Spotify considered axing white noise podcasts to save $38 million

Internal documents reveal executives weren't happy with missed ad revenue opportunities.
Spotify logo on smartphone next to AirPods
Spotify executives estimated they could save $38 million a year by nixing ambient podcasts. DepositPhotos / PopSci

Spotify’s campaign into the podcast industry has been a rocky ride, at best. On the one hand, its 2019 purchase of Anchor resulted in as much as 44 percent of all podcasts being hosted on the production app. Other, more controversial investments have created plenty of issues for the music streaming company. Spotify executives have since searched for ways to save much needed cash—even if that means curbing the very podcasts that might help ease their stress.

According to internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg on August 17, the audio streaming giant recently considered pulling the plug on some of its most popular white noise and ambient noise podcasts in a bid to boost annual gross profits by $38 million. While that might seem counterintuitive at first glance, the reasoning resides within Spotify’s algorithmic foundations.

[Related: Spotify wants to understand your body on music.]

As Bloomberg notes, white noise podcasts reportedly can rack up an estimated 3 million daily consumption hours on Spotify. This thanks in large part to their classification as “talk” content, instead of music. Earlier this year, it was revealed producers of such ambient series can earn as much as $18,000 a month via their ventures—very little of which apparently ended up in Spotify’s pockets. To solve their predicament, the internal documents apparently floated the idea of simply removing such shows altogether from the platform’s talk feed, banning all future uploads of similar content, and steering listeners towards “comparable programming.”

What programming could be considered “comparable” was not specified in the documents, although as Engadget explains, it’s likely could entail redirection to “other types of content meant to induce and improve sleep, as well as to help calm anxiety.” In theory, this could generate greater ad revenue for Spotify, although customers likely may be less than thrilled at their favorite chill playlists’ sudden disappearance.

Although a Spotify spokesperson confirms the potential strategic shift “did not come to fruition,” some ambient and white noise podcasters recounted recent issues with their own episodes on Spotify. In one instance, an upload disappeared for about three weeks, costing the creator around 50,000 downloads per day. Another, similar 10-day situation for a separate upload sank their listenership by 20,000 downloads each day. The creator argues they have yet to recover the lost audience numbers after both occurrences.