Dawn Ostroff had spent most of her career in the TV and movie business before stepping into her job in music streaming a year ago. But the veteran television and video executive is now tasked with pulling off Spotify’s biggest new gamble in years.
Ostroff’s mission is to grow the streaming service into a full-fledged audio entertainment company — chiefly through a massive investment in podcasts, something for which Spotify was never originally known. She believes that the nascent audio platform, which is booming in popularity with global audiences, hold immense potential for the company due to its emotional resonance and capabilities in niche programming. “It’s about creating an audio ecosystem where you offer something in addition to music,” Ostroff says. “It’s almost like reading a book where you get to imagine what the person is talking about, and there’s also an intimacy, a very deep intimacy when somebody is talking to you, either in your ear or through audio that allows the user to feel like they are on the inside of either the story or on the inside of a conversation.” Spotify recently snatched up three podcasting companies, redesigned its mobile app to give podcasts more prominence, and announced a slate of shows with figures like Barack and Michelle Obama. The investments have paid off, the company says: Spotify’s podcast audience has more than doubled since the start of this year.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek brought Ostroff into the company for her career-spanning ability to predict future trends. In 2005, she helped found the teen-oriented CW Network after realizing that cable needed to take a fresher approach to hang onto viewers; a few years later, she built the first online video player that allowed people to watch network shows — with their all-important money-making advertisements — on the internet. At Condé Nast Entertainment, she built a video network from scratch and brought in 12 billion views in a single year to the media company’s cross-platform digital videos.
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What Ostroff finds most exciting about her new job is its breakneck speed of innovation. “I often said that the music industry was the canary in a coal mine,” Ostroff says, referring to the seismic shifts from physical to digital that hit music, film, and media one after another 10 years ago. Because Spotify is flush with data on users’ listening habits and patterns, it can make educated guesses at “what the next generation of users are going to expect.” But the content team is not afraid to venture into the unknown. “We’re now the largest global audio streamer, which allows us to take risks and do things you can only do in this leadership position,” Ostroff says.