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How Spotify's Neil Young fight signals platform's 'grown up' turning point

·Senior Reporter
·4 min read
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Neil Young’s music has already found a new home — one day after Spotify (SPOT) refused to give in to the rock legend’s ultimatum to drop Joe Rogan’s podcast from its platform over fake vaccine information.

Young’s music will now be streamed exclusively on SiriusXM. And amid the furor, the rocker's greatest hits album rocketed into the top 5 on Apple Music (AAPL)— proving that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

According to Rolling Stone, Young first made the Spotify removal request on Monday, writing in a now-deleted letter to his manager and a Warner Music Group executive: "I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines...They can have Rogan or Young. Not both."

On Wednesday night, Young followed up with a lengthy post on his website, writing in part, "Most of the listeners hearing the unfactual, misleading and false COVID information of Spotify are 24 years old...These young people believe Spotify would never present grossly unfactual information. They unfortunately are wrong. I knew I had to try to point that out."

Representatives for both Spotify and Young did not immediately respond to Yahoo Finance's request for comment.

Spotify quickly obliged Young's request, removing his music by Thursday. The controversy generated so much online pushback from people backing the rocker that the hashtag "Spotify Deleted" began trending on Twitter on Thursday afternoon.

But the decision also underscored how the streaming giant is evolving, and growing more confident in flexing its muscles in a competitive industry, some observers say.

"Spotify is growing up, right? It's moving from being a music platform company to becoming an audio media company," Ola Sars, founder and CEO of B2B music streaming company Soundtrack Your Brand, told Yahoo Finance during a recent interview.

"It's inevitable that these decisions will come and they will have to take a more proactive stance on what content goes through the platform," the executive continued.

Sars, who worked directly with Spotify to develop Soundtrack Your Brand, added that "this is probably not the only situation where certain artists don't like other types of content...this will be day-to-day business for Spotify [and they will handle] it like any other media company moving forward."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02:  Joe Rogan walks onto the stage during the UFC 230 weigh-in inside Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 2018 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: Joe Rogan walks onto the stage during the UFC 230 weigh-in inside Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 2018 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

With millions of daily subscribers, "The Joe Rogan Experience" is the most popular podcaster on Spotify's platform by far. But he has come under intense scrutiny for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments — prompting an open letter last month from hundreds of scientists, professors and public health experts who urged Spotify to crack down on Rogan and pandemic misinformation at large.

"With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, [Rogan's show] is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy," the letter read.

'Let the free markets be'

Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young performs at the Orange Stage at the Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark, July 1, 2016. Picture taken July 1, 2016.  Scanpix Denmark/Nils Meilvang/via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. DENMARK OUT. NO COMMERCIAL SALES.
Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young performs at the Orange Stage at the Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark, July 1, 2016. Picture taken July 1, 2016. Scanpix Denmark/Nils Meilvang/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. DENMARK OUT. NO COMMERCIAL SALES.

Sars cited that other media giants from YouTube (GOOGL) to Facebook (FB) have gone through their own public reckonings when it comes to platform scrutiny — and have come out relatively unscathed on the other side.

"I personally don't think that paying subscribers will leave a platform because there's one program that is being disputed...[Spotify] has been through this before, so has all of the other media platforms, and consumers kept paying the bill," he continued.

Spotify currently has 381 million users in more than 184 countries and markets. The platform signed a reported $100 million deal with Rogan in 2020 — a pricey offering that seems to have paid off with the podcast surging in popularity all over the world.

Sars suggested that, moving forward, Spotify should "let the free markets be," follow local guidelines, and be as transparent as possible when it comes to policies already in place.

Overall, the CEO surmised that the streaming giant will "be fine" in the end — even if users can no longer stream Young's iconic "Heart of Gold."

Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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