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Spotify pledges $100m to marketing diverse talent after latest Joe Rogan controversy

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

February 7, 2022 | 7 min read

Spotify’s boss Daniel Ek has announced the company will invest $100m in discovering and marketing more diverse audio talent after footage emerged of controversial podcaster Joe Rogan using racial slurs.

It compounds a problem that emerged over the past few weeks, in which Spotify attempted to wash its hands of responsibility for content on its platform by claiming it is not a publisher, despite its exclusive distribution of The Joe Rogan Experience.

In the statement to employees, Ek said: “If we believe in having an open platform as a core value of the company, then we must also believe in elevating all types of creators, including those from underrepresented communities and a diversity of backgrounds. We’ve been doing a great deal of work in this area already but I think we can do even more.

chris lynch

71 episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience have been removed in light of racial slurs uttered by its host

“So I am committing to an incremental investment of $100m for the licensing, development and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups. This will dramatically increase our efforts in these areas. While some might want us to pursue a different path, I believe that more speech on more issues can be highly effective in improving the status quo and enhancing the conversation altogether.”

At the time of writing, 113 episodes of the Joe Rogan podcast were not available on Spotify. The latest raft of removals – 71 episodes were taken down on Friday February 4 – are directly related to the racial slurs.

The controversy around Rogan has erupted in light of vaccine disinformation that the podcaster has included in past episodes. Back in September of 2020, a group of employees sought to get ahead of the issue by limiting the extent to which Rogan could book controversial guests and spread disinformation.

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Musicians including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and India Arie – who resurfaced the episodes with racial slurs – have since requested that Spotify stop hosting their back catalogs. At the time, The Drum asked agencies if advertisers should pull spend from the platform as well, though the vast majority argued it is not for advertisers to ‘police’ the internet.

Muddying the waters, Ek still argues that Spotify is not Rogan’s publisher and is therefore exempt from responsibility for his statements: “While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more. And I want to make one point very clear – I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope. Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress.

“Another criticism that I continue to hear from many of you is that it’s not just about The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify; it comes down to our direct relationship with him. In last week’s Town Hall, I outlined to you that we are not the publisher of JRE. But perception due to our exclusive license implies otherwise. So I’ve been wrestling with how this perception squares with our values.”

It is unclear to what extent using racial slurs “powers real and necessary progress,” and it has been argued that the length of time the controversy has rumbled on is indicative of the long-term damage being done to the Spotify brand. The $100m committed to a variety of marginalized voices on the platform is also equal to or slightly less than the amount Spotify paid for The Joe Rogan Experience alone in 2020.

It is also a tacit acknowledgement of both the primacy of creators and the value of exclusive content in the audio space. Spotify has spent hundreds of millions on acquiring the sole distribution rights for podcasts from Rogan, Michelle Obama, Heavyweight and more. Validation of that strategy can be inferred from the fact that, as of September last year, Joe Rogan alone was responsible for 4.5% of all podcast listens on the platform.

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