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Spotify Launches Podcasts, Video, And Context-Based Listening

Spotify is a making a bigger play for your attention span by incorporating a range of content beyond music.

[Photo: Flickr user Josué Goge]

Spotify is already the biggest music subscription service in the U.S., but it is facing increasing competition as more big players, including Apple and Jay Z, enter the streaming-music market. Today, Spotify is launching a new version that incorporates podcasts, video, and a new, contextually aware approach to music playback.

"If we truly want Spotify to be the soundtrack of our lives, we need it to be able to deliver the right music based on who we are, what we're doing, and how we're feeling," said Spotify CEO Daniel Ek at this morning's launch event in New York City.

The update, the most substantial to the service in some time, attempts to make Spotify more of a one-stop-shop for listening by including spoken, radio-style audio, and short clips from video providers like Vice and Comedy Central. It's a bit like having the Snapchat Discover tab and a podcasting app like Stitcher both built right into the app millions of people already use to stream music.

This expansion of Spotify's focus beyond music comes thanks to partnerships with an array of content providers, including Comedy Central, Vice, BBC, Nerdist, TED, and Conde Nast, to name a few.

The latest phase in the competitive war between music streaming companies is all about content exclusivity, and Spotify's new content push is no exception. Some of these partners will produce exclusive content just for Spotify. Other providers, such as Nerdist, will make their content available to Spotify listeners early, with new episodes landing three hours before they arrive on other platforms.

As the music streaming market heats up and braces for Apple's expected relaunch of the Beats music service next month, Spotify is clearly fixated on making its service as all-inclusive and addictive as possible. With the so-called "golden age" of podcasting now well underway, adding support for podcasts is a logical step. Meanwhile, Google has been taking aim at Spotify with products like Google Play Music All Access and the still-in-beta YouTube Music Key subscription service. By adding video to its streaming service, Spotify positions itself more competitively against whatever future threat YouTube may pose.

Spotify also unveiled a contextually aware playlist engine, which makes music recommendations based on the time of day and what activities a user might be doing at a given time. Users can choose from a selection of time-specific activities: Morning, Morning Commute, Workday, Evening, and so forth. These playlists are auto-generated based on a blend of the user's history and what the service thinks what would be most appropriate music for that user's context and likely mood.

This new feature incorporates Spotify's new content partners as well. For instance, if you're driving home from work, the playlist Spotify generates for you may include an hourly news update from NPR or one of your favorite podcasts. Presumably, the driving playlist will not include Comedy Central video clips.

Taking the contextual playback concept to the next level, Spotify is also launching a set of new features geared at runners: New running-focused playlists will use the accelerometer of your phone to help select a song of the right tempo. The company has also entered into partnerships with Nike and RunKeeper to integrate Spotify into their workout apps.

Clearly, the exercise use case is a very common one among Spotify users. I, for one, accompany every evening run with a high-tempo Spotify playlist that I continually update—now Spotify's algorithms are offering to lend me a hand. Spotify has recognized that many of its power users, who Ek says use the app as much as 16 hours per day, often use Spotify while running and doing other forms of exercise. So the company conducted extensive user research and came up with these new features to try and enhance this use case specifically.

"For some reason, the music player looks the way it did 15 years ago," Spotify chief product officer Gustav Söderström said at this morning's event. "We decided to rethink the whole approach, starting with the user interface. We started by examining what music does to runners."

As convenient as running-specific, tempo-based playlists are, it has been done before. Spotify is delving deeper into the relationship between music and physical activity by tinkering with the very concept of the song itself. A new format of music produced exclusively for Spotify will self-adjust each song's tempo according to the rate at which the listener is moving.

Today's update, which Ek referred to as "a massive leap forward for Spotify," truly is the biggest product update the service has seen in a few years. That's good, because this space is about to get even more competitive, and to stay on top, Spotify will need all the help it can get.