Joe Rogan Spotify deal should be a warning to the industry

By Seamus Byrne in Media News on

Yesterday's announcement landed like a shockwave in the podcasting world.

Reports put the Joe Rogan Experience podcast at around 190 million downloads per month. It's an absolute juggernaut in the business. The deal is also suggested to be in the order of US$100M. And, until now, it's been posted as both a podcast and a YouTube show.

With today's news – let's be very clear – Joe Rogan's show stops being a podcast. Once it goes exclusive, it becomes a show that is exclusively available on Spotify.
Why does this matter? Why is it relevant to local audiences and marketers?
Podcasts are based on a simple, open RSS distribution system. Apple has offered a near canonical directory of shows since the earliest days of the format – but it doesn't host shows itself, just a listing of those RSS feeds.
For any one show, an exclusive deal is no big deal. But as the exclusives pile up, we once again head down the road of dealing with yet another monopolistic player with a tight control over an audience – and, ultimately, another media access problem.
While we're in the thick of a debate over Google and Facebook's monopolistic behaviours in news media and how users discover and access content, Spotify is showing its own hand. It purchased Gimlet Media and The Ringer, but kept them open access. Now it reveals it wants exclusive shows that force users onto its platform and to start using it as a unified place to listen to all their audio.
Aggregation starts out really great for everybody involved. It *is* easier if my podcasts are right there alongside my music. It *is* nice for anyone to get compensated well for their creative efforts.
But Spotify’s track record on paying artists sits on the ‘we do what is legally required’ end of the spectrum, but is very much in the domain of digital cents to the niche fans and big dollars to those at the pointiest end of the scale.
Even if a band has a bunch of super fans only playing their songs for months on end, that individual’s $15/month (or whatever fee they pay as a subscriber) goes into a pool of money that gets distributed in aggregate, ensuring that the band they love still gets just the tiniest portion of the money they put into the pot.
Not only that, for the free users of Spotify, they are then bombarded with ads throughout podcast episodes they wouldn’t normally have to listen to if they were watching on YouTube or listening via another podcast hosting service.
Apple has maintained an open directory of podcasts that's easy to add a show to, and while every other podcast app makes it easy to add any arbitrary RSS feed (and in the process allow for member-only podcasts to exist), if Spotify becomes the dominant podcast platform those same Google and Facebook monopoly issues appear again.
Once again, scale becomes the driving force. Local and niche struggles to get that mega scale that drives the ad dollars, and alternative monetisation dries up if you can’t easily carve out your own direct audience relationships.
There are new models emerging in podcasting right now. Shows that can run as ‘member only’ feeds, where you get a private RSS feed that stays active as long as your subscription does, and the feed can be imported into any podcast app with just a couple of taps.
For now, we’re lucky the ‘canonical’ directory of podcasts lives at Apple. It has happily played custodian to the podcast landscape, erring on the side of disinterest rather than showing any sign of acting as a controlling force. Without that relatively-open-yet-centralised directory the entire ecosystem of podcast apps would struggle as it would ask too much of the user.
Podcasts are a bastion of diversity of access points and ease of distribution. They do harken back to an older part of the web. That also means podcast discovery is also still a pain in the butt – I work hard every day to find new ways to find new ears for my own network of Byteside shows. Audio search is still a technical dilemma.
Closed systems, centralised access and walled gardens lead to more gatekeepers and less diversity. And, as we've seen in wider news, it hurts the local and the niche more than the global and the populist.
We haven’t even touched on the video side of the discussion. Maybe this whole thing turns out the other way around, and Rogan gives Spotify the chance to break the YouTube monopoly on video. Somehow a magical balance of competing services that keeps everyone in check nevers seems to be the outcome.

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The ACE Radio Network has officially reactivated Victoria regional station 3MP.

The network stated that the new 3MP will be an Easy Music station catering to the Mornington Peninsula over 1377AM. It will also be available on Melbourne DAB+, iHeartRadio, and CRA’s RadioApp. 

SEN granted ACE Radio the licence. 

Launching out of Frankston in July 1976, the original station, 3MP Classic Hits, was changed when the Pacific Star Network rebranded it as Classic Rock Radio in 2016.

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Follow Hamilton on LinkedIn.

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