Spotify’s Algorithm Has Been Favoring ‘White Noise’ Podcasts — Serving Up an Estimated 3 Million Daily Consumption Hours

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Spotify's white noise problem, the algorithm favors serving up background noise

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Photo Credit: Silas Baisch

Spotify’s white noise problem is becoming such an issue that the platform has considered banning the content altogether, according to one recent report. As Big Three CEOs take issue with non-music content — will Spotify take action?

Spotify’s pivot toward mainstreaming podcasts, a shift that took some of the wind out of Apple’s sails, started in 2019. But some of the rewards they’re reaping had unintended consequences in 2023. Podcast growth is at an all-time high, but the quality of that content is decidedly less so. Spotify’s self-hosted podcast platform has helped white noise podcast creators explode, according to the latest intel.

A Bloomberg report last year detailed how podcasters create ‘white noise’ podcasts making $18,000 a month. The podcasts don’t contain any talking, instead it offers sounds of waves crashing on a beach, rain on a camping tent, or birds and animals chattering deep in a jungle. The intent is to provide an ambiance for the listener, whether that’s for reading, sleeping, working, exercising, or anything else in between.

A new Bloomberg report suggests that white noise podcast creation has exploded so much that Spotify has considered banning the content. White noise and ambient podcasts accounted for three million daily consumption hours as of January, according to one leaked document — all boosted by Spotify’s push for what it considers ‘talk’ content vs. music.

Essentially, ‘talk content’ with no words has been raking in millions of listens.

“Once Spotify realized how much attention was going to white noise podcasts, the company considered removing these shows from the talk feed and prohibiting future uploads while redirecting the audience toward comparable programming that was more economical for Spotify,” the report reads. “Doing so (according to an internal document) would boost Spotify’s annual gross profit by $38 million.”

Ultimately Spotify did not move forward with banning white noise podcasts on its platform. But that doesn’t mean they’re safe. People who rely on this content and create playlists for easy access have noted that some of their favorite white noise videos have gone missing from playlists they’ve created. Bloomberg even reports that at least one podcaster says their shows have gone missing twice this year alone.

“The first time, the missing episode problem lasted three weeks and cost them an average of 50,000 downloads per day,” Bloomberg reports. “The second time—lasting 10 days—caused them to lose an additional 20,000 downloads per day.”

While Spotify may not have banned the content outright, it is likely facing pressure from the Big Three music labels to do something about ‘white noise’ podcasts. UMG CEO Lucian Grainge and Warner Music CEO Robert Kyncl have both been outspoken about the impact of non-music content earning from the same royalty pool as their music superstars.