As a music streaming company, Spotify has no ambitions to “pivot to video” — but the service’s video strategy has gotten off to a shaky start, as it struggles to blossom into a full-fledged multimedia hub for the music industry.
Unnamed sources at Spotify revealed that the service is canceling upcoming episodes of its existing original video series and scrapping development plans for unreleased ones, as first reported by Bloomberg. According to the report, Spotify is exploring a new format unique to its platform, code-named “Spotlight,” that combines audio, images and video into a single, seamless experience.
Ironically, the “Spotlight” format doesn’t actually sound like anything new. For nearly two months now, Spotify has been incorporating exclusive interviews and other video content into its flagship RapCaviar playlist, which combines audio and video content on a single landing page.
Speaking on a panel at the Genius offices in Brooklyn last month, Brittany Lewis, Spotify’s video programming manager for hip-hop, delineated RapCaviar’s aggressive ambitions to keep fans and listeners on its platform across the entire discovery and consumption funnel, beyond just the initial stream. “We want you to eat, sleep and shit RapCaviar,” she said. “I don’t want you to listen to ‘Love Scars’ [by Trippie Redd] and then go to YouTube. I want to license a video from Trippie directly and make the best original content with him.”
While Spotify declined to comment on Bloomberg’s report, it did confirm to Billboard that video will still remain on the RapCaviar playlist. Instead, it’s the non-playlisted video series — including Drawn & Recorded with T Bone Burnett and Rush Hour with Russell Simmons — that are reportedly off the roadmap.
From a hiring perspective, video still runs in the service’s blood. Several Spotify execs and managers, including Lewis and global programming head of hip-hop Tuma Basa, previously worked at video-focused music companies like MTV and Revolt TV. Courtney Holt, the former head of Disney’s Maker Studios, joined Spotify last month as its Head of Studios and Video — taking on the weighty legacy of former VH1 head Tom Calderone, who oversaw Spotify’s commissioning of over a dozen original video series over the span of a year and a half.
In fact, at the time, the music service’s video strategy seemed to be an accelerated version of Netflix’s approach: license video from third parties like Disney and Vice, then claim your turf as an original content producer.
Ahead of Spotify’s highly-anticipated public offering, however, the reported video cancellations are a wakeup call that the service has neither Netflix’s financial backbone nor Apple’s Hollywood prowess. At large, the market for high-quality video entertainment remains both deeply competitive and stubbornly expensive.
Spotify’s new emerging artist program RISE — which was launched last week (Oct. 20) and features Lauv, Kim Petras, Russell Dickerson and RapCaviar-minted Trippie Redd among its first batch — hints at how the service might differentiate itself in this increasingly crowded video landscape. Under the RISE program, artist participants will get not only preferential mixed-media playlist placement (read: RapCaviar), but also support from Spotify for live events and, yes, TV ads.
Video is just one component of any artist’s toolkit, and Spotify seems to be leaning back on this holistic approach to the format, while interestingly aspiring for the same ambiance and reach as legacy cable and broadcasting networks of decades past. “We just want to be a place that artists will go and feel at home,” Troy Carter, Spotify’s global head of creator services, told Billboard. “What MTV was. What BET was. What HOT 97 was.”