It's no secret that music-streaming giant Spotify is mounting a major push into podcasts and audio news.
In addition to several sweeping moves, the company is increasing podcasts' profile on the platform and getting users accustomed to seeing them alongside their favorite music. One such experiment with on-demand audio news is a personalized, car-focused playlist dubbed "Your Daily Drive."
As Spotify puts it, the playlist "combines music you love with relevant, timely world updates from reputable sources — all put together in a seamless and unified listening experience." It also dovetails with the company's ambitions to learn more about how people consume audio behind the wheel.
But does the experience live up to that promise?
Under The Hood
- The playlist is refreshed multiple times per day and is capped at around 25 pieces of audio.
- It skews toward music, which comes as no surprise. A recent session of mine featured 19 songs and 5 pieces of audio news. Sometimes there are as few as 3 news segments.
- There's a 7-second "Welcome" message from Spotify to kick off the experience. But if you accidentally leave the shuffle button on like I did and hit the large green "Play" button, who knows where you'll start! (This snafu is more easily avoidable when listening in the car as opposed to on desktop or mobile, however.)
- Personalization is at work here — something Spotify knows well. "Your Daily Drive" bears a passing resemblance to the more well-established "Discover Weekly" automated playlist, in that part of its goal is to introduce you not just to new music, but also new podcasts.
- Some pieces of audio news are short segments, ranging from 1 minute to 5 or 6 minutes in length. Some delve into a single topic — I sometimes get a story segment from PRI's "The World" and the latest "Daily Idea" from The Atlantic — while others are collections of top headlines, like the latest NPR News Now (which is just a rebranded radio newscast) and BBC Minute.
- Each piece of audio news is buffered by four songs, the vast majority of which I recognized from my listening history. Spotify does however mix in a smattering of music I haven't heard before.
- Deeper into the playlist come full-fledged podcast episodes (like "The Daily" and "The Journal") which run upwards of 30 minutes long.
- Also of note: I'm occasionally served up a short version of a Gimlet-produced podcast called "Science Vs." As Cherie Hu recently wrote in Hot Pod, these intentionally condensed episodes offer "an illustrative case study." Will Spotify continue to create such microcasts out of longer Gimlet podcasts, after its purchase of the podcast studio earlier this year?
What Runs Smoothly
- The mere fact that it's Spotify. It's probably my most-used app and I'm generally always pleased with the user experience. Accessing "Your Daily Drive" is no exception.
- This playlist shines brightest in a car configured with a system like Apple CarPlay. It offers drivers a set-and-forget way to hear a combination of music and news without having to cycle between different apps or fuss over hand-assembling a lengthy queue.
- "Your Daily Drive" consists entirely of things I like to listen to. The vast majority of the music is pulled from my listening history; most of the audio news is podcasts I follow and/or have listened to before, or comes from outlets I trust.
- That dash of personalization, a la "Discover Weekly."
What Breaks Down
- Here's the bottom line: This is a clunky, half-baked merger of two listening experiences (music and news) that many people like to separate. When I'm commuting to work in the morning and want to get up to speed on the news, I want a steady stream of just news. The same goes for when I'm on my way home listening to music to decompress. (There's a reason a music radio station will give you entertainment news in tiny bursts at the top and bottom of the hour, just like there's a reason NPR's music bumpers, for example, last mere seconds.)
- Those long podcast episodes. With most any playlist experience, you can expect snappy transitions from one track to the next. But in "Your Daily Drive," that flow stagnates. By the time I reached minute 16 of "The Journal," for instance, I had forgotten I was in a playlist at all.
- I felt let down by the limited choice of news, especially shorter segments (likely due to licensing complications). This lack of variety is especially noticeable when a publisher fails to update its content and/or Spotify fails to account for that. I was served up the Oct. 8 episode of The Atlantic's "Daily Idea" three days in a row, for instance.
- The chance for an editorially awkward or inappropriate transition from music into news, and vice versa, is ever-present. Just imagine, for example, coming out of an NPR News Now update about raging California wildfires and into "Disco Inferno" by The Trammps.
Where The Rubber Meets The Road
- "Your Daily Drive" is another salvo from Spotify as it aims to become a one-stop shop for all types of audio, something that should get everyone's attention.
- The company claims this playlist is "seamless," but the seams are there for all to hear.
- It's possible this format could still work, but with more short news segments (5 minutes or less) and fewer lengthy podcast episodes.
- Even if you have Spotify baked into your car's head unit via a smart-auto system like Apple CarPlay, can "Your Daily Drive" legitimately compete against, say, "Morning Edition" or Howard Stern?
- If Spotify wants to make this playlist a true destination for car commuters, it might behoove them to make it more local — think weather, sports, city hall.