Spotify and Autonomous Vehicles

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Photo by Steve Jurvetson [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

I’m a big fan of the Freakonomics Podcast. Recently, Steve Dubner interviewed Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify. I was THRILLED that Dubner asked Ek about what happens when everyone’s in autonomous vehicles. About two years ago, I wrote about how we were in a golden age of audio that might come to an end when vehicles become autonomous and we can use our eyes for other things.

I wasn’t satisfied with Ek’s answer. Here’s the transcript:

DUBNER: Although I did wonder with autonomous vehicles theoretically coming maybe relatively soon.

EK: Right.

DUBNER: It does strike me that listening to music in a car is a perfect complementary activity. Because you need to drive, you need to keep your eyes on the road, but your ears are free. I do wonder with autonomous vehicles whether it may actually be harmful to streaming music because now my eyes are free to something that might be more interactive.

EK: Right. I mean, you may be right. I don’t know. I think that what’s really interesting, however, is that countercultural force right now from people looking into their phones is all of these well-being things, both Google and Apple released “screen time,” which is supposed to restrict your screen time. And we have the Alexa in your home, which is another device which you’re not supposed to look at, which are all great countercultural reactions to this, watching a screen, which we wouldn’t probably have imagined just a few years ago.

I get Ek’s pivot with that question and reframing it away from losing users to growing the market, but I think he’s missing the effect specifically on podcasts. At least a few years back, that number accounted for about 22% of podcast consumption. I’d be curious to dig into the stats about the total time spent listening to podcasts in cars of all the time spent and whether podcasts in car are where there growth in podcasts is coming from.

Spotify bought Anchor and Gimlet to push more into the podcast space. Maybe I’m not as convinced this is where things are heading. Maybe autonomous driving will have more of an effect on satellite radio than podcasts. Maybe this is one reason why Howard Stern announced he’s retiring at the end of his contract.

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