Spotify wants to treat podcasts like music playlists

Spotify has turned many podcast listeners into paid subscribers.
Spotify has turned many podcast listeners into paid subscribers.
Image: Christian Hartmann/REUTERS
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Can Spotify give you better podcast recommendations than your friends?

The digital streaming service announced today (Nov. 19) that it will now provide listeners with a personalized podcast playlist. “Your Daily Podcasts” will build off your listening history and behavior to provide you with a curated feed.

“The playlist is anchored in what you’re familiar with,” explained Emily Rawitsch, director of product design in Spotify’s personalization group.

“We may be serving you podcasts from where you left off, or it may be another episode in a podcast you already listen to,” she told Quartz. “After that, we get into the discovery portion, where we recommend podcasts and shows we think you’re going to like.”

Spotify says Your Daily Podcasts might include:

  • A popular episode in a series that you listened to
  • A popular show in a similar genre
  • A show about a similar topic
  • A show featuring the same host or notable personality
  • Another show that has similar attributes (such as length and format)

The feature draws from Spotify’s catalog of over 500,000 podcast titles, and it’s immediately available to free and premium users in the US, UK, Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. (India, where Spotify just launched in February, is a notable exception.) Spotify now boasts 248 million monthly active users (MAUs) and 113 million paid subscribers as of its last earnings report in October. Approximately 14% of its users have started listening to podcasts, with the US accounting for the largest share of streams. The company first launched podcasts in 2015.

For Spotify, curating podcasts seems like the next logical step. Rawitsch compared Your Daily Podcasts to Daily Mix, one of Spotify’s existing music playlists. It’s about “trying to find the right audience,” she said, adding that Spotify is trying “build a habit [by] making podcast listening super easy.”

But whether personalized podcast playlists take off is an open question.

“For podcasts, it gets a bit more complex [than music],” Rawitsch acknowledged. There’s a multitude of topics and hosts, and the format is hugely variable. Whereas “most songs are about 3 minutes in length,” she noted, “podcasts can vary from a minute to two hours in length.” Spotify said the length of your podcast playlist might change as it’s updated each day. The company also said it’s not running additional ads (on top of podcasts’ own sponsorships) for now. Spotify did not say whether it’s featuring any specific podcasts at the outset.

It also seems podcasts listeners are more demanding of their content than your average music listener. Some shows are purely for entertainment, but many people also use podcasts as tools—to catch up on the news or learn new skills. Rawitsch said her favorite podcast is How I Built This, an NPR show about the origins of major companies. “I love listening to anything to do with design, innovation, entrepreneurship,” she told me.

If Your Daily Podcasts expedite discovery as Spotify claims, that would be a victory for listeners and hosts alike. Rather than rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or colleagues, you could benefit from a fount of personally-tailored audio content. However, Spotify  will have to prove that its new feature turns up more gems than sludge. And it will also have to contend with podcast burnout. Music might be easy listening, but a person can only handle so many talk show hosts.