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Why Spotify wants to work with Joe Rogan, Barack Obama, and … you

Podcaster Joe Rogan wearing headphones and smiling in front of a recording microphone. Joe Rogan in 2013. | Vivian Zink/Syfy/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

The service is paying big money to big stars. But people who aren’t famous — maybe even you, the person reading this — might want to upload some stuff, too.

Spotify started out as a legal way to stream popular music. Then it flirted, unsuccessfully, with becoming a video company, too. Now it is trying out a new identity: It wants normal people, not just people you’ve heard of, to start uploading songs and podcasts — and then it wants to make money getting those songs and podcasts out to many, many more people.

Spotify still wants the biggest stars in the world on its service, too. That’s why it spends most of its money on licensing deals with the big music labels, and why it paid a ton of money to sign podcast king Joe Rogan last summer. And it’s also why it is working with Barack Obama; the service just announced that Bruce Springsteen and the former president have a new Spotify podcast where they discuss “modern manhood.”

But the main message behind a promotional event Spotify held Monday, where the company announced a slew of new products and several new podcasts, was aimed at a much larger group of musicians and podcasters who will never be Obama-level famous, or even a little bit famous: Spotify wants all of them uploading their content to Spotify.

Spotify thinks it can make money by distributing that stuff to hundreds of millions of people through a combination of advertising and subscription dollars. In theory, some of that may come back to the people who made the stuff in the first place.

After the event, I spoke with Spotify’s content boss Dawn Ostroff, a veteran of the magazine and TV business, about Spotify’s big-picture ambitions and how it is navigating the change from being a content distributor to a content owner. And, specifically, how it’s responding to the challenges that come with being Joe Rogan’s employer.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:

Peter Kafka

Who is this event aimed at? It seemed reminiscent of all the streaming video launch events companies like Apple and HBO and Disney have done over the last year or so — kind of aimed at investors, but also for consumers.

Dawn Ostroff

Actually, we’re trying to reach creators. For us, it was about being able to show where we’ve come from and where we’re planning on going for creators.

When you think back to what Daniel [Ek]’s mission and vision was early on for Spotify, it was how do we connect millions of artists and creators with billions of users. This was explaining that we’ve come a long way, we still have a long way to go, and where we are in the journey. And also being able to communicate to creators the different tools, the different products that we have, to help and support them in our journey in terms of not only creation but monetization, and of course reach.

Peter Kafka

There has been a long-running discussion with Spotify and creators/artists, back to its earliest days, where artists were complaining that they weren’t getting value out of Spotify but Spotify was getting value out of them. How much of that discussion informed what you’re doing today — both the way you talk to artists and what you’re doing for them?

Dawn Ostroff

Well, we have deals with the labels. That’s been pretty transparent: People know what we pay out, out of our revenue, to the artists and their labels. But I think really part of what Spotify is about is democratizing a form of distribution for artists in order for them to be able to experiment, create, and hopefully grow. Because there’s a lot of room for artists who aren’t necessarily the top artists in the world. And similarly for podcasters, there’s a lot of room for people who are interested in having podcasts, that aren’t the top podcasters in the world.

And the idea that you’re able to globalize the platform in a way that music is crossing over all boundaries and borders, and similarly we’re seeing that with podcasts — it’s really unifying the world.

You don’t have to look any further than the performance of all the major record labels. The music catalogs are going for record amounts. There are hundreds of artists now earning millions of dollars from Spotify alone. And that’s part of what we wanted to be able to illustrate today.

Peter Kafka

One thing that’s changed since Spotify’s start is the way that consumers and certainly regulators view big tech platforms. They generally had favorable feelings about them, and now there’s a lot more suspicion of them. You have your own complaint about Apple — you say it has too much power. But it strikes me that in audio, Spotify has so much power that there is likely to be even more suspicion about its motives, and what happens when you give Spotify your data or your livelihood.

Dawn Ostroff

To start off with, compared to Google, Amazon, or Apple, we’re still very small. We’re not in that league. But we’re incredibly focused on audio. And there should be competition for the tech giants. And that’s what we are. We’re competition for them in this one area.

