Spotify Is (Finally) Ready to Launch Those Videos: Product VP Shiva Rajaraman on What to Expect

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A woman walks through a hallway at Spotify offices following a press conference in New York City.

Last May, Spotify announced -- along with several other new features -- that it would be moving into the world of bite-sized video as a way to broaden its platform's appeal and offer users a new way of considering the service. As the year shifted from spring to summer, fall to winter, those snack-sized videos never appeared, leaving many wondering what exactly happened to the promising new "vertical" within the world's largest on-demand music service.

Spotify was simply taking a page from Google's book, putting the new gambit through the paces of extended beta test. The video features are now set to launch this week for those on Android phones, followed closely by iOS next week. Speaking to Billboard from Iceland, Spotify's vp of product Shiva Rajaraman says his team has been "slowly testing different variants" of the video feature, "to get a sense of how we can program and present this, and how core it will be to our experience." Rajaraman says slivers of the company's audience were selected as beta testers in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Sweden (the video feature's four launch countries). The news was first reported this morning (Jan. 25) by the Wall Street Journal.

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From there, the "next wave is learning how to program this content effectively," says Rajaraman. In practical terms, Spotify must make its (expensive) new video content not only easy to find from a design standpoint, but also center stage curation around that content in a new, less frictional experience. On those two points, Rajaraman says that "it's important to tighten up [Spotify's] overall navigation... as well as betting more on curation. If it's [a piece of video] that inspires you around science, we might have a few podcasts lined up to follow that, for example."

In case you missed that -- in addition to the videos, Spotify will launch with podcasts from the likes of Radiolab, American Public Media and WNYC.

Rajaraman also confirmed that  Spotify's two most recent purchases -- of "audio-play" company Cord and social music platform Soundwave -- were as much acqui-hires as they were a signal towards Spotify becoming something between Google Hangouts and the talking algorithm from Her. "Those acquisitions were about getting great talent to work on variety of things," he says.

The video content Spotify plans to offer will be free initially, and feature pieces from Viacom, VICE media, Nerdist, NBC, BBC, Slate, Harper Collins and Conan O'Brien's TeamCoco, among others, including shows from Amy Poehler and Tyler, the Creator.

"Our goal is to learn about demand patterns," says Rajaraman, "Spotify is a product you can use in the background or foreground. Music -- often the background. The other side of that is -- when can we use a visual format that allows you to lean in?"

The beginning, middle and end-game of any platform -- from Facebook to Netflix to Snapchat to Spotify -- is retention. Stay here, there's plenty for you. As SoundCloud and Pandora prep their own subscription offerings for debuts this year, and as media on the web quickly becomes a pay-to-play proposition (just today The Guardian hinted at an impending paywall amid a dreary economic anaylsis), Spotify is working towards giving people some reasons to stay... besides 30-plus million songs.