Spotify Technology SA’s $ 100 million bet on Joe Rogan got the audio streaming company into business with one of the most popular and polarizing voices in podcasting. In the midst of controversy, leaders stand by that voice.
The deal to bring Mr. Rogan to Spotify is already showing signs of success. Its millions of loyal fans have made “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast Spotify’s # 1 show since arriving on the platform in September, “to exceed our audience expectations,” the company said when it came out on Thursday reported on his winnings. The company’s stock has risen more than 50% since the deal was announced in May.
Mr Rogan’s broadcast, which also tops the Apple podcast charts and other rankings, worried some of the company’s employees who raised concerns at a town hall meeting in September about material they felt was anti-transgender, they said persons familiar with the matter.
Recent appearances on the show by two guests – first Abigail Shrier, a writer who criticizes transgender issues; Then Alex Jones, a radio host and editor of InfoWars, whose content has been stripped from Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify, sparked outrage among listeners inside and outside the company who posted on social media to express their disagreement.
Spotify employees are encouraged to openly discuss topics as diverse as app updates and the snacks available in the office, say those familiar with the matter. With the company working remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic, many of these debates take place on Slack channels known as clubs.
A recent thread on the company’s #ethics club channel was about Mr. Rogan’s episode with Mr. Jones. Staff distributed information on how to flag content for review by Spotify’s trust and security team, according to those familiar with the matter. This team is responsible for determining if any shows or music on the platform violates company policies, with the exception of content that incites violence or hatred, and may remove content if it exceeds these limits.
According to those familiar with the matter, Mr. Rogan’s previous episodes have followed the company’s content guidelines. CEO Daniel Ek on Thursday reiterated his desire to make Spotify the “largest audio platform in the world” – and that goal is to take into account different voices and different opinions as the company looks to benchmark podcasting.
Mr Ek said that applying the rules consistently was his priority.
“The most important thing for us is a very clear policy,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “It doesn’t matter if you are Joe Rogan or someone else. We apply these guidelines and they must be applied equally. ”
Mr. Rogan’s show will appear exclusively on Spotify later this year. The exact length of his multi-year contract has not been published. Spotify has spent more than $ 500 million in the past two years acquiring podcasting companies, including Gimlet Media and Bill Simmons Ringer, to establish themselves as a news, sports, and storytelling publisher.
The deal with Mr. Rogan, a comedian and former mixed martial arts commentator, who said his show had 190 million monthly downloads last year, puts Stockholm-based Spotify in more nervous territory. The response to his arrival suggests that listeners and employees are increasingly trying to blame the company for the content it is hosting, much like the tech companies in Silicon Valley.
Prior to joining Spotify, Mr. Rogan smoked marijuana on his podcast with Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc. The podcast hosted Mr. Jones several times, whose own podcast was removed from Spotify and other platforms in 2018 for hate speech after Mr. Jones said the 2012 shooting in which 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, were killed., Was staged.
Mr. Rogan retains full creative control over his licensing agreement with Spotify, he said, even though his show is subject to the company’s guidelines on content guidelines.
At one point in September, amid dissatisfaction with the episode with Ms. Shrier, some Spotify employees asked for editorial monitoring of Mr. Rogan’s podcast, according to those familiar with the matter. The company declined the request and stood with Mr. Rogan, who later retweeted an internet comedian’s video and ridiculed the staff as being overly sensitive.
Following the appearances of Mr. Jones and Ms. Shrier as “Joe Rogan”, Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s legal director, sent a message to managers this week asking them to encourage affected employees to report content that they thought after violating company rules. The email was previously reported by BuzzFeed.
“It’s important that you don’t just flag up content just because you’ve read something online. It’s all too common that things are taken out of context, ”he said in the email that also suggested discussion points for managers about Spotify as a place for creative expression and different voices.
Some employees reported this week’s “Joe Rogan Experience” with Mr. Jones to company moderators, highlighting his comments that masks did not help stop the transmission of the new coronavirus and that the polio vaccine was causing people got sick. Spotify has determined that the podcast complies with its guidelines.
Mr Rogan’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment. In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Mr. Rogan said he “actually checked out every single crazy thing he said,” referring to Mr. Jones. “He said a lot of crazy but specific things, and I’ve been saying that about him for years. ”
Some on Spotify told the Wall Street Journal that Mr. Rogan apparently reined in Mr. Jones during Tuesday’s show, distracting him from topics like QAnon conspiracy theories, a possible sign that the podcaster is keeping an eye on the company’s content rules. Mr Rogan also apologized in September for sharing misinformation on a podcast episode in which he said “leftist” people were arrested for setting fire in Portland, Ore.
“I was very irresponsible for not looking into this before repeating it,” Rogan said in an Instagram post, vowing not to let it happen again.
Other Spotify employees say they understand that controversy is part of Mr. Rogan’s appeal, and that he has made podcasting a bigger force in culture.
“He is by far the greatest voice that will accelerate our business,” said one employee familiar with the matter. “Getting it on Spotify – and soon to be exclusive – will help bring a lot more audience to the platform, and hopefully we can roll that over to other programs.”
Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the journal, has a content partnership with Spotify’s Gimlet division.
Write to Anne Steele at [email protected]
(ENDE) Dow Jones Newswires
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