Spotify CEO Daniel Ek defends Joe Rogan deal in tense town hall

Tech

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek addressed employees yesterday about the controversy over Joe Rogan in a 15-minute speech, which included: The edge obtained audio, defended the company’s choice to partner with Rogan, explained the rationale and defined why he believes Spotify is a combination of a platform and a publisher. Employees had been skeptical about the discussion at the company’s regular town hall meeting for nearly a week: Ever since things escalated with the company’s exclusive podcaster Joe Rogan, employees had been venting into the company’s messaging system and waiting for a response. response from management as to why it chose The Joe Rogan Experience about Neil Young, creating a knock-on effect as other musicians and podcasters pull content from the service.

Joining Ek in person at the company’s new Los Angeles headquarters, dubbed “Pod City,” were: Dustee Jenkins, Spotify’s head of global communications and public relations; Dawn Ostroff, director of content and advertising; Gustav Söderström, Chief R&D Officer; and Paul Vogel, CFO.

The event was long in coming, given the amount of internal calls. Employees shared in an ongoing thread last week that their friends and family came to them with questions about why Spotify supported a podcaster who continued to spread misinformation about COVID and bring in controversial guests, while the wider response left them embarrassed to work at the company , according to two sources.

“Everyone is a little upset, especially the people whose initiatives directly contradict what’s happening,” said one current employee who wishes to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize their jobs. “People are feeling more and more frustrated that whatever the company says in terms of messaging, or whatever people’s initiatives are, it’s all sort of a ladder to, ‘What’s best for Joe Rogan and Joe Rogan’s audience?’ “

This person notes that people trying to showcase other podcasting talent or showcase various creators for Black History Month have seen their initiatives sidelined as Rogan caught the attention of the company.

The only message employees had received from the lead was on Friday, two days after Young pulled his music about the misinformation Rogan said he was spreading, as well as an entire media cycle, complete with speculation about who might follow in his wake. In that message, that The edge viewed, Jenkins shared the company’s moderation policies, saying it wasn’t moving fast enough to make them public.

So when it came time for the town hall, the employees hoped they would come up with more clarity or understanding of the situation. Ek instead offered a passionate pitch for why Rogan is critical to Spotify’s well-being. Despite Rogan’s show never being available on Spotify prior to the deal, the program was the most searched-for podcast on the platform, he says, and when the company decided to enter the podcasting industry, its catalog was “not that differentiated” from It struggled to negotiate deals with “critical hardware partners like Amazon, Google and even Tesla” as they built “similar streaming services with essentially the same content.”

“To combat this, we had to find leverage, and one way we could do this was in the form of exclusive offers,” he says. “To be honest, if we hadn’t made some of the choices we’ve made, I’m convinced our business wouldn’t be where it is today.” He says the company now has the number one podcast app in the US.

Ek reframed the conversation, both in his speech and in Sunday’s external press release, around the idea that Spotify is a platform – pure distribution technology that different audio creators can use without any input from Spotify about what they share. He explained why he doesn’t consider Spotify to be a publisher of JRE, meaning it would take editorial responsibility for what Rogan and his guests say. “I understand the premise that because we have an exclusive deal with him, it’s very easy to conclude that we endorse every word he says and believe the opinions of his guests. That is absolutely not the case,” he said. Spotify doesn’t fit “neatly into just one category,” says Ek. “We are defining a whole new space of technology and media. We are a very different kind of company, and the traffic rules are written as we innovate.”

“A publisher has editorial control over a creator’s content — they can take action on the content before it’s even published,” he says, such as editing episodes, removing guests, or preventing anyone from publishing it. Ek noted that Spotify has editorial control over the properties it wholly owns, such as The Ringer and Gimlet, but emphasized the distinction between those studios and Rogan. “Even JRE is an exclusive, it is licensed content. It is important to note that we have no creative control over Joe Rogan’s content. We don’t pre-approve its guests, and like any creator, we get its content when it publishes, and then we review it, and if it violates our policies, we take appropriate enforcement action.”

In particular, Ek did not defend Rogan’s views. “There are a lot of things that Joe Rogan is saying that I absolutely disagree with and that I find very offensive,” he said.

He adds that there are a “number” JRE episodes that Spotify has removed for violating the platform’s rules. (It’s unclear which episodes Ek is referring to, but fans noticed some were missing when Rogan switched to the platform in September 2020, and Rogan acknowledged their removal last March.)

During a question-and-answer session, employees pushed back Ek’s position. They questioned whether the platform rules are strict enough, whether the company’s latest actions have done enough to allay the concerns of the scientific community, and how employees’ work to promote diversity within the company might take into account some Rogan comments, such as his questioning black identity. Ek responded with the same posts he used before, but added that “exclusiveness doesn’t equate to approval” and said the solution to this problem could potentially be more exclusive contracts: “The real thing here is to try and go for an even wider range of exclusive offers that represent even more voices.”

“Having even a chance to fulfill our bold ambitions means having content on Spotify that many of us may not be proud to be associated with,” he says. “Nothing is allowed, but there will be opinions, ideas and beliefs that we strongly disagree with and that even make us angry or sad.”

However, to some employees, Ek and the team’s feelings sounded hollow. They posted internally throughout town hall, according to screenshots viewed by The edge, expressing his disappointment at Spotify’s choice not only to sign Rogan, but to defend him. They wondered how the company sees itself as a platform while still actively promoting JRE and including the logo on the album cover and how what some consider to be an ethical issue is expressed in pure business terms.

However, Ek stuck with the message and ended his speech with an encouraging word to the employees: remember the company mission.

“So I think ultimately this comes down to two things. First, do we believe in our mission: 50 million creators and 1 billion users? And finally, are we willing to consistently enforce our policies even for the loudest and most popular voices on the platform? And I tell you, I believe both.”

We’ve reached out to Spotify for additional comment.

You can read a full transcript of CEO Daniel Ek’s speech below:

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