Podcasting has long been a medium known for its openness, with creators making their shows available in as many places as people listen. In a move sure to irritate some podcasters, Spotify confirmed Wednesday that is a model that it will not fully embrace as it looks to grow its podcasting business.
“Exclusivity is a key component of that strategy. We want to create more and more original programming that only exists on Spotify,” CEO Daniel Ek said. On a conference call with analysts, he said that strategy has started to ramp up in recent months with announcements such as a deal to make The Joe Rogan Experience a Spotify-only podcast. “That’s something that we’re pursuing,” said Ek. Yet he also said that Spotify will remain an “open platform” with more podcasts available that are not exclusive to the app. He said they now have 1.5 million podcasts available, with roughly half created in 2020. “It’s impossible, even if we wanted to, to have all of that content exclusive to our platform, so it’s going to be a mix going forward.”
Ek however sidestepped a question on whether Spotify may attempt to lure Howard Stern away from SiriusXM when his contract expires at year-end. But he said what they could offer a creator is reach not just in North America but also in Europe, in Latin American and Asia as well. “The global nature and scale of this platform is what excites a lot of creators to be on our platform,” said Ek.
Spotify reported 21% of its users during the second quarter listened to a podcast, an increase from 19% during the first quarter. It also said consumption continues to grow at triple-digit rates compared to a year ago. “Podcast engagement in general is increasing,” said CFO Paul Vogel. He told analysts that subscribers generally are more likely to listen to a podcast than users of the ad-supported service.
Vogel said podcast revenue is “still reasonably small” for Spotify, but the segment outperformed expectations that had been lowered due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It was one of the stronger areas of growth,” he said. Vogel told analysts Omnicom’s pledge this month to spend $20 million on podcasts is a strong sign for the industry. “We’re seeing advertisers really want to invest in podcasting as a media,” he said. That has led Spotify to bundle more ad deals that include both podcasts and its music service.
The Streaming Ad Insertion or “SAI” platform that Spotify brought to podcasts in January could also one day be offered as a third-party service to other podcasters according to executives. “It is definitely something longer-term that we could look into. We know when we launched SAI the number of inbound calls that we got from folks that were interested in using that technology was pretty high,” said Vogel.
Ek said it remains “early days” for their podcast business and strategy. Spotify had been testing “video podcasts” since May, and last week it unveiled the first version of its new video podcast feature with select podcasts in a handful of markets, including the U.S. Ek said podcasters can expect to see the company try all sorts of things going forward, explaining the “secret sauce” is not about one ingredient but rather a blend of tweaks sprinkled in.
“Some of these experiments yield nothing more than a few key learnings, while others have shown great promise,” he said. While Ek did not offer specifics, he said a recent podcast test among podcast listeners resulted in higher listening levels among the test group by a third. “We know one experiment is not going to materially impact us in the next year. It’s the thousands of things that we’re doing which will gradually add-up over time,” he said.
Ek said Spotify listening levels have “returned to normal levels” after they took a hit during the early months of the COVID-19 lockdowns. The company said its monthly active users grew 29% year over year to 299 million worldwide with what it said was better than expected growth in North America. Subscribers totaled 138 million worldwide.
Spotify said it was not just listening that was down but it also saw an increase in the number of people cancelling their premium subscriptions, though it said that rate of churn “rebounded significantly” in June compared to April and May. The company nevertheless said in-car listening at the end of the quarter was still down 10% from pre-COVID levels but positioned that as a recovery since in-car listening was cut by 50% at the trough in April.
Advertising revenue improved as the second quarter progressed after what Ek said was a “significant hit” during the first quarter. Spotify’s ad revenue was down 25% in April and May but recovered to being down by 12% in June. “We feel good about our momentum as we enter Q3,” he said.
The company reported second quarter revenue increased 13% compared to a year earlier to $2.2 billion. But that missed Wall Street estimates and the company reported its quarterly loss was wider than expected. Spotify’s stock price was down 5% in early trading Wednesday in New York.
In a note to clients, UBS media analysts said they are sticking with their “sell” rating on Spotify’s stock, noting that many of the positives of the business – like growing podcast consumption – have been factored into its stock price. UBS expects investors to be closely following how many subscribers head for the exits in the coming months due to the pandemic’s impact on the global economy.