The Joe Rogan scenario at Spotify is becoming increasingly perplexing.
The company’s approach of its star podcaster has changed as the problem has progressed. It claims to be a hands-off platform that rewards all artists equally one day. The next day, it confesses to conducting behind-the-scenes talks with Rogan and removing episodes due to backlash about the show’s vulgarity. The snafu shatters Spotify’s narrative about how it communicates with Rogan and other podcasters, and it provides a glimpse into Rogan’s delicate relationship with the corporation that relies on him to differentiate itself. Let’s look at where things aren’t falling into place.
Despite paying Rogan an estimated $100 million to distribute his program, Spotify has stated several times that it is only a platform for podcasts. Since Neil Young and other musicians removed their music off Spotify over two weeks ago over their conviction that Rogan and his guests disseminated COVID-19 falsehoods, it’s been a continual theme that Spotify wants to think Rogan is an audio producer like any other.
Spotify replied to the uproar by stating that it will only take moderation steps against content that broke its standards, which were not made public until The Verge first reported on them, and which Spotify eventually released.
According to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, who addressed the topic directly in an internal town hall last week, the fact that the company paid $100 million to exclusively distribute The Joe Rogan Experience should not change anything:
In statements acquired by The Verge, Ek stated, “Even though JRE is an exclusive, it is licensed material.” “It’s vital to emphasize that Joe Rogan’s content is not under our creative control. We don’t pre-approve his guests, and we get his content as he publishes, just like any other creator. We examine it, and if it violates our policy, we take appropriate enforcement action.”
Ek also made it apparent that Rogan was crucial to Spotify’s growth, reminding staff that the Spotify portfolio was undifferentiated from competitors’ and that signing exclusives like Rogan offered the business negotiating leverage with Amazon, Google, and Tesla. He said that signing Rogan aided Spotify in becoming the most popular podcasting app in the United States.
Spotify’s position appeared to be obvious at this point: Rogan was vital to Spotify’s success, and he would be free to say whatever he wanted as long as it complied with Spotify’s moderation standards. Spotify’s head of global communications and public relations, Dustee Jenkins, assured Spotify staff that Rogan would be treated the same as any other creative under the rules: “We apply our regulations uniformly and objectively,” she said in a message to reporters.
On the company’s earnings conference on February 3rd, Ek stated emphatically that the rules were the rules, and that Spotify would not “change our policy based on one creative, nor do we modify it based on any media cycle or requests from anybody else.”
Then there was the next Joe Rogan media cycle.
Over Rogan’s frequent use of the n-word on his show, musician India Arie removed her music off the platform last week and uploaded a viral video montage of Rogan using the racist slur on his program – a montage that had originally been produced in January of 2020. Spotify moved in fast, in sharp contrast to how it handled Young and Joni Mitchell opposing COVID disinformation.
None of these categories appear to apply to Rogan’s usage of the n-word. According to Spotify’s own declarations regarding how it enforces its policies, the episodes that include that language should continue to be available, as they have been for over a year. They also shouldn’t be taken down due to a “media cycle.”
However, episodes of JRE began to vanish on Friday, joining previously erased episodes. According to JREMissing.com, Spotify has already erased over 100 episodes.
According to an internal document obtained by The Verge, this occurred after Ek and his staff discussed eliminating episodes with Rogan. Even while he participates in content-shaping activity, Ek reiterates his belief that Spotify is a neutral platform.
According to Ek, Spotify personnel spoke with Rogan about “some of the content in his program, including his history of using some racially offensive language,” and Rogan “chose to remove a number of episodes from Spotify” as a result of these conversations “and his own observations.”
So, following a public relations issue, Spotify contacted Rogan and persuaded him to agree to remove episodes of his program from the site. In addition, according to Ek’s message, the firm would now devote $100 million to licensing and promoting content created by artists from historically excluded areas, a move that the corporation has not publicly disclosed but obviously wants credit for.
Former guests on Rogan’s program are also furious, citing Spotify as an example of larger conspiracy theories about government control, cancel culture, and other topics. Tim Dillon, Whitney Cummings, Lex Fridman, and others have subsequently tweeted, as have Michael Malice and Kyle Kulinski.
Spotify wants it both ways: to be seen as a platform for COVID falsehoods, but to be credited for being a proactive and responsible player in the fight against racist rhetoric. As a result, there are muddled behaviors, muddled messaging, and muddled creators.
If you have any insight into what’s going on behind the scenes at Spotify or have any opinions to contribute, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, where you can DM for my Signal.