How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’
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Updated 17 June 2022

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’

How Spotify aims to be a ‘platform for creative exchange between fans and creators’
  • Claudius Boller, managing director for Spotify MENA, discusses the new features the platform is rolling out to better connect fans with artists

DUBAI: “As we settle into the post-pandemic era, we see clear indicators that audio, in all its forms, has become a platform for self-expression for both artists and creators,” Claudius Boller, the managing director for Spotify in the Middle East and Africa, told Arab News.

“Socializing through music will continue to see an uptick in demand,” he added, especially for younger audiences who crave connection, even more so in the aftermath of the pandemic.

One illustration of this is the popularity of Lyrics, a feature added to the Spotify app last year in partnership with lyrics provider Musixmatch. It inspired many users, especially in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East and North Africa region, to create memes and other posts that used song lyrics to express their thoughts and feelings, and share them on social media.

It is not something the company expected to happen but it was pleasantly surprised by it. Social media engagement in the Arab region is very high but, more importantly, young audiences are finding increasingly creative ways to explore digital platforms, Boller said.

“So we feel like we need to give certain tools (to them) and then just see what they do with it,” he added.

Spotify has, therefore, introduced a host of new features “that demonstrate our current focus on being a platform for creative exchange between fans and creators,” Boller said.

The first is a foray into the metaverse. With Spotify Island, it is the first music-streaming service to have a presence on Roblox, the gaming platform and game-creation system.



“The interactive world of Spotify Island on Roblox will serve as a meeting place for fans and artists to play, explore and connect — all with the goal of bringing artists and fans from all over the world closer together,” said Boller.

Users can explore the island completing quests, discovering music and buying merchandise.

“We’re creating an easy opportunity for artists to connect with fans and to partner with Spotify on the creation of in-game virtual merchandise,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”

The platform plans to continue to enhance the Spotify Island experience through the addition of new features and partnerships. For example, it has already launched K-Park, a section of the island dedicated to the K-pop genre.

In K-Park, fans have the opportunity to interact with Korean music superstars such as Stray Kids and Sunmi, for example by taking part in meet and greets with the artists’ avatars, buying virtual merchandise, and having the opportunity to get a hold of virtual signed memorabilia.

Boller explained that Spotify chose K-pop as its first genre to focus on “for many reasons, including its widespread global appeal, dedicated fan following, and unique set of cultural elements that reach far beyond music.”

In the MENA region, there was a 138 percent year-on-year increase in K-pop consumption between 2019 and 2021. In Saudi Arabia, the increase was 98 percent.



Spotify does not currently have any plans to launch a Middle Eastern hub on Spotify Island but it is in conversation with several artists from the region.

“We’re looking more into genres and fandoms versus regions at this stage but this is just the beginning; we’re really just laying the groundwork for a lot of opportunities,” Boller said.

Other new Spotify developments in the past few months included an expansion of its Blend feature in the form of the launch of Group Blend and Celebrity Blend. The original Blend feature allowed two users to match their music tastes and create a shared playlist. Group Blend allows up to 10 people match with each other, while Celebrity Blend gives users a chance to match with public figures.

“Spotify’s Blend feature combines the best personalization capabilities and collaborative playlist functionality into a single shared playlist,” said Boller.

It also generates “share cards” that reveal the extent to which users’ tastes match, and these can be shared on social media in keeping with Spotify’s efforts to enable and encourage socializing through music.

The feature also offers a potential revenue stream for the company. On Star Wars Day, May 4, for example, Spotify partnered with the sci-fi franchise to give users the chance to use the Blend feature to match with famous characters such as Yoda, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Princess Leia, and create a shared playlist.



The platform is now open to the idea of exploring similar partnerships with regional film franchises and TV shows.

Most recently, Spotify launched Clips, which allows listeners to watch exclusive messages and stories from artists posted in the form of videos — the equivalent of Instagram Stories on a Spotify playlist.

“With Spotify Clips, artists can share intimate moments with their fans and further bring their art to life, express their vision and their story to their fans, ultimately helping artists connect with their fans in a deeper, more meaningful way,” said Boller.

Clips was launched as part of a campaign dedicated to spotlighting the hip-hop scene in Egypt, during which Spotify rebranded its leading Egyptian rap playlist, Melouk El Scene. Listeners can now watch exclusive video messages from artists such as Dareen, Abo El-Anwar, Perrie, Afroto and Marwan Moussa.

Spotify said that “socialization and interactivity through music” lie at the heart of its efforts and this is of particular importance in the Middle East. Saudis, for example, “are up to speed with both local and international trends,” said Boller. They have diverse tastes in music, listening to a range of genres from local folk music, such as Sheilat, to trending global hits, he added.

“We keep a close eye on how Saudis engage with our platform through our machine learning but also through our music team, who keep their fingers on the pulse of culture,” said Boller. “Taking (what we learn) we ensure that every initiative or campaign we run connects with our target audience in Saudi Arabia.”

