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Spotify begins testing curated podcast playlists

Spotify is beginning a summer of podcast playlist tests today that’ll involve the creation of curated episode suggestions around specific genres, according to a source close to the company. Spotify doesn’t currently have a way for people to discover new shows, so this is a first step toward helping creators find a bigger audience.

Five playlists will start showing up today to around five percent of users in the UK, US, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina. The themes include comedy, true crime, “geek culture,” “walking (motivational),” and “relaxing (mindfulness).” The playlists are expected to change over time as Spotify experiments with how to present them, which means they could update at different rates and feature a rotating selection of both Spotify-exclusive shows and third-party podcasts. It’s unclear how the curators are choosing the episodes — if they’re creating deals with networks for placement or just picking content they themselves recommend.

The bigger goal of these tests is to improve podcast discoverability, an issue that plagues the industry. Typically, people find new podcasts when they hear about them on other shows. That’s why cross-promotional ads are so crucial and why they’ve become a focal point for at least one startup. Some podcast apps also employ human curators, although often those lists offer full show recommendations rather than individual episodes. Apple, for example, creates curated lists of shows its team recommends. In Apple’s case, it’s built relationships with networks and creators to feature their work.

Human-curated playlists are a neat addition to Spotify, but they don’t totally advance the industry. More interesting to watch for will be how data and algorithmically generated playlists come into play later on, as Spotify learns more about what people want to hear and what they enjoy. Right now, these playlists are broad, but discovery could be improved if every person were presented with an individualized list of episode recommendations based solely off their taste. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this soon.

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