Daniel Ek Admits Spotify Anti-Hate Policy Was "Rolled Out Wrong"

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Daniel Ek

The Spotify CEO said that the music streamer was too "ambiguous" about the policy, which means that it would no longer promote music from artists like R. Kelly, who have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says that the company mishandled how it communicated plans to remove music from R. Kelly and other artists from its playlists.

"The whole goal with this was to make sure that we didn't have hate speech on the service. It was never about punishing one individual," Ek told the Code Conference crowd on Wednesday evening. "We rolled this out wrong and we could have done a much better job." He added that there was "too much ambiguity" in how the policy was communicated to Spotify users and partners. 

Spotify on May 10 announced that it was introducing a new policy on hate speech and hateful conduct that would see it stop promoting the music made by Kelly, who has been accused of sexual misdoncut against multiple women, and other artists whose conduct has been deemed offensive.

The move sparked a backlash from some users, even though the music streamer did not remove Kelly's content from its platform. "What we wanted to be was just transparent," Ek reiterated to attendees at the annual tech event, which was held at Terranea in Palos Verdes, Calif.

He later clarified that the policy is still active today, even though Spotify has been listening to feedback from multiple parties and "iterating" on it "just like we would anything else."

The CEO's Code interview was Ek's first public appearance in the nearly two months since he took his company public through an unconventional direct listing. Spotify's shares are currently trading just above $156, up more than 1 percent from the previous day. 

The company is facing increased competition from Apple and YouTube, which both offer music streaming rivals to Spotify. Two-year-old Apple Music has passed 50 million paid and free members, while YouTube recently launched revamped app YouTube Music. Spotify, meanwhile, has 75 million paid subscribers for its premium offering and 170 million total members for its free, ad-supported app.

Although Spotify's rivals have deep pockets and powerful businesses that should help their push into music streaming, Ek said that the problem of going against entrenched competitors is "not unique to Spotify." He added, "one of the real iportant things is that this platform remains open." 

Prior to its IPO, Spotify made a much-discussed push into original video production with a slate of music-themed shortform series. But the architect of that plan, Tom Calderone, departed Spotify last summer and the streamer brought in former Maker Studios executive Courtney Holt to replace him. Since then, Spotify has been focused on core products like curated playlist RapCaviar, but Ek says he expects video to grow on the platform. "We have to get it right for what consumers want," he notes. "Over time, video will be a more important part of our platform than what it is today."