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Spotify is adding video to try to stop you from running it in the background

Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
The future of Spotify is not just music.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Spotify is finally primed to launch its video service “by the end of next week” in the US, UK, Sweden, and Germany, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall). If you’re an Android Spotify app user, you’ll get videos later this week, and if you’re an iOS owner you’ll have to wait until next week.

We’ve known that Spotify was going to diversify beyond its core music streaming service since the middle of last year, with deals struck with companies like ESPN, the BBC, and even Comedy Central, and discussions happening with YouTube creators. Since Spotify made its surprise announcement, it has seemed slow to actually act on its intentions, until recently when it started testing video with less than 10% of users in the four targeted launch countries.

Spotify has been using these experiments, the WSJ explains, to discover exactly what content it should recommend and serve to its users. It has discovered that showing musically relevant videos is the secret to actually getting people to click on the clips. Spotify seems to be trying to differentiate itself from other video streaming services like YouTube in this way.

Video is potentially transformational for Spotify if it catches on. Currently, once you click play on the app, you generally put it in the background. Keeping Spotify front and center on your device could be key for the service’s future, because it gives Spotify more control over your interactions and more of your direct attention—helpful for more lucrative video advertising products in the future.

Spotify, despite its popularity, is not yet a profitable company. The push to display video isn’t going to change this right away, but CEO Daniel Ek has said that said that video ads would eventually be “an important revenue source,” according to the WSJ. Still, even YouTube isn’t yet a major profit driver (paywall) for Google. (Meanwhile, one of the perks of its new “YouTube Red” paid subscription service is the ability to play videos—really, the music—in the background with the screen off. Not unlike Spotify.)

Another step: Last week Spotify acquired Soundwave, a music discovery and tracking service which listens to all music streamed or played through a user’s smartphone. Soundwave has been installed over 1.5 million times in 190 nations. If Soundwave’s tech is incorporated into Spotify, it could give the company much deeper insight into what its users prefer.

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