Since she was tapped as Spotify's chief content officer about a year ago, Dawn Ostroff has been charged with building an arsenal of podcasts to catapult the Swedish business to become a leader not just in music but also audio storytelling. Under her watch, the number of podcasts available on Spotify has grown to more than 450,000 titles, up from 185,000 in February.
The company, with offices in New York and Los Angeles, has earmarked up to US$500mil (RM2.08bil) this year to buy podcast-related businesses, and already Ostroff has snapped up podcast studios including New York-based Gimlet Media and L.A.-based Parcast to create exclusive content for Spotify. Next year, Ostroff says the plan is to have "hundreds and hundreds" of new original podcast series in production or available on the platform.
"Becoming the most listened to audio network means that we needed to expand from just being a music platform to incorporating other types of audio, entertainment and information on the platform," Ostroff said in an interview from Sweden. "Podcasts have started to really take off."
Spotify has 232 million monthly active users and nearly half are subscribers with regular subscriptions at US$9.99 (RM41.64) a month. Already, tens of millions of people listen to podcasts on Spotify, the company said.
Popular podcasts include Spotify exclusives such as the music and pop culture series The Joe Budden Podcast and German-language comedy show Fest & Flauschig, as well as other series that are not exclusive to Spotify, such as the true-crime comedy show My Favorite Murder.
Why the push? Ostroff believes podcasts can attract new listeners and increase the amount of time people spend on the platform. Audio stories can be accessed on multiple devices while consumers are multitasking.
"There is a dramatic expansion in the amount of time where you're capable of ingesting audio," said media and tech analyst Rich Greenfield. "If you're Spotify, why would you want to limit yourself just to music?"
Podcasts are especially popular with millennials, people ages 25 to 34, with one-third of the podcast listeners in that age group consuming at least five podcasts a week, according to research from Adobe Analytics. Spotify expects that eventually roughly 20% of listening on its platform will be non-music.
"My motto has always been to follow young people and understand why they are going in a certain direction," said Ostroff, 59, who is based in New York City and oversees a team of about 1,000 people.
But Spotify has significant competition from Apple, which has offered podcasts on its platform since 2005. Many discover podcasts through Apple's Podcasts app, which supplies more than 750,000 podcast shows. Apple doesn't charge a subscription for its app and has yet to launch its own exclusive, original productions in podcasts, although Ostroff is aware of the rumours.
Apple also competes with Spotify through Apple Music, which has more than 60 million people who use the service worldwide.
Other competitors include rival Pandora and venture capital-backed startups like Luminary that have also created their own libraries of exclusive content.
Greenfield says Spotify must ensure that its users have the best experience finding and listening to podcasts, and supply shows that can't be found elsewhere.
"They have to find content so good that you switch over," Greenfield said.
Ostroff recognises the challenge in what has become a global business. Spotify, which is in 79 markets worldwide, has been rolling out original and exclusive podcasts in countries like Germany, Brazil, Mexico and Sweden. The company will support its podcast spending by having ads on the programmes.
"It's about how do we get big hits on the platform in the US and around the world and create content that's going to really resonate," Ostroff said.
She joined Spotify in August of 2018 and hit the ground running. Although she oversees content partnerships in music and video, growing podcasting has been a top priority.
Spotify is growing its library by producing original podcasts, landing exclusives and making it easier for podcast production companies to upload programmes to the platform.
Earlier this year, Ostroff was instrumental in landing key acquisitions, including Gimlet Media and Parcast, which have produced popular series including the thriller Homecoming, which was made into an Amazon show starring Julia Roberts.
"This is a bold move to get in the game," said Greenfield, who is also an investor in independent podcast production company Wondery. "It signals to the entire podcast world that they are serious." – Los Angeles Times/dpa