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Spotify Lures Courtney Holt From Disney for Top Content Job (EXCLUSIVE)

Spotify has lured digital-media veteran Courtney Holt over from Disney to lead its efforts around original video and podcast programming, Variety has learned exclusively.

The hire comes days after the streaming service confirmed the departure of Tom Calderone, global head of content partnerships at Spotify. Spotify reps confirmed Holt’s hire Wednesday, but declined to comment further.

As vice president and head of Spotify Studios and Video, Holt will report to Stefan Blom, chief content officer at Spotify. He will work out of the company’s Los Angeles offices; his start date is unknown.

Holt had been at Disney since 2014 when he came over as part of the management team running digital content outfit Maker Studios, which the conglomerate purchased for an estimated $675 million. Disney made him Maker’s top-ranked exec by the end of 2015 when its CEO, Ynon Kreiz, exited the company. But by the end of 2016, Maker was placed under oversight of a different division within Disney and Holt was shifted to a new role at the company as EVP of media and strategy, reporting to Kevin Mayer, senior EVP and chief strategy officer at Disney.

With Spotify, he’ll take on a more operationally focused role than the purely strategic one he was given at Disney. Holt has a long resume in digital media, with extensive exposure to the music industry. He began his career with stints at Atlantic Records and A&M Records before taking on key roles in the development of digital-facing businesses at MTV Networks in 2006 and then MySpace Music in 2008.

Spotify’s video content strategy has evolved since 2015, when the streaming service began supplementing its audio library by licensing short-form videos from media companies that were mostly excerpts of cable TV programs. That effort was spearheaded by Matt Baxter, who left at the end of 2016 for a role at Live Nation Entertainment.

Calderone, formerly president of VH1, came in that year and put together a slate of modestly budgeted original series that were largely unscripted formats of various lengths. Series all drew on music-related themes included “Traffic Jams,” a hip-hop re-imagination of “Carpool Karaoke” in which a producer and rapper craft a new song while stuck in a car together, as well as “Trading Playlists,” in which a pair of famous athletes share their favorite music with each other. A slate of original podcasts came in the same music-friendly vein including “R&B Matters” and “Mogul,” a dissection of the life and death of hip-hop impresario Chris Lighty.

But there was little sense that Spotify was getting much traction for its original content or much of a push on the platform itself to get subscribers watching and listening. Producers and publishers who have dealt with Spotify describe a disconnect between the content team and the engineers in the company’s product division who ultimately decide how much visibility its 140 million active users worldwide are given to the videos and podcasts.

In that respect, Holt’s experience developing product and managing large teams of engineers could make this role a more suitable match for him than Calderone, who came from the TV business. Holt has been on CEO Daniel Ek’s radar given the business Spotify has done with Holt in his various jobs over the years, but conversations about coming aboard didn’t materialize until earlier in 2017.

When Calderone’s departure was announced, a Spotify spokesman told Variety that there would be more of a focus on how song playlists were seeded with video content, as is already being programmed for top titles in the section like RapCaviar. That strategy is expected to be accelerated under Holt as these sub-brands get a bigger push in the coming months. RapCaviar was already exploited offline as its own live-concert series this past summer featuring hip-hop artist Gucci Mane as a headliner.

Under Holt, Spotify is expected to continue to look to the music world for inspiration for its video and podcast content, though that could broaden from its current positioning given how hugely artists loom over pop culture. He’s not expected to take the kind of big swings rival Apple Music is expected to take now the tech giant has signaled an intent to spend $1 billion on programming, though budgets could budge significantly enough to generate the kind of buzz Spotify will need to get in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

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