Fri, Feb 08, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Spotify jumps into podcasting game

AP, NEW YORK

Spotify AB is making a bigger bet on podcasts as it looks to bring a Netflix-like model of original programs to the audio world. The music-streaming pioneer gobbled up two podcasting companies, Gimlet and Anchor, on Wednesday.

Although streaming is becoming an increasingly popular way to listen to music, Spotify and other services such as Pandora Media Inc have struggled to make money because of the royalties and other fees that they have to pay recording labels, songwriters and performers.

The acquisitions are about “expanding our mission from just being about music to being about all of audio and being the world’s leading audio platform,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday.

The company did not disclose terms, but the Wall Street Journal cited people familiar with the transactions as saying Anchor, a podcast production and hosting platform, was valued at more than US$150 million and Gimlet at more than US$200 million. Gimlet produces high-end podcasts and was co-founded by Alex Blumberg, a veteran of the NPR radio show “This American Life.”

Spotify, which is based in Stockholm and went public in April last year, charges US$10 a month for its “premium” ad-free music service. It also offers a free ad-supported service.

Apple has become Spotify’s primary rival since the tech giant launched its own music streaming service in 2015. But although it has been outgunned financially, Spotify has been able to stay a step ahead of Apple Inc in terms of subscribers. It counted 96 million subscribers in the fourth quarter, up 36 percent from a year ago.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Ek said that Spotify has become the second-biggest podcasting platform in less than two years.

“The format is really evolving and while podcasting is still a relatively small business today, I see incredible growth potential for the space and for Spotify in particular,” he wrote.

Spotify is seeking ways to become sustainably profitable. The company reported a surprise fourth-quarter profit on Wednesday, boosted by a strong holiday season and a promotion with Google Home, but it forecast a loss for this year even as it continues to invest in original content.

Spotify has already produced some original podcasts, including one series with comedian Amy Schumer and another with rapper and broadcaster Joe Budden.

Ek said people who listen to podcasts through Spotify spend twice as much time on the service than other users.

Spotify is hoping to emulate Netflix Inc, which has poured billions into developing original shows and movies. So far, that strategy has produced some hits such as the series Stranger Things and the thriller Bird Box.

The podcast industry is much smaller but growing. Podcasts broke into the mainstream with the success of Serial, a 2014 investigative journalism series about a murder that became a cultural phenomenon, yielding not just tens of millions of downloads, but eventually also a new trial for the convicted killer.

US podcast ad revenue jumped 86 percent in 2017 to US$314 million, according to research from the Interactive Ad Bureau and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That is dwarfed by digital video ad spending, which totaled US$11.9 billion in 2017.

An estimated 73 million people tune in to some form of podcast on a monthly basis, according to Edison Research. They are particularly popular with the coveted “millennial” demographic.

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