The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of controversy surrounding Spotify and Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. The streaming platform, which signed a reported $100 million deal with the podcaster for exclusive streaming rights, is facing major backlash from consumers and creators over the content of Rogan’s podcasts and the platform’s decisions to continue to host his work. Here, Entrepreneur breaks down a comprehensive timeline of everything that has transpired over the past few weeks and explains where the company stands with Rogan now.
How did the Joe Rogan-Spotify controversy start?
December 31, 2022 — The Joe Rogan Experience releases episode #1757. The episode features controversial doctor Robert Malone, who was banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation about Covid-19. Malone criticized the rapid distribution of Covid vaccines, inferring that the U.S. government had ulterior motives amid the pandemic and claims to have “invented the core mRNA vaccine technology platform.” The episode aired exclusively on Spotify, as the streaming platform has exclusive rights to all episodes of the show.
January 12, 2022 — A group of more than 270 medical professionals, scientists, graduate students and professors sign a letter demanding Spotify address episode #1757 of JRE and the podcast as a whole, noting that at the time, Spotify did not have a clear misinformation policy and asking the company to implement one. “By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the letter read.
Artists like Neil Young Chime In
January 24, 2022 — The Great Neil Young Incident. The famed musician writes an open letter on his website, which he later deleted, demanding that Spotify either remove JRE or Young’s entire catalog of music:
“Please immediately inform Spotify that I am actively canceling all my music availability on Spotify as soon as possible. I am doing this because Spotify is spreading false information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them. Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule. I want you to let Spotify know immediately today that I want all of my music off their platform. They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”
Related: Joe Rogan Breaks Silence on Spotify Controversy: ‘Do I Get Things Wrong? Absolutely’
January 26, 2022 — Spotify removes Young’s entire catalog of music per the artist’s ultimatum. “So much for art. But now that is in the past for me. Soon my music will live on in a better place,” Young said in a follow-up statement. A Spotify rep commented that they “regret Young’s decision” to ask for his music to be removed and that the platform hopes to “welcome him back soon.” Not looking very likely.
January 28, 2022 — Musician Joni Mitchell, citing the same reasons, follows Young’s lead by removing her catalog of music from Spotify. E-Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren quickly follows suit (though Bruce Springsteen did not co-sign.) A wave of artists, including India.Arie, Graham Nash, David Crosby and Stephen Stisls, also request removal of their catalogs.
January 30, 2022 — Spotify CEO Daniel Ek releases a statement announcing that the platform will be adding a “content advisory” label to all podcasts that discuss Covid and the pandemic. “We take this seriously and will continue to partner with experts and invest heavily in our platform functionality and product capabilities for the benefit of creators and listeners alike. That doesn’t mean that we always get it right, but we are committed to learning, growing and evolving,” Ek said. The company also noted that it would be making its list of platform rules publicly available in an effort to increase transparency between consumers and creators.
Joe Rogan Apologizes and Spotify CEO Speaks Out
January 31, 2022 — Rogan posts a 10-minute long video to his Instagram in response to Spotify’s newly announced policy that addressed two episodes of his podcast, namely #1757 with Dr. Robert Malone and #1747 with Dr. Peter McCullough. He doubles down on his decision to interview them and other controversial guests, saying that he is interested in hearing extreme and opposing opinions across the spectrum. “I do not know if they’re right. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist,” Rogan said in the clip. “I’m just a person who sits down and talks to people and has conversations with them. Do I get things wrong? Absolutely. I get things wrong. But I try to correct them.”
February 3, 2022 — Ek speaks out on Rogan controversy and new misinformation policy in a Q4 2021 earnings call. “We’ve taken pretty dramatic steps … one is publishing our policies and making them clear to the world. Just an acknowledgment from my side. That’s probably late, we should have done it earlier, and that’s on me,” Ek admitted before noting that Spotify would be the first streaming platform to ever implement such a policy. He also said that it was too early to tell whether or not the Rogan backlash and subsequent fall out would have any impact on revenue for the company.
Related: ‘We Should Have Done it Earlier’: Spotify CEO Speaks Out on Joe Rogan Controversy
February 4, 2022 — Spotify removes more than 70 episodes of JRE. At the time, it was unclear why the episodes were pulled and whether or not Rogan requested it or if the streaming platform took them down on its own accord. The episodes were pulled from the platform after a video surfaced showing a compilation of Rogan saying a racial slur several times. It was presumed, based on timing, that Rogan had used the slur in all of the episodes removed.
February 5, 2022 — Rogan issues an apology in a six-minute Instagram video, calling his use of the slur “shameful” and asserting that he is “not a racist,” saying that the clips were being used out of context. “I know that to most people there’s no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast, and I agree with that now,” Rogan said on video. “I haven’t said it in years. It’s not my word to use. I’m well aware of that now.”
February 6, 2022 — Spotify sends a memo to employees addressing the Rogan controversy.
“There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you,” Ek said in the memo, which was sent over the weekend. “I think it’s important you’re aware that we’ve had conversations with Joe and his team about some of the content in his show, including his history of using some racially insensitive language.”
The memo then went on to reveal that it was Rogan who chose to remove the 70 episodes from the streaming platform. However, Ek doubled down on the platform’s deal with Rogan and decision to continue hosting his content.
“I want to make one point very clear – I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer.”
Ek then told employees that Spotify will commit $100 million towards “licensing, development and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups,” in an effort to elevate more unheard voices.
As of Monday morning, Spotify was down more than 47% year over year.
Related: Spotify Removes All of Neil Young’s Music Amid Joe Rogan Controversy: ‘So Much for Art’