Amazon Music UK director Paul Firth has told Music Week he believes the streaming giant has the ability to introduce all-new demographics to the podcasting world as the company officially announces the launch of the format in the UK, US, Germany, and Japan.
“We know because we see it in our numbers, and we hear this from labels, that we've introduced many new people to music streaming, people who perhaps would not have been a music streamer before, who never would have had a subscription streaming service,” explained Firth. “We think that now's the time to do the same for podcasts, because, yes, podcasts have been around for years, but in many ways it's still really early days. It's not such a mainstream listening habit yet, and yet we think that's about to change. The interest that's been shown in podcasts, the wider appreciation of it, means now it's time for a mainstream focus on podcasts. That's what we want to do.”
It will mark the first time Amazon Music customers will be able to stream podcasts, which will be available across all tiers of the service at no additional cost.
The company has also confirmed a string of new, original shows produced exclusively for Amazon Music and hosted by creators including DJ Khaled, Will Smith, Dan Patrick, Becky G and more.
Amazon Music customers can access podcasts in the Amazon Music app for iOS and Android, on Amazon Echo devices, and at music.amazon.co.uk/podcasts.
Music Week has been treated to a demonstration of Amazon Music’s podcast offering – which boasts a slick interface, voice connectivity and a number of other user-friendly features including curated recommendations and other enhanced functions.
“The app is smart enough to figure out where to orient the customer,” Kintan Brahmbhatt, director of podcasts, Amazon Music, told Music Week. “The craftsmanship on the product development has been around addressing the customer needs around discovery and orientation, because a lot of our customers are going to be new to podcasting as well. We know only a third of the population is listening to podcasts right now, so that means the two thirds are going to be new to it. And we will make sure that the app is making it super-easy for them to get there.”
Here, in an exclusive interview, Firth and Brahmbhatt give us an insight into Amazon’s first move into the podcast world, and what we can expect…
Why was it so important for Amazon to enter the podcast space?
Paul Firth: “One of the things that Amazon always talks about is just how focused we’ve been on music and knowing what our customers want from us. Within that, we've been getting feedback from customers who've asked, ‘When can I listen to podcasts on Amazon Music?’ and we think that now's the right time, for a number of reasons. We’ve built a good-sized business now in music, and we've done that in part through focusing on making music listening really easy for people. And it's that focus on convenience, on choice and value for money – bringing those things to the music streaming service – that has been part of what's helped us grow. We've made it really convenient for people to listen to music, through having a focus on voice, thinking about how we work with Alexa and giving a really easy customer experience. We have lots of customers who are core music streamers, undoubtedly, they come to us because we're a great music streaming service. But we also have lots of customers who perhaps would never have come to music streaming but find their way to us because we're so easy to use, because we appear on their Alexa, because we are part of their Prime package. And that's the opportunity: there is such a high proportion of the population who are not listening to podcasts, and yet they'll be listening to the radio, audio and they'll be interested in the subject matter. It's just about giving them the opportunity to discover it in a way that is convenient and easy to use for them. And then you’re in a position where it’s like, ‘Why wouldn't you listen to the podcast?’ There's going to be one that appeals to you. There's going to be a subject you're interested in. People will find their way to it. That's what makes it exciting. It's a great format, with some super-creative people working in it. And we're just making it easier for people to consume it, and that can only lead to more people listening.”
A lot of companies have been making moves into podcasts for years, do you feel Amazon has a lot of ground to make up?
PF: “We've always said that our focus is usually on our customers, not our competitors, and the time is right when the customers who we talk to, the customers who we have listening to our service, and the customers who we can contact, want podcasts – not when other people decide. That's been always been our approach. We bring it to market at the point at which it works with our customer base, and we think that's now – the mainstream interest in podcasts is such that now is the time for us to bring it to them in really convenient way, using some of the same approaches we did in music by making it available to people on voice, making it available to people on visual, making it available to people who are Prime members, making it available to non-Prime members – just make it really easy and use voice to really take away any of the barriers. So it’s a very thoughtful approach – it’s an approach that you're used to from us for music. We do think that now's the time. And it's not that we haven’t been busy during that period of time. Only two weeks ago, we added livestreaming to our experience so people can now see a Twitch livestream embedded in Amazon Music. Just last week, we launched the high definition service in France, Italy and Spain, so we've been really busy and continued that real focus on music that we've always had. Music and culture come together so well in podcasts. We have a launch with a really good selection, that captures every category, including many of the most popular shows in the UK. And on top of that, we're going to have some exclusives. And they're all focused on music and entertainment because we think that's the best way for us to bring our existing customer group into podcasts, by working with what they’re used to listening to us from. So we're convinced it's the right time to launch into podcasts. And I think our customers are going to be really ready for it. I'm really excited to see how they respond to it when we do launch.”