Peter Kafka

Since we’re talking about the giants: For years, Apple didn’t seem interested in making a business out of podcasting. It seems to have woken up — I guess because of Spotify — and now seems to have some plans to invest in podcasting and to offer a paid podcast service. What do you think of Apple starting to compete with you in podcasting?

Dawn Ostroff

I can’t comment on their plans. And quite honestly, I have no sense of what their plans are. But we think any company that’s spending money on the audio space is smart. We think the audio industry is still growing — we’ve seen an explosion, but we don’t think we’re anywhere near plateauing yet.

Peter Kafka

You’ve spent nearly $1 billion on podcast startups and content. When Spotify first started buying podcast assets, you said you might spend $500 million in your first year. Do you think you’re going to continue spending at this clip?

Dawn Ostroff

Our goal is to continue to grow. I can’t comment on the exact figure. But we’re pursuing it because it’s working.

Peter Kafka

When Spotify signed Joe Rogan, people like me wondered what would happen when Joe Rogan offends someone, and that has happened. And it turns out some of the people work at Spotify.

What kind of discussions did you have about whatever kind of blowback Rogan was going to generate? And did those discussions include what would happen if your own employees are upset?

Dawn Ostroff

In terms of Joe: He’s been held to the same policies that everyone else at our platform has to adhere to. And for us, it’s about having a diverse voice of people, for a global audience — a wide and varied group of people who listen to Spotify. And he happens to remain wildly popular.

I can’t comment on our internal discussions, but debate is also a big part of Spotify’s internal corporate culture. And it happens not just with something like Joe Rogan but it happens with different areas of our business. It’s nothing new for us.


