Spotify shares dropped 8.8% Wednesday (Sep. 2) morning, shaving as much as $4.81 billion of its value, following a report Joe Rogan’s back catalog debuted on the platform Tuesday without episodes by right-wing personalities. The closing price of $275.62 marked a 5.5% drop from Tuesday’s close. As the trading day heats up on Thursday, the price is hovering around $269.50.
Rogan — podcaster, comedian and commentator on WWF’s mixed martial artist telecasts — debuted on Spotify on Tuesday, nearly five months after signing a $100 million deal in May that gives Spotify a worldwide exclusive — but not ownership — of his popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. His podcast was not available on Spotify until Tuesday. Come Tuesday, not all of his prior podcasts showed up.
Among the guests Spotify left out are politically far-right guests such as Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Charles C. Johnson and Gavin McInnes, as well as comedian Chris D’Elia, charged by five women for alleged sexual harassment and improprieties. Jones’s and Yiannopoulos’s reputation precedes them as both are banned from both Twitter and Facebook for abusive behavior. News of the missing podcast was first reported by Entertainment Weekly. Spotify did not respond to Billboard’s request for comment.
Investors also pulled back on some other tech stocks — though not to the same degree as Spotify. Yesterday, Apple shares fell as much as 5.3% before closing the day down just 2%. Netflix sank 3.5% and ended the day down just 0.7%. The losses continued this morning as Apple and Netflix fell 8.1% and 5.6%, respectively.
The Rogan catalog dust-up reveals the delicate balance a streaming service must strike with its content and policies, especially as they increasingly use podcasts in their long-term strategies. Mainstream music is rarely hateful. On the other hand, in a talk format, A-list podcasters have more opportunities to have controversial statements or guests. Popular podcaster Dave Rubin also received criticism for hosting right-wing commentators such as Alex Jones and Laura Southern. In Rogan’s case, his broad choices of guests and multi-hour, freewheeling conversations inherently have a greater chance to offend than shorter, scripted podcasts owned by Spotify.
Music has the occasional run-in with streaming services’ censors. Spotify removed music from multiple groups deemed to be racist “hate bands” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The next year, it announced a new policy for hateful content but quickly walked back a provision many people believed cast too wide a net. Ensnared in the new policy, R. Kelly, XXXTentacion and Tay-K were removed from Spotify’s editorial and recommendation algorithms, a way of keeping offensive content but hiding it from plain sight.
The situation is made trickier by Rogan’s high profile. Rogan is arguably Spotify’s biggest podcaster and a major investment in Spotify’s push to become an all-in-one audio platform. What’s more, Rogan is licensing his content to Spotify and retaining ownership — with a hands-off relationship.
Rogan’s rollout on the platform created negative press seen by Wall Street. With Spotify’s stock price soaring in 2020, a long-term investor could have sold at a healthy profit on Wednesday, helping turn an embarrassing fumble into a $4.8-billion loss, albeit a temporary one. The share price recovered nearly 40% of the loss, suggesting some investors sensed an overreaction and a buying opportunity.