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Spotify boss says it’s too early to know impact of Joe Rogan COVID controversy

Daniel Ek says past controversies have been measured in months, not days

By Charlotte Krol

Spotify boss Daniel Ek
Spotify boss Daniel Ek (Picture: YouTube/Spotify).

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has told investors that it’s “too early to know” how the controversy over Joe Rogan’s podcast has impacted the streaming platform.

Last month, Neil Young demanded that his music be pulled from Spotify “immediately” over concerns that The Joe Rogan Experience was spreading misinformation about COVID on its episodes. The podcast series, hosted by comedian and MMA commentator Rogan, averages 11 million listeners per episode on Spotify in an exclusive licensing deal.

Spotify’s decision to heed Young’s wishes and add disclaimers instead of removing scientific falsehoods in the podcast has sparked a backlash by musicians including Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills & Nash, who have since requested their music be removed in solidarity with Young.

Ek told investors that the full picture of the Rogan controversy will come at a later time. He made the comments as Spotify was revealed to project slower subscriber growth for this quarter, and as shares fell by more than 10 per cent in after-hours trading [via BBC News].

Neil Young and Joe Rogan pictured in a composite image
“They can have Rogan or Young. Not both” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Raph_PH; YouTube/PowerfulJRE)

“Usually when we’ve had controversies in the past, those are measured in months, not days,” Ek told investors.

“We don’t change our policies based on one creator, nor do we change based on any media cycle or calls from anyone else,” he added.

Spotify said that revenue for the last three months of 2021 rose to $2.69 billion (£2.2 billion; $3 billion), which far surpassed market expectations. Despite that, the company missed analysts’ predictions because it had forecasted that it would have 183 million paying subscribers this quarter.

The streamer added that the outlook was “subject to substantial uncertainty” due to the pandemic.

Neil Young and The Promise of the Real performing at British Summertime 2019, Hyde Park in London.
Neil Young and The Promise of the Real performing at British Summertime 2019, Hyde Park in London (Picture: AP)

Ek added that disclaimers will be added to any podcast discussing COVID, and will direct listeners to information from experts, a resource hub and “links to trusted sources”.

“This new effort to combat misinformation will roll out to countries around the world in the coming days,” he said. “To our knowledge, this content advisory is the first of its kind by a major podcast platform.”

Last month hundreds of scientists and medical professionals asked Spotify to address COVID misinformation on its platform, sparked by comments made on Rogan’s podcast.

Rogan has since addressed the fallout, saying he will “do my best to try to balance out these more controversial viewpoints with other people perspectives so we can maybe find a better point of view”.