Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek addressed the ongoing controversy surrounding his platform's relationship with podcast titan Joe Rogan during the company's earnings call on Wednesday, as investors weigh the listening service's balancing act between allowing freedom of expression from creators and outside pressures to crack down on "misinformation."
Rogan has been accused of peddling "misinformation" about COVID-19 during conversations in some of his episodes, sparking protest from progressives.
Longtime artist and far-left activist Neil Young pulled his music from Spotify after giving the company an ultimatum to drop Rogan – who has an enormous following exclusive to the platform – and a handful of other musicians followed suit in solidarity with Young.
Spotify then announced it would "add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19."
During Wednesday's call, the first question was about the situation with Rogan and how the company was dealing with it.
"You've clearly changed your public stance given artist pushback to [Joe Rogan's] content," the individual told Ek, asking, "Is it a slippery slope censoring content on the platform, and have any advertisers left Spotify?"
Ek acknowledged that the issue was "top of mind this week" but called it "very complicated."
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"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," the chief executive said. "Our policies have been carefully written with the input from numbers of internal and external experts in this space – and I do believe they're right for our platform."
He added, "While Joe has a massive audience and is actually the number one podcast in more than 90 markets, he also has to abide by those policies."
Ek said that "of course" Spotify has heard from its partners on the situation, but dodged on whether any advertisers had left.
For the fourth quarter of 2021, Spotify reported an 18% increase in monthly active users from the year before to 406 million, and saw paying subscribers jump by 16% to 180 million. Both those numbers were on the high end of the company's expectations for Q4, which Ek said was the largest quarter of growth in the company's history.