Update (0730ET): Just when Spotify bulls were breathing a sigh of relief following this morning's apology from CEO Daniel Ek (who sought to soothe over SJW anger by pledging to "incrementally" invest $100MM in artists from underrepresented backgrounds in response to the controversy over Joe Rogan), it looks like one of the country's biggest pension fund managers has decided to get involved.
Reuters reports that New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has asked the streaming platform for a report on the effectiveness of its new content guidelines, which it unveiled late last week as the controversy over the 'Joe Rogan Experience' was snowballing.
The letter also cited complaints that the show had "spread COVID misinformation" while also being both "racist" and "antisemetic". Spotify announced a week ago that it would affix a content advisory to any Rogan episodes where COVID information is discussed, while also laying out content guidelines (including a ban on material that promotes 'criminality' - although isn't that what 99% of hip hop, the most popular genre of music streamed on the platform, is all about?).
As the top official overseeing NY State's pension, DiNapoli has control over funds that own Spotify shares, which puts a lot of pressure on management to respond since an announcement that NY pension funds are dumping Spotify shares would likely vaporize billions of dollars in market value.
DiNapoli has a history of successfully pushing for more oversight on content at certain social media companies. Funds he oversees own $41 million in Spotify shares.
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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has apologized to the company's employees in an internal memo where he said he "strongly" opposes Joe Rogan's use of the 'n-word', but that "silencing Joe isn't the answer."
Ek added in the memo to staff obtained by the Hollywood Reporter that "cancelling voices is a slippery slope", and clarified that Rogan himself had decided to delete the 70+ episodes removed from the streaming service on Friday due to the use of 'the n-word' or other offensive content. Many of the other episodes removed from Rogan's massive catalogue were taken down not long after Rogan signed his deal with Spotify.
The decision to keep Rogan's show on the platform was made to "elevate all types of creators", Ek claimed (although, as we and others have explained, the show is a major moneymaker for the service, commanding a minimum ad buy of $1M with other sign-on perks including requiring advertisers to also buy ads on other Spotify podcasts.
“I want to make one point very clear - I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer,” Ek wrote.
“We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope.”
To try and paper over the anger from some Spotify customers, Ek said Spotify would be committing to an "incremental investment of $100 million for the licensing, development, and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups” to boost creators from underrepresented backgrounds.
"While some might want us to pursue a different path, I believe that more speech on more issues can be highly effective in improving the status quo and enhancing the conversation altogether,” Ek said.
Rogan issued an apology of his own on Saturday - his second such apology video in the span of a week - when he frankly told his audience that the compilation video of him saying the 'n-word' looked "f**king horrible", even to him. He apologized unreservedly and said that he had changed his view on use of the 'n-word' and hadn't uttered it at all "in years".
Of course, while Ek acknowledged that some employees might not be happy with the company's decision, he hoped they could all move forward together. Of course, letting go of Rogan would likely mean that Spotify would have to let go of more than a few members of its staff as well.
Read the full letter below:
There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you. Not only are some of Joe Rogan's comments incredibly hurtful - I want to make clear that they do not represent the values of this company. I know this situation leaves many of you feeling drained, frustrated and unheard.
I think it's important you're aware that we've had conversations with Joe and his team about some of the content in his show, including his history of using some racially insensitive language. Following these discussions and his own reflections, he chose to remove a number of episodes from Spotify. He also issued his own apology over the weekend.
While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more. And I want to make one point very clear - I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope. Looking at the issue more broadly, it's critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress.
Another criticism that I continue to hear from many of you is that it's not just about The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify; it comes down to our direct relationship with him. In last week's Town Hall, I outlined to you that we are not the publisher of JRE. But perception due to our exclusive license implies otherwise. So I've been wrestling with how this perception squares with our values.
If we believe in having an open platform as a core value of the company, then we must also believe in elevating all types of creators, including those from underrepresented communities and a diversity of backgrounds. We've been doing a great deal of work in this area already but I think we can do even more. So I am committing to an incremental investment of $100 million for the licensing, development, and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups. This will dramatically increase our efforts in these areas. While some might want us to pursue a different path, I believe that more speech on more issues can be highly effective in improving the status quo and enhancing the conversation altogether.
I deeply regret that you are carrying so much of this burden. I also want to be transparent in setting the expectation that in order to achieve our goal of becoming the global audio platform, these kinds of disputes will be inevitable. For me, I come back to centering on our mission of unlocking the potential of human creativity and enabling more than a billion people to enjoy the work of what we think will be more than 50 million creators. That mission makes these clashes worth the effort.
I've told you several times over the last week, but I think it's critical we listen carefully to one another and consider how we can and should do better. I've spent this time having lots of conversations with people inside and outside of Spotify - some have been supportive while others have been incredibly hard, but all of them have made me think.
One of the things I am thinking about is what additional steps we can take to further balance creator expression with user safety. I've asked our teams to expand the number of outside experts we consult with on these efforts and look forward to sharing more details.
Your passion for this company and our mission has made a difference in the lives of so many listeners and creators around the world. I hope you won't lose sight of that. It's that ability to focus and improve Spotify even on some of our toughest days that has helped us build the platform we have. We have a clear opportunity to learn and grow together from this challenge and I am ready to meet it head on.
I know it is difficult to have these conversations play out so publicly, and I continue to encourage you to reach out to your leaders, your HR partners or me directly if you need support or resources for yourself or your team.
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Source: The Hollywood Reporter