CHLOE AIELLO (CHEDDAR HOST): Welcome back everyone to Between Bells. I'm Chloe Aiello here at Chedquarters in New York. One story we've been following closely today, Spotify was given an ultimatum: Keep Joe Rogan or lose Neil Young, and the streaming giant chose Rogan. Since then, Young has caused a ripple effect. Singer Joni Mitchell as well as Bruce Springsteen, guitarist Nils Lofgren joined in the protest against Spotify. Former royals Prince Harry and Meghan Markle also addressed the controversy early on Sunday, expressing their concern. The couple announced in 2020 that they would produce and host podcasts exclusively on Spotify. These creators accusing Rogan and Spotify of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines. And joining us now to discuss is Media Matters president Angelo Carusone. Angelo, welcome to the show! According to Datebook, Spotify actually lost four billion dollars in market value last week after Neil Young called out the company. How significant and damaging is this move by Spotify to side with Rogan here?
ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS PRESIDENT): I think it was – I think what is significant is and what's causing the damage is not just their decision to make this sort of they're siding with Rogan, but it's actually a reflection of the fact that they have a pretty big business problem, which is they didn't get on the plan. They haven't thought about how they're going to deal with this. They never addressed and have put in place any countermeasures for COVID disinformation or other extremism. Let's keep that in mind here. There's a whole range of other content that was being flagged as well that was directly targeting individuals that was considered to be extreme and harmful that they haven't actually addressed at all. So, what you're actually seeing here is a symptom of an underlying cause that they are a provider, yet they never put in place any best practices or policies, which means that it's not just this one controversy, but if you're a business investor or a stockholder, what you're really thinking about is the next one and what you're likely to see until Spotify actually gets a handle on this, is a series of these flashpoints, and I think that's ultimately why it's a business problem for them.
AIELLO: You know, speaking of that business model, according to The Verge, Spotify specifically licensing his show with the goal of both converting listeners and also making money through ad sales. So can Spotify actually afford to lose Rogen even if it ruins its reputation?
CARUSONE: No, they can't now, because they actually put the bet – they made a big bet on and their big bet on Rogen that he was going to, like you said, be a funnel, bring in some new audience and some new subscribers, and that they would then be able to commercialize and monetize his already existing large audience with additional advertising revenue. So they made a business bet. And now they're sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place because any attempts they make now to mitigate what is a pretty big cauldron of disinformation and extremism from Rogan's program is going to lead to backlash. Either he's going to ignore it and they're not going to be able to hold him fully accountable without experiencing major consequences. Or he's going to modulate his program a little bit, in which case he's going to dilute his own relationship and engagement with his audiences. And this is not a prediction. This is a not a new phenomenon. We've seen this in talk radio. We've seen this with other extremist programs, like with some of the hosts on Fox News. They all fall prey to this same sort of scenario where they're stuck between a rock and a hard place. And now they really are.
AIELLO: Now, speaking of mitigation measures, Spotify now working to add a content advisory to any podcasts that include discussion about COVID-19 and vaccines. Would this be enough to redeem the platform among those listeners who do side with Young and Mitchell here?
CARUSONE: No, because there, though, the label that they're applying does not indicate that the program you're listening to is coming from a more valid source or less valid source, or contains, you know, some wacky, uninformed conspiracy theories or dangerous medical misinformation – it's a universal label. They're applying it to anything that mentions COVID. So you could be the greatest medical expert in the country giving actual medical information about this, a venerated scientist, and you would have the same label that Joe Rogan would get. That doesn't make much sense. Joe Rogan, who admits that he doesn't know anything about this, well, shouldn't get the same label. So that is a little bit of window dressing. And I think, you know, that sort of announcement they made about this label came at the same time that they published not new rules, but long-standing rules. And I think this gets back to a part of our discussion earlier, which is that they've already had a lot of these rules in place. What they released on Sunday, the label was the only new thing. Everything else was actually their longstanding existing internal policies, and they hadn't been enforcing it at all against Rogan, which is, I think, partly why it led to this flashpoint. But if they haven't taken any action yet, I'm not entirely sure why just publishing on a blog post is going to suddenly amount to them taking any action. So I don't think the label is going to be effective. I don't think it actually solves the underlying problem here. And in fact, I think they're just making it worse themselves.
AIELLO: I want to talk about the artist perspective here because I know that Young came out and subsequently said, maybe you disparaging comments about the sound quality on Spotify. So do you anticipate young Mitchell or Lofgren putting their music back onto the platform at some point?
CARUSONE: You know, I'm not sure, and I actually think that, you know, if your Spotify or one of the big concerns you'd have with this artist management is that you don't want to give your creators an excuse to walk. And Spotify already is in trouble in terms of a competition perspective because they pay terrible rates. They don't pay the songwriters royalties in the same way that other streaming providers do, or radio providers do. Their rates for actual creators is really low compared to other competitors like Tidal, which pays way more per stream than Spotify does. In fact, Spotify has, if not the lowest among the lowest residuals – the payments here. So you know you could give a creator a good excuse to walk away, take a stand, make it seem like you're doing something good, and in fact are. But at the end of the day, a lot of this is money-motivated. Why should Joe Rogan get $100 million from Spotify to be a source of disinformation and lies and inflaming the existing pandemic that we're living in when these other song creators, the foundation of what Spotify actually is, are actually getting kind of ripped off compared to other competitors. And I think that is the perspective of the creators here. I don't understand why we are getting squeezed. And Joe Rogan is getting essentially a blank check.
AIELLO: Such an interesting story that we're going to have to continue to follow.