By backpedalling its exclusive strategy, Spotify puts its content to the test
Photo: Richard Balog
Since Spotify began its audio investments in 2019, it has spearheaded the exclusive podcast strategy to attract users to the platform. Now, Spotify is giving some of its Gimlet shows, such as Science Vs., a wider release on other podcast platforms. Spotify’s audio cutbacks in October specifically hit Gimlet with staff layoffs and eleven show cancellations. Some of Gimlet’s staff members even cited exclusivity as one of the main reasons for their struggling shows. As Spotify opens up its doors, it puts its content to the test.
Exclusivity closes doors and opens windows
MIDiA has previously discussed the double-edged sword of exclusivity. On Spotify, exclusivity for already established, celebrity-hosted shows, like Joe Rogan’s The Joe Rogan Experience and Alex Cooper’s Call Her Daddy, has helped bring audiences to the platform. However, for shows without celebrity appeal and built-in audiences, limiting listeners to one platform essentially cuts the show's potential to grow, not to mention limiting advertising opportunities. Bringing an established audience to a different platform is easier than developing a new audience from only one platform. By utilising a windowing podcast strategy, Spotify can experiment with both an exclusive and wider release. Many of Spotify’s competitors use an open podcast market to grow their content (meaning they do not have exclusives), including YouTube.
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Spotify versus YouTube
As Spotify built its audio vertical from the ground up, it needed exclusivity to inspire listeners to migrate their podcast listening from other platforms. Now that Spotify has an established podcast audience and is the second most-used platform for accessing podcasts (41%), it does not have to rely on exclusivity, and it can shift focus to the opposite approach: expanding their content on other platforms. On the other hand, YouTube did not need exclusive content to drive listenership, because the platform already had a podcast audience before launching its official podcast vertical. As YouTube (49%) is the top podcast platform, Spotify must find new ways to compete in the open podcast market (MIDiA Research Q4 22). YouTube has many inherent advantages in the podcast market, including its massive global audience, contribution to the rise of podcast videos and its discoverability features – which Spotify’s shows can now benefit from.
Spotify’s podcasts will face real competition
Podcast rankings are inconclusive because of exclusive podcasts. While Spotify’s hit shows, like Megan Markle’s Archetypes and Batman Unburied, dominated Spotify’s top podcast charts, it does not mean they would have the same success on other platforms. Thus, a true number one podcast — across all platforms — has not yet existed in this new podcast market. By introducing these shows in a wider market, Spotify can see how their content fares among other top podcast networks and platforms. This will encourage Spotify to experiment with new podcast promotion and audience development strategies. The market needs its next Serial moment — a podcast with mainstream popularity that unites listeners across all platforms. As the podcast market becomes more open, perhaps Spotify will become the first to achieve it.