Seventeen years after its founding and 600 million users later, audio streaming platform Spotify is embracing the challenge posed by a phalanx of music streaming platforms seeking to take a piece of the Sweden-based company’s success.
“Everybody loves this idea of Spotify versus another company and it makes for an interesting story,” said Dustee Jenkins, Spotify’s chief public affairs officer.
“But really, creators everywhere benefit when there’s a lot of competition. Why? Because it gets more people streaming,” Ms Jenkins told The National at the 2024 World Governments Summit in Dubai.
There is indeed a lot of music streaming competition out there. Apple, Amazon, YouTube and Tidal are a few of many companies seeking to capture monthly streaming fees from customers who want instant access to music and other audio content.
Ms Jenkins, however, pointed out that it is the single app-centric approach that differentiates Spotify from its competitors.
“There are some companies that look to have different apps for different use cases, but we don’t want to confuse our listeners,” she said.
That approach, she stressed, made it possible for Spotify to add more content and more value on to the app in a seamless manner that benefits both users and creators.
Spotify had a presence at this year’s World Governments Summit, featuring more than 4,000 delegates from the public and private sectors, including 200 speakers from 80 international, regional and intergovernmental organisations such as the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organisation, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Arab League.
The promise and potential problems posed by artificial intelligence reverberated throughout the summit.
“Rather than dictating things by algorithms, what we seek to do is couple humans with algorithms to get the best end result,” Ms Jenkins told the panel focusing on how governments can harness talents and cultural identity.
“In this region [Middle East and North Africa], we have individuals who go all around and they're listening to talent … going to local music establishments and schools and universities, and they make sure that talent gets the opportunity to be playlisted.”
AI has proven to be a potential game-changer for musicians and streaming services, but it is also not without ample concern that it could fuel content theft from creators, potentially creating an economic content creation chasm.
Spotify already has precautionary measures in place to protect musicians and content creators, Ms Jenkins told The National.
“You can't pretend to be someone you're not,” she said, referring to the plethora of AI tools making it possible to duplicate voices.
“We're focusing on enforcing the rules we have in place around copyright.”
Spotify, Ms Jenkins said, has long made it a point to use AI in areas that enable and help the creator, and that the company used AI for various tools that help users discover content and remind those same users of the content they enjoyed in the past.
“I think this debate will continue across the industry in terms of how far is too far,” she said, referring to the seemingly endless discussions about AI ethics.
“The reality is, a lot of our creators are using AI tools to help with their creative process, whether it's helping to fill a lyric, or getting inspired by other instruments,” she added.
“We're not going to say to a creator that they should or shouldn't use AI, the creator can make that decision on their own.”
Ms Jenkins said DJ, a personalised AI guide that seeks to learn user music tastes and deliver a curated line-up of music, was an example of the company's efforts to use AI to enhance the listening experience.
“It’s essentially AI based on an individual who works at Spotify, and that individual helps you discover content,” she said.
What's next for Spotify?
While music put Spotify on the map, in recent years the company has put a lot of resources behind the podcasting boom, forming partnerships in the Middle East and hosting events bringing together prominent podcasters.
Those efforts to bolster the podcast boom show no sign of slowing down, and Ms Jenkins said the company was also excited about its recent entry into the audiobooks sector.
“This is a space that's largely been held by one company,” she said, referring to Amazon's Audible.
Ms Jenkins, however, noted that a lot of Spotify's success revolved around remembering the company's roots.
“We're always in the realm of audio, and that's the core of what we do,” she said.
“It was music first, then we added podcasts, and now we're off to audiobooks, so we'll see what comes next.”
At the heart of Spotify's efforts is continuing to make sure that the right creator finds the right listener, Ms Jenkins said.
She also reflected on Spotify's decision five years ago to establish a physical presence in Dubai.
“It's incredibly important to us,” she said. “We've seen an explosion of content and talent from the region.”