Spotify’s global head of original content, Matt Baxter, has compared the company to a “rambunctious teenager” as it carves out a place in the online video market, as well as streaming music.
“Spotify is a rambunctious teenager who’s getting ready for college right now. Kinda set in his ways but also hoping for new experiences,” he said, on the company’s “pivot” into becoming an entertainment provider for video as well as music.
“This is a big bet for the company across the entire company. They realise that original content is a way to create a better value proposition for our users,” said Baxter.
“Original content’s such a big bet corporate-wide, that a lot of people are interested, a lot of people are open, and a lot of people understand internally that there will be bumps along the way, just as there will be bumps when you take your teenager off to college.”
Perhaps more pointedly, Baxter also outlined the role Spotify wants to play for its audience with shortform videos – and more generally with music too.
“Our mission at Spotify with the original content initiative is to look at the deep data we have on our audience base, and start to program that with deep diversity of content,” he said. “We’re not just a utility, we’re part of the ritualised experience of their life.”
Why is that pointed? Because Apple’s Jimmy Iovine has spent the summer describing Apple Music rivals – Spotify included – as “utilities” in comparison to his company’s curation-focused service.
“A lot of these companies were built as utilities,” he told the Guardian in June. “Music deserves elegance and the distribution right now is not great. It’s all over the place and there are a bunch of utilities,” he told the Evening Standard in August – “If I did a shot every time Iovine said ‘utilities’ I’d have been carried from the room,” noted its journalist.
It’s hard not to see “We’re not just a utility” as anything other than a public rebuttal, and it will be interesting to see if other Spotify executives deliver the message in the months ahead in interviews and conference speeches.
(We can’t help wondering if “rambunctious teenager” was partly a reference to recent comments by Beats 1 DJ Zane Lowe, who described Apple Music’s radio station as a baby – “They look at the world all wide-eyed and they shit everywhere, that’s kind of what Beats 1 is”.)
In his MIPCOM appearance, Baxter talked about what he’d learned at his previous job – BuzzFeed – that applies to his work on video at Spotify.
“The biggest thing that I learned is just that making sure you create content that’s applicable for the platform, and I think that’s what we’re doing now for Spotify. In the industry you have a lot of people coming from the traditional TV world and trying to create content with a traditional three-act structure and designed for a lean-back experience,” he said.
Baxter talked about the difference between platforms. “On YouTube it’s typically more about information and cute cats, whereas on Facebook it’s about content that identifies with your specific experience… so it’s taking the lessons of the specific touchpoint and creating content based on that touchpoint,” he said.
“Video and podcasting is fairly new within the service, so while we have an audience of 75m+ people that uses the service for upwards of three hours, it’s still a new experience to consume video content and even podcasts within the service… we have to experiment with content that’s going to work within our content and ecosystem.”
Spotify is experimenting with different models, from making its own original videos to licensing in content from multi-channel networks and other producers. “In the next few 3-6 months we have to experiment with a bunch of different things… It’s got to have that core DNA of music, but we also want to experiment with other genres and formats,” he said.
“We’ve got some relationships in place where we are licensing some content from publishers but we are also working on original stuff… We’re actively working on different strategies for windowing, for IP ownership and for licensing.”