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Spotify charts the future of podcasting after controversies, challenges and changes

Spotify on Wednesday unveiled a series of new podcasts, partnerships and features as part of its effort to dominate all things audio, despite recent challenges and controversies in the space.

At an event near its offices in Los Angeles’ Arts District, the Swedish music streaming giant revealed a partnership with popular online content creator Markiplier, whose shows “Distractible” and “Go! My Favorite Sports Team” will release exclusive video episodes on Spotify.

The company also announced a scripted Batman spin-off series called “The Riddler: Secrets in the Dark,” starring Hasan Minhaj, who played the villain in last year’s scripted project “Batman Unburied.”

Although podcasts are traditionally an audio-focused format, Spotify expects shows that incorporate video, like Markiplier’s, to be a big part of its future.

The firm reported having 70,000 video creators currently on the platform. A second season of “Uncut Gems” star Julia Fox’s video podcast “Forbidden Fruits” will premiere later this month, Spotify said, while TikToker Drew Afualo’s podcast “The Comment Section” will will become a Spotify exclusive in April.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek bragged about Spotify’s rapid growth in podcasts, saying the company has grown from about 10 million podcast listeners in 2018 to more than 100 million today.

The company, Ek said, is building “the ultimate home for creators, where you can establish your career and where the world can be inspired by your creativity.”

But the announcements follow a shakeup of Spotify’s podcasting operations. Spotify’s ongoing podcasting strategy comes during a period of stress for both the company and the broader market in which it operates.

Last fall, amid an ongoing downturn in the technology and entertainment sectors, Spotify removed 11 podcasts from its roster and laid off people from some of its podcast brands. In January, the company announced that chief content officer Dawn Ostroff, one of the main players in Spotify’s shift towards podcasting, it would be departureand that 6% of the workforce had been cut.

In May, the company put Julie McNamara, then overseeing US studios and video, in charge of its acquired podcast networks Ringer, Gimlet Media, and Parcast. Around the same time, the firm named Ringer founder Bill Simmons as its new global head of sports content, as well as Ringer’s managing director.

Spotify has been trying to establish itself as a leader in the podcast space, looking to attract new subscribers and diversify its offerings beyond music, even as investors have sometimes expressed doubts about the game. Competition is fierce, with Apple and YouTube serving as primary platforms for podcasts and TikTok and Twitch drawing hordes of young, digitally savvy viewers.

The company acquired a handful of podcast networks, including Ringer, a popular sports and culture brand, Gimlet Media and Parcast, as well as podcast distribution platform Anchor FM. In 2020, Spotify became the exclusive home for the influential “The Joe Rogan Experience” in a deal said to be worth around $100 million.

Associations with celebrities like kim kardashian, Meghan Markle and jordan peele helped Spotify break into the densely populated podcasting space.

But these high-profile projects were sometimes marred by controversy. Markle’s podcast had a remarkable long time materialize, and an exclusive deal Spotify signed in 2019 with Higher Ground, the production company run by former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, was finally not renewed after the Obamas pushed through a non-exclusive distribution plan.

Higher Ground had produced “The Michelle Obama Podcast” as well as the Bruce Springsteen vehicle “Renegades: Born in the USA” for Spotify.

More than two years ago, at the “Stream On” 2021 event, the company Announced a partnership with Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors behind the Marvel blockbusters “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” The association does not appear to have produced any podcasts yet.

The company’s association with Rogan, known for giving guests free rein to talk for hours about controversial topics, has landed Spotify in trouble time and time again. Last year, criticism that Rogan was spreading COVID misinformation on his show led some artists, including Neil Young, to take out his music from the platform

Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay also cut ties with Spotify, ending his association with the company before his artistic collective Array launched any projects. Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Roxane Gay, David Crosby and Stephen Stills announced their own retirements.

Spotify also announced a handful of new tools on Wednesday aimed at making the platform more accessible to podcasters. A “redesigned” Spotify Center for Podcasters will centralize the company’s podcasting tools, including monetization technology, as well as video podcasting and interactive episode capabilities, in one place, the company said. A new partnership with digital subscription platform Patreon aims to make it easier for podcasters to convert listeners into paying customers.

Netflix has signed up to use the Spotify for Business podcast platform, Spotify announced, and NPR is slated to start publishing through the app.

Podcasts aren’t the only thing on the company’s mind.

last year started sale audiobooks on your US app and also acquired Heardle, a musical guessing game. in 2021 bought Locker Room, a live audio chat app similar to Clubhouse.

Gustav Söderström, Co-President, Chief Product Officer and CTO of Spotify, introduced a new starter source for the app. Evoking TikTok’s vertical video scrolling, the feed features a mix of everything from audiobooks to music videos and, Söderström said, will emphasize content discovery and recommendation.