StarzPlay partners with Virgin Mobile in Kuwait

StarzPlay partners with Virgin Mobile in Kuwait
Updated 15 sec ago

StarzPlay partners with Virgin Mobile in Kuwait

StarzPlay partners with Virgin Mobile in Kuwait
  • The telecoms company’s subscribers on selected plans will get free access to the streaming service
  • StarzPlay is one of Virgin’s first partners in Kuwait to offer free subscriptions bundled with mobile plans

DUBAI: Streaming platform StarzPlay has partnered with Virgin Mobile to offer the telecoms company’s subscribers in Kuwait free access to its library of movies and TV shows.

Virgin Mobile users who sign up for selected monthly, six-monthly or annual plans will receive a free StarzPlay subscription. The cost of eligible mobile plans range from 7 Kuwaiti dinars ($23) to 19 dinars a month.

StarzPlay is one of Virgin Mobile’s first partners in Kuwait to offer free subscriptions bundled with mobile plans as a value-added benefit for customers.

“Bolstering our telcos (telecommunications companies) portfolio has been a strong focus for us from the start,” said Raghida Abou Fadel, StarzPlay’s senior vice-president of business development and sales. “Virgin Mobile has been a strong partner for us across the region.”

Last year, for example, StarzPlay partnered with Virgin Mobile in Saudi Arabia to offer free subscriptions to customers with selected plans.

“We want to make content easily accessible for our subscribers in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and partnering with local telco players offers us a great opportunity to reach and connect with newer audiences,” said Abou Fadel.

Benoit Janin, the CEO of Virgin Mobile, said: “Our continued partnership with StarzPlay highlights our commitment to providing excellence and additional benefits to our customers and we are excited to extend this partnership in Kuwait.”

StarzPlay is home to original shows such as “Baghdad Central,” “Power,” and “Vikings,” among others. It also offers Western classics such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Office,” as well as Arabic and anime content.

It ranks among the region’s top three subscription video-on-demand services, according to the company, and is available in 19 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network
Updated 56 min 6 sec ago

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network
  • The show will have its last broadcast this Sunday.
  • CNN has been looking to cut costs but also to put forth a less opinionated product

NEW YORK: CNN has canceled its weekly “Reliable Sources” show on the media, and said Thursday that its host, Brian Stelter, is leaving the network.
The show will have its last broadcast this Sunday.
CNN has been looking to cut costs but also to put forth a less opinionated product. Stelter has written a book, “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” and been critical of Fox News, making him a frequent target of the CNN’s conservative critics.
Stelter came to CNN from The New York Times, where he was a media writer.
“He departs CNN as an impeccable broadcaster,” said Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent and content development at CNN. “We are proud of what Brian and his team accomplished over the years, and we’re confident their impact and influence will long outlive the show.”
Stelter said that he was grateful for his nine years at CNN, proud of the show and thankful to its viewers.
“It was a rare privilege to lead a weekly show focused on the press at a time when it has never been more consequential,” he said. “I’ll have more to say on Sunday.”
The “Reliable Sources” newsletter, a daily compendium of the media’s big stories, will continue and will be led by CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy.

From Wordle and beyond: The rise of word games

From Wordle and beyond: The rise of word games
Updated 18 August 2022

From Wordle and beyond: The rise of word games

From Wordle and beyond: The rise of word games
  • The New York Times upgrades Wordlebot assistant, a ‘daily companion’ to analyze performance
  • Over the past year dozens of spinoffs have sprung up across the Internet

LONDON: The New York Times announced it has upgraded its Wordle assistant, Wordlebot, introduced earlier this year as a “daily companion” to help analyze your Wordle performance.
With the new update, The New York Times added a number of new features, such as the addition of “slate” to Wordlebot’s list of starting words, a new method of “scoring skills” and modifications to the way the bot restricts its analysis to the group of five-letter words that are known Wordle solutions, which according to the company “puts it on a more even footing with humans.”
Wordle is (arguably) the undisputed game of the year. Every day, users try to guess a chosen five-letter word within six tries. The app has become a daily ritual for millions of users worldwide.
The game is a perfect mix of simplicity, fun and genuine competition. Rachel Orr, a senior design editor at The Washington Post, described Wordle as the “perfect pandemic game” for its ability to absorb our attention through the “pattern-seeking custom it humbly provides.”
Thanks to its “lack of ads, simple interface and a heartwarming origin story,” the daily word guessing game drew millions of players in its brief existence, convincing The New York Times to buy it for an undisclosed seven-figure sum last January.
Since then, a number Wordle spinoffs have sprung up across the Internet, including Worldle, Heardle and even an Arabic version, AlWird, giving rise to an entirely new genre of guessing games.
Among the latest additions to the genre is GuessThe.Game, a Wordle-style deduction test based on video games.
GuessThe.Game was developed by Sam Stiles, a Canada-based software engineer who created the game based on Framed, another Wordle-style game where players guess a mystery movie of the day by viewing still shots. Stiles realized that the same concept could be applied to video games.
“So I decided to whip one up,” Stiles said.
Since its debut in May, Stiles claimed that millions of people had played GuessThe.Game in “nearly every single country on Earth,” and that given the volume of daily traffic, “the game continues to expand virally.”
But Stiles is not the only person to have developed a Wordle-style game during his spare time. The list of spinoffs is long and spans across many different topics and subjects.
For example, Wordle aficionados can choose between Wordle Unlimited, an almost unlimited version of the real game; Quordle, where you are required to solve four Wordles at once; Dordle, where you play with two puzzles; and also Octordle and Sedecordle.
There is also Worldle, a geography guessing game where players are shown the outline of a country and have to guess which one it is; Heardle, the Wordle-style game for music lovers; and Nerdle, a maths game developed by data scientist Richard Mann with help from his daughter and son.
Environmentalists can try A Greener Wordle, which gives climate change-related answers; Airportle instead is designed for frequent flyers who want to test their knowledge of the three-digit airport IATA code; and there is even a game for Taylor Swift fans called Taylordle, where you guess practically anything related to the US pop star.
For the joy of players, new Wordle-style games are popping up every day, with Wordle-mania showing no signs of slowing down.
Even though the majority of Wordle-style games have humble origins and were intended as pure entertainment, some developers do not hide their desire to replicate the Wordle fairytale and cash in.
“In an ideal world, it ends up getting acquired by some brand or publication,” Stiles said, expressing confidence that someday “someone may come along and want to have their brand name associated with it like (Wordle and Heardle) did.”

