UPDATED: Shares of Spotify took a hit after analysts at Citi downgraded the stock because the audio-streaming giant hasn’t shown “any material benefit” from its $800 million-plus investment in podcasting content and tech.
Spotify’s stock price closed down 6.6% Friday, to $319.82 per share, outpacing smaller declines in the broader market. In 2020, shares of the company more than doubled in value on investor enthusiasm for Spotify’s global expansion and business model, including its push into podcasts.
“The cadence of [Spotify] Premium gross additions (through 3Q20) and app download data (through 4Q20) do not show any material benefit from recent podcast investments (that began in 2019),” the team of Citi analysts led by Jason Bazinet said in a research note Friday, cutting their rating on Spotify stock from “neutral” to “sell.”
The Citi analysts wrote that “our fear is that if podcasting doesn’t provide a way for Spotify to shift away from music label dependence, the Street may reassess the underlying value of the business. And, that would be bad for Spotify’s multiple and equity value.” Spotify has a market cap of more than $60 billion, while it has continued to post operating losses.
Meanwhile, Apple execs have been “discussing” a potential podcast subscription service, the Information reported Friday, citing unnamed sources. However, it’s not clear that would present a competitive threat to Spotify any greater than Apple Music already poses.
Spotify as of the end of September had more than 320 million users, including 144 million paid subscribers, across 92 markets. Spotify hosts more than 1.9 million podcast titles, most of which are nonexclusive.
Spotify kicked off its podcast-growth initiative in early 2019, buying podcast studios Gimlet Media and Parcast, and podcast self-publishing platform Anchor — paying nearly $400 million for them, with additional potential payouts over four years. Last year Spotify bought Bill Simmons’ The Ringer podcast and media startup in a deal worth up to nearly $200 million and spent $235 million in cash to buy podcast publishing and ad company Megaphone.
It has also spent millions on original and exclusive podcast content. Last fall, it secured exclusive rights to “The Joe Rogan Experience,” the hugely popular and controversial show. Spotify also had inked multiyear podcast pacts with the Obamas and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Archewell Audio, as well as development deals with Kim Kardashian West, Warner Bros. and DC Comics, and the Duplass Brothers.