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How TikTok could be coming for Spotify’s podcast game

Being a musician and music artist, I’m not a die hard podcast fan. I’d much rather listen to an album or good playlist and stare out the train or plane window than stream a podcast. The same goes for in the gym, I just can’t get my squat game on to the sound of two people talking, I need me some Ari Lennox. However, whenever I do discover a good podcast, I’m hooked for that week. 

One of my favourite podcast phases so far happens to be my current phase. I’ve been obsessed with self-proclaimed ‘happy, sexy billionaire’ Steven Bartlett’s ‘Diary of a CEO’ podcast. I listened to an episode this morning. They’re over an hour long so I started listening to it while brushing my hair this morning and finished it on my (otherwise painfully long) 45 minute bus journey to the office. One of my favourite features is its audio-video discoverability. 

While brushing my hair and doing my makeup this morning, I was able to only listen to the podcast from my phone charging in the wall and visually focus on my eyeliner. But then, when I was on the bus and had nothing rather special to look at, I could watch the video version from the same app with my headphones on. This just enhances the immersive nature of the podcast. I streamed it all on Spotify which enables both the visual and audio elements. 

TikTok is capitalising on this genius feature in quietly testing a podcast feature. The feature allows users to continue to listen to a video’s audio even while the app is in the background. 

The functionality enables a user to do other tasks on their phone during playback – unlike short form video only TikTok. For a sneak peak of this feature, you can check it out on Emily Skvarch’s TikTok page (@future4caster). The app prompted an option to listen to the video as a podcast and a thumbnail appeared on a page called “Podcasts.” A banner message at the top of the screen stated that “audio will continue playing even after switching apps to the background.”

The craziest part of this story is actually Skvarch’s comment; “I did not receive any type of notification,” said Skvarch, who hadn’t known about the feature until the publication Insider asked about it. “How interesting!”

Several studies have noted that podcast advertising spend is set to hit $2.25 billion in 2023 so no wonder many apps including TikTok are looking to capitalise on audio content. 

Furthemore, other stats show that I’m not alone in enjoying podcasts that are both visual and audial. A recent Morning Consult survey found that many US consumers now see podcasts as more of a video-based medium than an audio one. Of the survey’s 2,202 respondents, 46% said they preferred podcasts that include video, compared with 42% who said they opted for audio-only podcasts. One in three respondents said YouTube was their preferred podcast app, followed by Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Speaking of Spotify, did you know that they have invested so heavily in creating visual content for podcasts that it has dragged the streaming service’s bottom line, and the company recently froze its US budget for new podcasts, Bloomberg reported

“While the podcast vertical is still largely in investment mode and not yet profitable, we believe it has a 40% to 50% gross margin potential,” Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek said in June at the company’s investor day. 

Spotify and TikTok could be preparing to go head-to-head in consumer audio in the coming months. While Spotify is dominant in music streaming, TikTok has already established itself as a top platform for music discovery.

Spotify’s Ek told Bloomberg in November 2021 that it “could be doing better” with young users, a demographic that TikTok has successfully captured.

Spotify has since borrowed tactics from TikTok, including testing a TikTok-like feed for discovering audio on its app.

TikTok could pose a real threat to Spotify’s streaming business down the road. The company launched last year a song-distribution tool called SoundOn. It also has a dedicated team that works on sound features that it’s released both on and off its app.

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