Kintan Brahmbhatt: “I was just having a conversation just yesterday with one of the top podcasters in the US, and they told me that they’re super excited. This is an A-List podcaster, a Top 50 Podcaster globally, and is like, ‘Hey, it's still early days, only a third of the US internet adult population is listening to podcasts, I believe you can get the other two thirds on’. So it really depends on how you look at it. With the ease of ease of voice and Alexa, as well as just making it accessible, we want to make sure we grow the pie, that we bring podcasting to more listeners and then give the avenue to both creators as well as customers and listeners to experience all these beautiful stories and podcasts. We have so many of the favourite UK shows, as well as global shows across a variety of genres and categories, there's No Such Thing As A Fish or Case Files or Off The Menu or The Girl’s Bathroom. On top of that, we’re going out of the door with a set of originals and exclusives and we are focusing on music specific exclusives, again that’s driven by our customers. Our customers have been telling us they want to listen to podcasts, but we decided to go deeper into podcasts and invest in it, so we went ahead and asked them, ‘OK, what kind of content do you want to listen to, and what are your key points in the customer experience?’ And we used that directly to inform our decision, both for content as well as for the customer experience.”
What can you tell us about the Amazon exclusive podcasts?
KB: “So we’re excited to share that we’re partnering with DJ Khaled, the show is going to be called The First One. He’s going to talk about the very first hit by some of the A-list artists. You can imagine that DJ Khaled is going to bring a lot of his friends, a lot of chart-toppers. It’s really cool. He has an entertaining way to talk about the story of what led to the very first single and the artist’s life and their connections with fans, and look at look at how things globally evolved after the first single. It’s fascinating. We’re also excited to partner with Becky G, who's a Latin music superstar and for a show called En La Sala and she's going to talk about music with a lot of top Latin music stars about culture and music, and the stories behind the music. We're also excited to announce that, starting in 2021, Amazon Music will be the exclusive home for Disgraceland – which is a hugely popular show on music and true crime. Jake Brennan, who's the host and the producer, is super-excited. We’re also doing a to-be-announced project with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studios. It's a big show. I can say that much, it's going to be a big show. We’re extending the notion of culture and entertainment to movies as well. Dan Patrick is a broadcasting legend in the US and he’s going to sit down with the top Hollywood stars for a show that we’re co-producing with IMDB called That Scene With Dan Patrick, where they're going to dissect some of the most memorable scenes from movies and TV shows with A-List artists. So that's the initial slate that we're going to announce. We feel really good because this allows us to offer music-specific content and entertainment-specific content to our existing customers.”
Are there UK-specific creators involved?
KB: “At launch, we're not announcing any UK specific local creators, but that doesn't mean we'll never do that. We’re just getting started and expect to partner with local creators in the UK to bring more content. We will continue to add more.”
How many podcasts are going to be available?
KB: “Millions of episodes, the number is increasing every hour. If we keep on adding podcasts, I'm sure the number, if I shared one right now, would be wrong in 10 minutes.”
Some rights-holders are concerned that podcasts being on streaming services directs attention away from people listening to music and, thus, generating revenue. Is that a concern?
PF: “What we see, and what we believe will happen, is that adding podcasts will mean people are listening to more, and more in total. What we found when talking to customers about their behaviour is, that people who listen to podcasts generally listen to more music, because they're listening more, because they’re in our environment more. So, actually, we're not concerned by it – we think it keeps our customers more engaged in Amazon Music for longer, it keeps them a subscriber for longer, which is good for everybody involved. I’m just really pleased that the early podcasts we are talking about are all music and entertainment-themed and that shows our commitment. Even though we're putting podcasts on the service, they're still going to be about driving people to music, they're still going to be about giving artists an opportunity to talk to their fans in a different way. So, our aim is to make a more engaging service overall, to give our listeners, and fans of music, an opportunity to learn more about music and engage more deeply in music. All of that remains the same, and we think, long-term, that's good for rights-holders.”
So are you wanting labels, managers, artists to approach you if they've got podcast ideas?
PF: “Absolutely. We're always working on our plans, but we also know that there are many, many creative people out there who've got great concepts, and we'd love to hear from them. Our aim, as we've always said, is to connect fans with great music, and to connect artists with as many fans as possible. We want to do that through music, through livestreaming and through podcasts. And if any of your readers think we can help do that, and they've got an idea that helps us do it, they should get in touch.”
Finally, how is everything going at Amazon Music right now?
PF: “We're still growing, we're still doing well. In the early days of lockdown, as a whole, the market segment in the UK saw a slight decline in streaming – not necessarily in subscriptions, but in people listening to music because people weren't commuting, they weren't going to the gym or in those positions where they often listen to music. But we never saw that, because of the strength of our base of people who listen from home. Because of the strength of Alexa and the strength of Echo, any small decline we saw in mobile listening was more than offset by the increase in home listening. So we've actually seen a step-up in interest and demand during this time as more people have discovered just how easy is to listen to music at home, and then we'll take that into listening to music on their mobile as well. Things have been going well for us. We're excited that there's going to be some new releases coming through, we need those big albums to continue to bring the interest into the market segment, but as a whole Amazon Music’s in a good place. We've been keeping busy.”