Daniel Ek Addresses Joe Rogan Controversy: ‘We Don’t Change Our Policies Based On One Creator’

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Daniel Ek. Photo Credit: Fortune Live Media / CC by 2.0

Responding to the ongoing controversy surrounding The Joe Rogan Experience, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek appeared to indicate that his company wouldn’t take further action against the program or its namesake host, stating: “I think the important part here is that we don’t change our policies based on one creator.”

The 38-year-old Spotify co-founder and head made the statement – and addressed criticism of today’s most popular podcast – during his company’s Q4 2021 earnings call. This fourth-quarter performance analysis revealed that the music-streaming giant had added 25 million MAUs from Q3 2021 (for a total of 406 million), including eight million paid subscribers (180 million).

However, the Stockholm-based business likewise forecasted the addition of just three million premium users during Q1 2022, besides placing projected MAUs at 418 million, beneath the 422 million MAUs that analysts anticipated. Consequently, after-hours trades sent Spotify stock (NYSE: SPOT) plummeting.

Far from rebounding during today’s trading, the stock finished at $159.76 per share – its lowest day-end price since May of 2020, when execs announced the reportedly $100 million contract with Joe Rogan. In another testament to the latter deal’s significance – and the depth of the aforementioned pushback regarding comments made about COVID-19 vaccines during the show – Ek broached the subject first during his earnings-call opening remarks.

“Obviously, it’s been a few notable days here at Spotify,” said Ek. “When we entered into the podcast space in 2019 with the intent to help modernize and grow this space for all types of creators, we assumed it would challenge and test our teams in new ways. And there’s no doubt that the last several weeks have presented a number of learning opportunities.

“There’s still work to be done, but I’m pleased that Spotify is already implementing several first-of-its-kind measures to help combat misinformation and provide greater transparency. We believe we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” continued the Helsing investor.

Similarly, the very first question Ek received during the call pertained to JRE, and the Stockholm native appeared to tout the related tools that his company has implemented while also emphasizing that content-moderation policies are larger than any one creator.

“We’re trying to balance creative expression with the safety of our users. And of course, this is a very complicated issue, as I noted in my opening. But I’m really proud of the steps we took following the concerns raised by the medical and scientific communities.

“So I think the important part here is that we don’t change our policies based on one creator nor do we change it based on any media cycle or call from anyone else. Our policies have been carefully written with the input from numbers of internal and external experts in this space. And I do believe they are right for our platform,” proceeded Ek.

From there, the Spotify CEO noted that The Joe Rogan Experience is the most popular podcast “in more than 90 markets” and reiterated that Rogan nevertheless “has to abide by those policies.” And with some Spotify “partners” having voiced their concerns with the media blowback, Ek stated that there’s “a broad range of content on our platform, so there really is something for everyone here and for advertisers to take to as well.”

Notwithstanding multiple artists’ Spotify exits over JRE, Ek’s remarks seem to suggest that the platform will seek to weather the storm (social-media outrage, subscriber cancellations, and otherwise), embracing COVID-19 discussion disclaimers for spoken-word entertainment in an effort to put the episode in the rearview.

Helping this process along is the support that Rogan received from high-profile celebrities including Kevin James and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who called the longtime UFC commentator’s response to the controversy “perfectly articulated.”

(Of course, Johnson is reportedly a client of Endeavor, which owns the UFC. Project Rock, Johnson’s athletic-wear company, became “the official global footwear” of the UFC last month.)

And while the extent of this present criticism appears comparatively substantial, it’s worth remembering that all manner of other (decidedly more serious) situations have quietly slipped out of the media spotlight in the music industry.

For instance, zero big-name artists pulled their music from Spotify due to the presence of an overtly antisemitic rapper – who remains on the service – nor does there look to be much of an issue with the fact that Tory Lanez, who allegedly shot Megan Thee Stallion, currently boasts 14.56 million monthly listeners on the streaming platform.