How the Spotify Deal Changed Joe Rogan’s Reach

Spotify bought the rights to Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2020 for $100 million, and full episodes became exclusively available on Spotify on September 1, 2020. I don’t listen to the podcast but have had the feeling that I hear about Rogan and his show less than I used to, and I wanted to know what effect that deal has had on Rogan’s societal influence. How much did committing to exclusive distribution matter for the reach of a hugely popular figure?

“We’re going to be working with the same crew doing the exact same show,” Mr. Rogan said as he announced the deal on his podcast Tuesday. “The only difference will be it will now be available on the largest audio platform in the world.”

Joe Rogan in the WSJ

I looked at a few proxies for the size of Rogan’s audience, and it seems like the Spotify deal lessened Rogan’s reach. Here is Google Search volume for the Joe Rogan Experience:

And search volume for Joe Rogan himself:

I expect some of the decline is because people no longer use Google to search for episodes to watch directly on YouTube, and so some of the search volume has just switched from Google’s platform to Spotify. I also would often hear about Rogan in a political news story and so the timing of Trump being voted out of office in November 2020 may contribute to the pattern. But still, it’s a striking change in trend, and it is visible in data from other platforms as well.

Below are subscribers to Rogan’s YouTube channel (above) and Subreddit (below). Both of these audiences have slowed growth since Spotify exclusivity began in September 2020. I find the slowed growth in the subreddit most convincing, since it seems less likely to be a result of people switching off the platform and more likely to be a result of fewer people deciding to be a part of a Rogan-centric community overall.

Source: Social Blade
Source: Subreddit Stats

Based on the slowdown in growth, It seems like the number of people Rogan is reaching has declined due to the deal.

This makes sense in retrospect; it is as if Coca-Cola committed to be sold exclusively in Target. Lots of people go to Target, but lots more don’t, and not everyone who drank Coke beforehand would switch. But it wasn’t obvious to me at first. I could have been convinced that Rogan aligning incentives with a large tech company with millions of dollars to spend in advertising and full control over promo in app would have increased his influence.

How did Rogan fans react to the deal?

To see how Rogan fans reacted to the deal, I used the pushift API to analyze posts from the Joe Rogan subreddit. We can see that posters on the subreddit started mentioning Spotify frequently when the deal was announced in May of 2020. Spotify seems to have featured widely in discussion on the subreddit since the deal.

Below, I used weighted log-odds ratios to plot the most distinctive phrases in posts mentioning Spotify on the subreddit as compared to all other posts.

On the left are typical things mentioned in the subreddit: Sober October, complaining about admins, and episode content. On the right are phrases distinctive to posts mentioning Spotify. It seems like users are often commenting on Spotify’s removal of episodes and especially Rogan’s interview of Alex Jones, along with references to YouTube and ads.

I’d expect any change like this to result in complaints among existing users. It’s interesting to see that perceived censorship is up there with advertising and convenience in terms of things people are complaining about.

For its part, Spotify picked up an important asset; the Rogan podcast is number one overall on Spotify’s podcast chart at the time of this writing and helps position the platform at the center of podcasting.

I would love to see how many incremental users and subscribers have resulted from the exclusive contract, and will be curious to see if many more podcast acquisition deals get done. It’s fun to watch a new industry organize itself.