Spotify podcast deal could make Joe Rogan world's highest paid broadcaster

Streaming service must convince podcast listeners to switch from their favourite app

Joe Rogan, the comedian, MMA commentator and podcaster, may seem an unlikely prospect for becoming the world’s highest paid broadcaster. But after signing an exclusive deal with Spotify, that is what he may have become, marking a new era for podcasting in the process.

To much of the world, Rogan’s name is most associated with the periodic furores that erupt from the marathon interviews around which his podcast is structured.

Elon Musk smoking weed during a 2018 interview brought a lot of heat, for instance, as did Bernie Sanders appearing on the show in the midst of his presidential campaign, less than six months after conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was brought on for his second sit-down in as many years.

But Rogan’s affably bro-ish demeanour, combined with his sponge-like interview style, has garnered him millions of fans over the thousand-plus episodes of his show, The Joe Rogan Experience. And that has made him a linchpin in Spotify’s plans to transform the world of podcasting.

Rogan announced the deal on 19 May, revealing his show would debut on Spotify in September, and become exclusive to the platform some point after that. Terms were not disclosed, but one calculation from 2019 pegged Rogan’s revenue from podcast adverts alone between $50m (£41m) and $250m, with more coming from YouTube, where his shows get a million views in their first 24 hours. Add a premium for exclusivity on top and, says podcaster John Gruber, “it seems likely that Joe Rogan is now the highest paid broadcaster in the world”.

The Joe Rogan Experience is the second significant acquisition by Spotify for its growing podcast business, after the company bought US sports broadcaster The Ringer outright for nearly $200m in February.

Both deals, as well as smaller forays into exclusive content around topics such as gaming, true crime, and relationship advice, lie at the heart of the Swedish streaming service’s attempts to transform podcasting from an industry built around a mishmash of open standards and traditional advertising into a platform economy – with Spotify at the centre.

By requiring Rogan’s listeners to use the Spotify app to tune in, the company gains far deeper data about who, when and where their audiences are; that, in turn, can be fed through to advertisers, who are more likely to pay higher rates if they can be assured that the target audience is listening. Control of the player also allows Spotify to vary the advertising to the audience, again increasing revenue.

The benefits are familiar web economics, and many see the transformation Spotify has in mind as mirroring the changes to the wider web that unfurled over the 2010s. “Podcasting feels like the web prior to the roll-up of power by Google and Facebook, with a lot of new voices, some very successful and most marginal, but quite authentic,” said Matt Stoller, author of Goliath, a history of monopolies.

“Once Spotify has gatekeeping power over distribution and a large ad targeting business, it will also be able to control who can monetise podcasts, because advertisers will increasingly just want to hit specific audience members, as opposed to advertise on specific shows.”

But Spotify has competition. Apple – long the corporate leader in podcasting through its control of the Apple Podcast Directory and still the largest global platform for connecting listeners with broadcasters – has started acquiring original podcasts for itself for the first time, according to Bloomberg News. The two companies, in direct competition over music streaming, could be going head-to-head in a second field.

Until then, Spotify’s bigger problem is convincing podcast listeners to switch from their favourite app to the service’s own – which may not have access to all the shows available in the open ecosystem. The company is not the first to try, and others, such as Stitcher and Luminary, have struggled to justify themselves to listeners. But Spotify has one big advantage: its app, already used by more than 250 million people a month, could serve to introduce podcasts to a whole new group of listeners.


Alex Hern

The GuardianTramp

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