daniel ek

You can tell if a news story or topic is rousing controversy within a company by the speed at which internal discussions leak out. So, no surprises to see a full transcript of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s speech to employees about the Joe Rogan / Neil Young row published in full by The Verge just a day later.

“There will be a lot to learn from this moment for our company and for me,” said Ek, before outlining the changes that Spotify has already announced, and defending its policies and its exclusivity deal with podcaster Rogan.

“I need to make something crystal clear, even in the face of the criticism over the last few weeks, our policies are still something we stand behind,” said Ek, reiterating that more than 20k podcast episodes have been removed by Spotify during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We can’t write new or different policies based on news cycles or calls from individuals. If that was the case, what creator would ever trust us?”

The speech is well worth a careful reading, because it sheds some new light on Spotify’s podcasting strategy: specifically the claim that a couple of years ago “our music and podcasting catalog was not that differentiated, and because of this, we were locked out of deals with some critical hardware partners like Amazon, Google, and even Tesla. They had or were working to build their own streaming services with essentially the same content, so there was really no reason for them to integrate our service.”

Ek suggested that podcast exclusives “specifically with voices like Joe Rogan’s, the Obamas’, Brené Brown, Dax Shepard, just to name a few” were key to securing those deals. The speech also outlined why Spotify believes it is not Joe Rogan’s ‘publisher’.

“We do not have creative control over Joe Rogan’s content. We don’t approve his guest in advance, and just like any other creator, we get his content when he publishes, and then we review it, and if it violates our policies, we take the appropriate enforcement actions,” said Ek.

“I think our relationship with Rogan is clearly that of a platform, but to be clear, Joe is held to the same standards, rules, and policies that every creator on our platform is held to, no matter how big or how small, no matter how much we pay for that content.”

(Something to ponder: ‘platform or publisher’ is predominantly a legal argument wielded – often inaccurately – when debating whether internet companies are liable for content that they host. We’re not sure that it’s the crux of the challenge that Spotify is facing now. For artists like Neil Young who are removing their music; for the – unknown – number of listeners who are churning to rival services; and for Spotify employees making their own views known, the protests are driven a.) by Spotify funding and promoting Rogan’s show, and b.) by their concerns that Rogan is currently not being held to the same standards, rules and policies as other podcasters in regards to Covid-19 misinformation. In other words, it’s not really a platform/publisher row, at heart.)

Ek went on to say that “there are many things that Joe Rogan says that I strongly disagree with and find very offensive” while arguing that “if you want even a shot at achieving our bold ambitions, it will mean having content on Spotify that many of us may not be proud to be associated with. Not anything goes, but there will be opinions, ideas, and beliefs that we disagree with strongly and even makes us angry or sad”. This likely will not be the last internal town-hall meeting where he will be facing these emotions, then.

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