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

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek spoke to employees about the Joe Rogan controversy in a 15-minute speech yesterday, including The edge got the audio, defending the company’s choice to work with Rogan, explaining its reasoning, and defining why it believes Spotify is a combination of a platform and a publisher. Employees had been skeptically awaiting the discussion at the company’s regular general meeting for nearly a week: Since things had escalated with Joe Rogan, the company’s star exclusive podcaster, employees had fanned themselves inside the company’s messaging system and were waiting for a response from management as to why he chose The Joe Rogan Experience on Neil Young, setting off a domino effect of other musicians and podcasters pulling content from the service.

Join Ek in person at the company’s new headquarters in Los Angeles, dubbed “Pod Citywere: Dustee Jenkins, Spotify’s Head of Global Communications and Public Relations; Dawn Ostroff, Content and Advertising Manager; Gustav Söderström, R&D director; and Paul Vogel, Chief Financial Officer.

The event had been a long time coming, given the amount of conversations going on internally. Employees shared in a thread last week that friends and family had asked them about why Spotify had backed a podcaster who continued to spread misinformation about COVID and attract controversial guests, while the wider backlash made them feel embarrassed to work at the company, according to two sources.

“Everyone is a little pissed off, especially those whose initiatives directly contradict what’s going on,” said a current employee who asked to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize his work. “People are getting more and more frustrated that no matter what the company says in terms of messaging, or what people take initiatives, it all leads to ‘What’s best? for Joe Rogan and the Joe Rogan audience?'”

This person notes that people who try to showcase other podcasting talent or showcase various creators for Black History Month have had their initiatives sidelined while Rogan captured the company’s attention. .

The only message employees had received from management was on Friday, two days after Young released his music about the misinformation he says Rogan has been spreading, along with a full media cycle, with speculation about who might follow. in its wake. In this message, which The edge seen, Jenkins shared the company’s moderation policies and said she hadn’t acted quickly enough to make them public.

So, at the time of the town hall, the employees hoped that they could come away with more clarity or understanding of the situation. Ek instead offered an impassioned pitch as to why Rogan is essential to Spotify’s well-being. Although Rogan’s show was never available on Spotify before his deal, the program was the most searched podcast on the platform, he says, and when the company decided to enter the industry. podcasting, its catalog was “not so differentiated” from competitors. It had trouble closing deals with “critical hardware partners like Amazon, Google, and even Tesla,” given that they were building “similar streaming services with essentially the same content.”

“To combat that, we had to find leverage, and one way to do that was in the form of exclusives,” he says. “To be frank, if we hadn’t made some of the choices we made, I’m confident our business wouldn’t be where it is today.” He says the company now operates the number one podcast app in the United States.

Ek reframed the conversation, both in his speech and external press release Sunday, around the idea that Spotify is a platform – a pure distribution technology that various audio creators can use without input from Spotify on what they share. He explained why he doesn’t consider Spotify a publisher of JRE, meaning he would take editorial responsibility for what Rogan and his guests say. “I understand the premise that because we have an exclusive agreement with him, it’s really easy to conclude that we endorse every word he says and believe the opinions expressed by his guests. That is absolutely not the case. Spotify doesn’t “fit neatly into one category,” Ek says. the rules of the road are written as we innovate.

“An editor has editorial control over a creator’s content — they can act on the content before it’s even published,” he says, such as editing episodes, removing guests, or preventing publication at all. Ek noted that Spotify has editorial control over properties it owns, like The Ringer and Gimlet, but pointed to the distinction between those studios and Rogan. “Although JRE is exclusive, it is licensed content. It’s important to note that we have no creative control over Joe Rogan’s content. We don’t pre-approve their guests, and like any other creator, we get their content when they post, then we review it, and if they violate our policies, we take appropriate enforcement action.

Notably, Ek did not defend Rogan’s views. “There are a lot of things Joe Rogan says that I strongly disagree with and find very offensive,” he said.

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

During a question-and-answer session, employees pushed back against Ek’s position. They questioned whether the platform’s rules were strict enough, whether the company’s latest actions had sufficiently addressed the concerns of the scientific community, and how employees work to advance diversity within the company. could reckon with some comments from Rogan, like his. questioning black identity. Ek replied with the same message he used earlier, but added that “exclusivity doesn’t equal approval” and said the solution to this problem could be to sign more exclusives: “The real thing here is trying to go for an even broader set of exclusives that represent even more voices.

“If we even want a chance to realize our audacious ambitions, that will mean having content on Spotify that many of us may not be proud to be associated with,” he says. “Nothing is right, but there will be opinions, ideas and beliefs that we don’t agree with and that will even make us angry or sad.”

For some employees, however, feelings for Ek and the team rang hollow. Throughout the town hall, they sent messages internally, according to screenshots seen by The edge, expressing his disappointment at the choice made by Spotify not only to sign Rogan but also to defend him. They asked how the company sees itself as a platform while actively promoting JRE and including his logo on the cover and how what some consider an ethical issue is put into purely commercial terms.

Ek stuck to the message, however, ending his speech with a word of encouragement to employees: Consider the company’s mission.

“So I think at the end of the day it really comes down to two things. First, do we believe in our mission: 50 million creators and 1 billion users? And finally, are we prepared to consistently apply our policies to even the loudest and most popular voices on the platform? And I tell you, I believe both.

We’ve contacted Spotify for additional comment.

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

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