With Joe Rogan Experience under its belt, Spotify is aggressively building its podcast empire

Last week, a mail from the channel ‘JRE Clips‘ made it to my inbox.

It was Joe Rogan announcing that his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE), would be moving to Spotify exclusively from 1 September.

The podcast is currently not available on Spotify. All JRE episodes, both the podcast and the videos associated with them, would be moving to Spotify from 1 September (while also being available on other podcasting platforms). But after 2020, everything will be exclusively available on Spotify. While the podcast will be free, you will have to log on to Spotify to listen to it.

The Wall Street Journal puts the deal price at $100 mn.

Who is Joe Rogan?

Joe Rogan, for the uninitiated, is a former TV-show host (Fear Factor on AXN India anyone?), MMA commentator, stand up comedian and a popular podcaster. He is a controversial figure as he interviews a range of people on his podcasts, across the left and right. He has also been accused of making sexist, racist and transphobic comments in his podcast. Some even call him an enabler of fringe voices who aren’t challenged enough about their ideas.

On the other hand, he has interviewed some influential names such as Elon Musk, Bernie Sanders, Edward Snowden, Richard Dawkins, Anthony Bourdain, Ed Norton and many more. And here’s the thing: the interviews on JRE aren’t short. The first interview with Elon Musk, yes THAT interview where Musk smoked a blunt and saw Tesla’s share prices fall, went on for over 2.5 hours. That’s pretty much the standard fare on JRE. And it’s great to listen to domain experts speaking without time limitations, something you rarely get to see otherwise.

Bottom line: Whether or not you like JRE, it is an influential podcast. Don’t take my word for it, look up the most popular or featured podcast on any podcast aggregator and you’re bound to find JRE in the list.

Why is Spotify buying JRE a big deal?

Spotify has been on a shopping spree when it comes to its podcasting arm from last year onwards.

Here are some of its podcasting-related acquisitions:

  • Podcast network Gimlet Media acquired for $195 mn
  • Podcast creation app Anchor acquired for $154 mn
  • Podcast network Parcast acquired for $55 mn
  • Podcast network The Ringer acquired for $196 mn

So far, it hadn’t signed an exclusivity deal with any individual podcaster. With the $100 mn deal with JRE, that could lead the way for others.

Spotify acquiring JRE is huge because it is getting a dedicated base of the JRE listeners over to their service along with an 11-year archive of podcasts. Yes, the podcast will be free to access, but JRE has as much as 190 million downloads a month and the PowerfulJRE YouTube channel is almost touching 8.5 mn subscribers. That’s a huge chunk of listeners to get from one podcast. Translation: More time spent on Spotify which means more ads to serve to listeners.

According to Tom Gray, the director of royalties, music copyright and licensing society, PRS for Music:

Joe Rogan just got paid the equivalent value of over 26 billion streams for a podcast license

First and foremost, Spotify is a music streaming service. The push towards making it a platform for podcasts has been on the rise from 2019. In a way, it makes sense. Every time you stream a song on Spotify, the company has to pay the artist some tiny amount. With a podcast or a podcast network under its wings, while the one-time upfront payment may seem high, it will pay off in the long run.

For free Spotify listeners, there will be ads. But even if you are a Spotify Premium user, there are in-podcast ads and Spotify is sure to get a cut. Just to give the example of JRE, the podcast begins with at least 5 mins of just shoutouts to the show’s sponsors. Now, do the math per 1000 listens for a podcast that has an estimated 190 million downloads per month.

The Joe Rogan Experience podcast is live on Spotify but for now only has the announcement of the deal

Applying its music recommendation algorithms to podcast recommendations also gives Spotify a chance to run its Streaming Ad Insertion tech, which lets Spotify play ads as podcasts are being streamed. It also gives podcast advertisers more insight on who listens to their ads. If it wasn’t obvious yet, you’ve to forget data privacy on Spotify. Given the range of topics covered in the JRE archive, it gives Spotify enough content to capitalise on their ad insertion tech.

While the YouTube stream of the podcast will cease once JRE moves to Spotify, it would be counter-productive to remove JRE Clipschannel, which is bits and pieces from the larger podcast. It’s a great touchpoint for YouTube audience to get on to the podcast.

Podcasting enthusiasts are divided over the move

Opinions are divided among the podcast enthusiasts.

While some claim that Joe Rogan will eventually have to let go of his creative freedom and toe Spotify’s line when it comes to business decisions, others are not liking this creation of a walled garden around podcasts.

Then again, there are some who feel Rogan moving to Spotify to make a statement against YouTube’s censorship measures, whereas others fear Rogan may have to censor his content on Spotify.

All said and done, it’s an interesting development in the podcasting industry. Spotify diversifying into podcasts is encouraging for the industry as a whole. But will these exclusive podcast deals be a trend going forward? Is this really the start of the “Netflix of podcasting“? What do you think?

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