gonna help grow our audience.”

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Spotify has more than 286 million monthly users on its platform. The company started out as a music streaming service but has been steadily making more investments in the podcast space.

Last year, it purchased several podcast-related companies including New York-based Gimlet Media for around $230 million. Upcoming exclusive podcasts include one led by former First Lady Michelle Obama later this month.

Michelle Obama’s podcast will center on relationships. It is the first program to come out of a partnership between Spotify and Higher Ground, Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company.

Spotify uses videos on the music streaming side of its platform. But some of its efforts, such as a series called “Deconstructed” in 2016, didn’t perform well because it was hard to compete with YouTube and Vevo with music videos, Shin said.

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Spotify tested videos with the “Zane & Heath: Unfiltered” podcast in May and saw strong results, paving the way for Tuesday’s rollout.

“The goal we hope will be deeper engagement with the podcasts, so people [will be] spending more time individually with the podcasts as well as an ability to bring new users to the shows themselves,” said Lauren Jarvis, head of content partnerships.

Video podcasts available on Spotify on Tuesday include “Higher Learning,” “Book of Basketball 2.0,” “Fantasy Footballers,” “The Misfits Podcast,” “H3 Podcast,” “The Morning Toast” and “Rooster Teeth Podcast.”

These podcasts are popular on Spotify, including “Fantasy Footballers” which is ranked No. 11 in the platform’s sports podcasts in the U.S. “Higher Learning” is No. 22 in that category.

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As Spotify adds more exclusive podcasts, video could play a key role.

“Now that we do have this product and market, we can discuss both content types when we think about doing an exclusive deal,” Jarvis said.

Some podcast shows reach larger audiences by video than audio, especially those with a younger audience or have large followings through a preexisting video business on YouTube, said Ben Davis, a partner in digital media at the WME talent agency. WME represents “Fantasy Footballers,” “The Morning Toast” and “Rooster Teeth Podcast.”

“It is a popular format that punches above its weight with audience engagement and watch time given the cost,” Davis said.

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Jay Shetty, host of the wisdom sharing podcast “On Purpose With Jay Shetty,” said many people discover his program through videos he posts on platforms such as YouTube or Facebook. And he’s seen an increase in his video podcast views as more people shelter at home.

“Video is such a phenomenal way of engaging with an audience that may not naturally listen to podcast,” Shetty said, “but gives everyone an opportunity to see how powerful the content that can be.”


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