Read full article on: vox.com
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Sacha Baron Cohen won two Golden Globes for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. | NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Except when they do. The 78th Golden Globe Awards were handed out on Sunday, February 28 — about two weeks before the nominations for the 93nd Academy Awards, a.k.a. the Oscars, are set to be announced on Monday, March 15. (The Oscars will take place April 25; the usual timeline was pushed back by about two months this year because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.) The Golden Globes are known to be an oddball ceremony, partly due to their open bar. This year they were even weirder than usual, since the pandemic made the customary packed ballroom unsafe. Instead, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted from opposite coasts, joined by a small number of masked and socially distanced front-line workers as guests. Some of the awards presenters took the stage in person; others read nominees’ and winners’ names through a screen. 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A great deal of this happens through the distribution ofscreeners for major films, which are sent to people who belong to major voting bodies (guilds and critics’ circles, as well as the Academy) to help ensure they can watch as many films as possible and aid them in filling out their ballots. NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Writer and director Lee Isaac Chung accepts the award for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language for Minari. In 2021, voting members of the Academy must submit their Oscar nomination ballots by Friday, March 5 — only five days after the Golden Globes. And given how wild and confusing this awards season has been, it’s reasonable to bet that plenty of Oscar voters still have a stack of screeners sitting on their coffee tables as you read this. 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Rosamund Pike reacts to winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy via livestream at the 2021 Golden Globes. | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Hollywood Foreign Press Association The stranger-than-ever ceremony was also a drag. Nobody “went home” from the 2021 Golden Globes with an award, because pretty much everyone who won a trophy was already at their house. Thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the always-bizarre ceremony was even weirder than usual this year. There were a handful of big winners. Netflix’s The Crown netted four awards: three for stars Emma Corwin, Gillian Anderson, and Josh O’Connor, plus the title of Best TV Series – Drama. The streaming network did well overall, raking in honors for The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Best Screenplay, Aaron Sorkin); I Care a Lot (Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Rosamund Pike); The Life Ahead (Best Original Song); The Queen’s Gambit (Best Limited TV Series and Best Actress in a Limited Series, Anya Taylor-Joy); and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Chadwick Boseman). Other wins were more spread out. Pixar’s Soul won Best Animated Film and Best Original Score. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, as well as Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for Sacha Baron Cohen’s lead performance. And Chloé Zhao won both Best Director and Best Motion Picture – Drama for Nomadland. There were also a few great moments. Taylor Simone Ledward, wife of the late Chadwick Boseman, gave a moving speech about what her husband would have said if he’d been there to accept his award for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Watch Chadwick Boseman's wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, accept the late actor's #GoldenGlobes win https://t.co/gMrpbjjqwe pic.twitter.com/Wx1jjdugXU— Variety (@Variety) March 1, 2021 And Jane Fonda, who received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her outstanding contributions to entertainment, praised many of the year’s best films and exhorted the audience regarding the stories they tell. “There’s a story we’ve been afraid to see and hear about ourselves in this industry, a story about which voices we respect and elevate and which we tune out, a story about who is offered a seat at the table and who is kept out of the rooms where decisions are made,” she said. “So let’s all of us, including all the groups that decide who gets hired and what gets made and who wins awards, let’s all of us make an effort to expand that tent so that everyone rises and everyone’s story has a chance to be seen and heard.” Yet the overwhelming feeling at the end of the Golden Globes is one of ... limpness. Certainly, without some of the glamour and in-person excitement, the show was bound to feel weird. But why did it feel like the Golden Globes spent the whole evening arguing for their own irrelevance? The best you can say about the sketch comedy bits was that they felt like they were trying really hard. The awkward cutaways to nominees chatting on video screens felt forced and strange. It was never really clear why the ceremony had to air live, when most of the acceptance speeches would have been just as effectively shared as an Instagram Story. And the weirdest part of all was that these issues weren’t really new. So are the “normal” Golden Globes still worthwhile? We say no. Here are three reasons why. Reason 1: This year’s show was awful NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Daniel Kaluuya’s speech could not be heard for several seconds after he won the award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. Did the 78th Golden Globe Awards have their bright spots? Sure. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s bicoastal hosting job was plagued with weird timing mishaps, but they landed several funny jokes in spite of the technical issues. Fonda’s speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award was a terrific call for better diversity in Hollywood that doubled as a humblebrag about how many awards screeners she’s managed to watch in quarantine. And getting a glimpse into stars’ homes thanks to videoconferencing software is still a lot of fun. (Nomadland’s Zhao best fit the evening’s aesthetic in a sweatshirt, her hair in long braids. She had a very “I am watching the Golden Globes for no particular reason” vibe.) But by and large, the Globes were an awful awards show that proved nobody involved in the production had bothered, say, to watch the Emmy Awards, which were held last September under very similar circumstances (a global pandemic led to hundreds of live feeds from nominees’ homes) but which managed to put on a much, much, much more entertaining telecast. If the Globes wanted to set low expectations, they started right out of the gate. The night’s opening award — Daniel Kaluuya winning Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his work in Judas and the Black Messiah — featured a lengthy portion when Kaluuya was clearly speaking but viewers could not hear him, and producers briefly tried to shut down his speech altogether. Similar technical mishaps