Spotify’s chief content officer speaks at USC Annenberg

Spotify’s chief content officer Dawn Ostroff spoke with USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay about the future of Spotify and its original content on Jan. 23 in Wallis Annenberg Hall’s forum. The event was a part of Annenberg’s lecture series, “Lunch with a Leader,” where media executives from the country’s top companies share insight with students.

After a long introduction of Ostroff’s resume and accolades, Bay asked about Spotify’s venture into its own original content. According to Ostroff, Spotify has nearly 250 million users and is the second most-used streaming service in the world, following Netflix. In February of last year, Spotify announced it too will have original content.
As part of its commitment to original content, Spotify acquired Gimlet Media, a podcasting network, for $200 million last year. Ostroff mentioned that, though it is “embarrassing” to discuss, the most popular podcasts with American Spotify users is crime podcasts. She discussed how she feels the American fascination with crime has to do with the country’s overwhelming anxiety about the future and events out of its control.
In response to a student’s question about Spotify’s success, Ostroff said that it has a lot to do with the new “mobility of media” and how users are now used to getting “whatever they want, whenever they want it.” She gave the example of television and radio broadcasts in the past, with limited channels. 
Professor Christopher Holmes Smith’s “TV Strategy: From Broadcasting to YouTube” class, which studies how YouTube is changing the media industry, attended the discussion. They asked what Ostroff sees for the future of Spotify, to which she said there will be more original content and shifts in how users interact with their entertainment and are presented with advertisements. Spotify has added a podcasting hub, which Ostroff is excited about. She shared that she listens to podcaster Sam Harris. She also mentioned that she hope to see more diversity in artists, producers and the organization as a whole in the coming years.
One student asked Ostroff about the recent Spotify launch in India and how the company is doing in such a large market when there are so many local competitors. “We want to be representative of local markets. When we go into other countries, it’s important we represent local content and talent,” Ostroff said. Spotify has two business models; one that is free but contains ads and an ad-free subscription. In India, Spotify is more focused on pushing the free model based on the market’s needs.
In response to the mention of diversity at Spotify, graduate student Jamia Pugh asked Ostroff how the organization will implement not only diversity, but inclusion. Ostroff gave the example of an inclusion event for female broadcasters and artists hosted the night before, which Pugh attended along with other Annenberg students. Ostroff also mentioned Spotify’s RISE program, which focuses identifying and working with up-and-coming musicians.
“Inclusion in the Recording Studio,” a report by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released earlier this week, found that little improvement has been made in the effort to bridge gender inequality in the music industry. The report, funded by Spotify, found that less than a quarter of the top songs were made by female artists. The report has received much media attention following new accusations by former Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan, who alleges favoritism and conflicts of interest in the choosing of Grammy award nominees and winners. “We must make sure that, ‘We can’t find anyone that is qualified that is a woman,’ is not an option,” Ostroff said. “An we need to make sure the world knows when we’re able to move the needle and the press knows when we’re moving forward or backward.”
Lastly, Ostroff talked about Spotify’s “Sound Up” event, which provides funding to trrain women around the world and women of color in the podcasting industry to produce content. From the program, one of Spotify’s first original shows was born–”Dope Labs.” The podcast is hosted by two black, female scientists who put science into a perspective never discussed before.


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