We’ve been reporting for several months on the industry gossip about growing “playola” around streaming playlists: where external curators of popular Spotify playlists ask labels for money in return for adding their tracks to those playlists. Now Spotify is preparing to crack down on the practice, although how it enforces its new rules is another question entirely.
In a Billboard report on playola, Spotify’s global head of communications and public policy Jonathan Prince says that the streaming service’s new terms and conditions will debut this month, and will bar users from selling accounts and playlists as well as “accepting any compensation, financial or otherwise, to influence… the content included on an account or playlist”. A rule that seemingly extends to giving influential playlisters gig tickets or physical merchandise, as well as money.
Billboard suggests that playlist-pitching agencies like DigMark – now a partner of Universal Music after the label recruited its founder Jay Frank to run its global streaming marketing strategy – may be able to find loopholes in Spotify’s policy by paying playlisters for “consultancy” rather than for placing specific songs in their playlists. For now, it’ll be Spotify that’s responsible for drawing the line to cover or not cover this practice too, in the absence – for now – of guidelines from advertising authorities in its key markets.
Will those guidelines come? We suspect regulators are going to be monitoring the streaming music world – and playlists in particular – more carefully. There’s a clear parallel with the world of YouTube vloggers and product placement / sponsored videos, with several having had their knuckles rapped after not making it clear enough that there was a commercial relationship.
Just this week, the UK Advertising Standards Authority’s CAP team published new guidelines for vloggers: “When it comes to vloggers (or bloggers or anyone else creating editorial content) the assumption is that any mention of a brand is an independent decision of the vlogger as the ‘publisher’,” they explain. “That’s why, if there is a commercial relationship in place, it needs to be made clear.”
As things stand on Spotify, short of putting a note in the playlist description, there is no way for playlisters to make it “clear” that certain tracks’ inclusion has been paid for. It is no surprise, then, to see the streaming service taking action before regulators get involved. But as we said, policing the new policy could be challenging.