popped up throughout, with Fey and Poehler occasionally stepping over each other and the show trying to play off several winners with loud music that didn’t seem to have the desired effect, leading to a weirdly chaotic scene of people talking in their homes while music played over them, with neither element especially audible. The sound and lighting quality for the various nominees scattered all over the planet was ... variable, to say the least. But even beyond technical issues, these Globes were particularly bad. The choice to end every segment with video windows of the five nominees up for the next award made some degree of sense, but then they were made to chat with each other, as if to find a way to suggest that stars are just like you and don’t quite know what to say to their coworkers on Zoom. Some gamely tried to get a conversation going; others just smiled placidly while they waited for something else to happen. The 2020 Emmys were far from perfect, but they went off largely without a hitch, and the team behind that show clearly thought out how to direct traffic during a live event being carried out in multiple locations. The Golden Globes, with months of lead time, clearly didn’t put much effort into measuring up. And to be clear: These are the Emmys we’re talking about. The famously terrible Emmys. Some of that inability to find the right tone for the evening surely stems from an attempt to recreate a boozy awards show of old (more on that below). 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In fact, the HFPA, which doesn’t publish the names of its members, admitted just ahead of the ceremony that they hadn’t had a Black member in their ranks in 20 years. As the ceremony approached, calls for the organization to become more inclusive grew louder. And those calls were echoed during the ceremony itself. HFPA Board Chair Meher Tatna, HFPA President Ali Sar, and HFPA Vice President Helen Hoehne stood onstage early in the evening and pledged, without specifics, to do better and become more inclusive. But even if the HFPA leadership hadn’t said anything onstage, the night’s hosts and presenters would have made sure they couldn’t miss the point. Fey and Poehler called out the organization immediately at the top of the telecast, with Fey referring to the HFPA as “around 90 international (no Black) journalists.” While accepting the award for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen (hyperbolically) referred to the organization as “the all-white Hollywood Foreign Press.” Sterling K. Brown, who came onstage as a presenter with his This Is Us co-star Susan Kelechi Watson, proclaimed, “It’s great to be Black — back — at the Golden Globes.” Dan Levy, accepting the award for Best TV Series – Musical or Comedy for Schitt’s Creek, said, “In the spirit of inclusion, I hope this time next year this ceremony reflects the true breadth and diversity of film and television being made today because there is so much more to be celebrated.” It remains to be seen what the Globes will do going forward. The bigger question, though, may be whether adding Black members to its ranks will be more than just a Band-Aid, an effort to distract from the organization’s big problems with kickbacks and corruption. The HFPA makes most of its money and draws most of the Golden Globes’ prestige from the fact that NBC pays the group millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast the awards show. If people stop watching, or if stars decline to participate, that revenue stream — and what remains of the show’s clout — will fall apart. At present, the HFPA’s public promise to diversify its membership seems poised to mollify anyone who might be getting restless about the Globes’ place near the top of the awards show heap. But there’s no guarantee its efforts will amount to anything more than lip service. And given the HFPA’s failure to address the allegations of corruption, you have to wonder if there’s more dissent in their future. Reason 3: Without booze, why watch this show? Handout/HFPA via Getty Images Jason Sudeikis accepts his award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. The most prevalent reason to watch the Golden Globes has always boiled down to: The stars get drunk! Don’t like the lugubrious, stately snore that is the Oscars? Find the weird chaos of the Emmys overwhelming? Well, the Golden Globes are the awards show that doesn’t take itself seriously! Beautiful people get buzzed and make speeches! It’s fun to see! The Globes have always made idiosyncratic choices that often seem intended to get more and bigger stars to attend. Those idiosyncratic choices in and of themselves rarely have rhyme or reason to them, but if you land the right mix of tipsy stars and a host with a nice buzz going, you can get some pretty fun television out of the whole deal. The awards almost don’t matter. But that’s just it: The awards almost don’t matter. The Globes serve as a kind of informal kickoff to awards season. Even though other prizes are handed out well before the Globes are, those other prizes are not presented on television, which means that for many people with a casual interest in Hollywood acclaim, the Globes are where it all begins, the Iowa caucuses of awards season, if you will. And like the caucuses, the slightest of mishaps can easily expose the inherent weaknesses in the system underpinning them. The pandemic-addled 2021 awards revealed just how shaky the Globes are as an awards show to begin with. The comedic bits were particularly rough (outside of Poehler and Fey’s occasional one-liners), the speeches went on and on and on, and the show was too preoccupied with figuring out why it was even happening to just settle down and have a good time. One moment in the broadcast’s second half particularly stands out as an example of this. Jason Sudeikis, clearly surprised to have won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Series for his work on Ted Lasso and clearly feeling the wee early hours in the United Kingdom (where Ted Lasso is shooting its second season), stammered through a long acceptance speech that contained numerous false starts and never quite found its footing. Don Cheadle, nominated in the same category for Showtime’s Black Monday, made a circular motion with his finger to try to get Sudeikis to wrap it up. Sudeikis gamely played along, saying that, yes, he needed to wrap things up. But where the moment might have had some comedic zip to it in person as the two actors fed off each other, it fell flat over videoconferencing software. Rather than a potential burst of comedic inspiration, it was a desperate moment of two actors trying to save what already felt like a punishingly long ceremony from slipping even further into boredom. The Golden Globes are a hidebound institution that should probably be junked in favor of something else. It’s doubtful they could do anything bad enough to actually lose their contract with NBC or their solid viewership. But if any Golden Globes ceremony was going to risk sending the awards down the tank, it was this one. The 2021 Golden Globes were simply putrid. Maybe it’s time to come up with something new.
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