Gimlet’s Lydia Polgreen tells Peter Kafka about how her parent company Spotify plans to turn music listeners into podcast devotees.
Spotify wants to own the podcasting space, and it’s made that clear with a series of high-profile acquisitions and deals over the past two years — including the Ringer, Gimlet, Joe Rogan, and, most recently, Megaphone. Its next goal: get more of its 300 million users to start listening to podcasts.
Peter Kafka talked to Gimlet Media’s new head of content, Lydia Polgreen, about how she plans to achieve that at the Code Media@Home series.
“Our goal is to get people into the habit of listening to content on Spotify that’s not music,” Polgreen said. While the growth of podcasts has been strong, it’s still a tiny fraction of overall listening for the service. She pointed to the latest Edison research that podcasting hit an all-time high in 2020, now accounting for a 6 percent share of audio consumption in the United States.
To that end, Gimlet is experimenting with mixed media extensions of podcasts, like vodcasting (video podcasting), and it’s leveraging Spotify’s robust predictive algorithm to feed music listeners shortform spoken content in the Daily Drive, its recommendation service.
“Just as Spotify helped people discover the best music for them — it didn’t just know what you liked, but it was able to predict what you might like,” Polgreen said. “There’s a lot of really fascinating work going on at the company that’s trying to solve this problem for spoken word audio too.”
The most recent iteration of this looks a lot like traditional FM radio. Last month, Gimlet Media launched The Get Up, a morning show that mixes daily news and talk with Spotify’s personalized music recommendations — “that special sauce Spotify has with music,” said Polgreen.
Deciding to reinvent the drive-time radio show during a pandemic, when a large share of would-be commuters are homebound, doesn’t seem like great timing. But according to Polgreen, half a million people have tuned in so far. And after an initial dip, Gimlet listenership is back to where it was pre-pandemic.
Polgreen also told Kafka some of her other ideas for audio: a daily shortform soap opera-style fiction podcast, and a weekly, appointment-listening documentary show. “We’ve yet to see a show that’s become the 60 Minutes for audio,” she said.
Watch Kafka’s full interview with Lydia Polgreen above to hear more about her vision for podcasting at Spotify, why she left a long career at the New York Times to join HuffPost after the 2016 election, and her thoughts on Joe Rogan’s interview controversies.