FBI raid causes Trump’s social media app to surge in popularity

FBI raid causes Trump’s social media app to surge in popularity
Updated 18 August 2022

FBI raid causes Trump’s social media app to surge in popularity

FBI raid causes Trump’s social media app to surge in popularity
  • Since the raid, Truth Social enjoyed unexpected popularity, with users taking to the platform to express anti-FBI sentiments

LONDON: Donald Trump’s social media app Truth Social has picked up steam following the FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago estate.

In the days after the FBI search, the number of downloads of Truth Social spiked, taking the app from 66th to 15th place in the Apple App Store.

The download numbers are small compared to previous figures but have helped to revive the app.

The platform was officially launched this year on Feb. 21 amid intense criticisms on the App Store, but many users were put on a waiting list and were unable to sign up until later.

After a sluggish start, Truth Social has gained a small but devoted user base, most of whom are committed to Trump.

Trump founded Truth Social after being banned from Twitter for his comments made after the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol Hill attack, when his followers stormed the US seat of government in Washington DC.

Since Trump’s Twitter account was suspended, the former president has taken to Truth Social to share his thoughts, spread propaganda and promulgate misinformation, including about the FBI raid.

Earlier this month, the FBI burst into the former president’s home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida looking for classified documents the agency believes were taken after his time in office came to an end.

Many Truth Social fans have taken to the platform to express their anger about the FBI with some users — including one who is believed to have carried out an attack on a bureau office — issuing threats to FBI agents and to Judge Bruce Reinhart.

In the last few days, Trump continued to rage on Truth Social, claiming both that “Republicans could win many additional seats, both in the House and Senate, because of the strong backlash over the raid at Mar-a-Lago” and that the FBI “stole my three passports (one expired), along with everything else.

“This is an assault on a political opponent at a level never seen before in our Country. Third World!” he added.

According to Similarweb, a digital intelligence platform, both the Truth Social app and website have experienced an increase in popularity since the raid.

Anti-FBI sentiments have built among users, and hashtags like #FBIcorruption, #Truth, and #DefundTheFBI have been trending on the platform, which shares many of Twitter’s features, during the past 10 days.

Similar posts are widespread among Trump supporters on other free speech websites like Gab, Parler, and GETTR, as well as the secure messaging service Telegram, and are not exclusive to Truth Social.

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks
Updated 18 August 2022

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks
  • Demand for software to record, archive messaging on the rise
  • Continued remote working underscores risk of compliance missteps with banks paying hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory fines

LONDON: Asset managers are tightening controls on personal communication tools such as WhatsApp as they join banks in trying to ensure employees play by the rules when they do business with clients remotely.
Regulators had already begun to clamp down on the use of unauthorized messaging tools to discuss potentially market-moving matters, but the issue gathered urgency when the pandemic forced more finance staff to work from home in 2020.
Most of the companies caught in communications and record-keeping probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been banks — which have collectively been fined or have set aside more than $1 billion to cover regulatory penalties.
But fund firms with billions of dollars in assets are also increasing their scrutiny of how staff and clients interact.
“It is the hottest topic in the industry right now,” said one deals banker, who declined to be named in keeping with his employer’s rules on speaking to the media.
Reuters reported last year the SEC was looking into whether Wall Street banks had adequately documented employees’ work-related communications, and JPMorgan was fined $200 million in December for “widespread” failures.
German asset manager DWS said last month it had set aside 12 million euros ($12 million) to cover potential US fines linked to investigations into its employees’ use of unapproved devices and record-keeping requirements, joining a host of banks making similar provisions, including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse.
Sources at several other investment firms — described in the financial community as the ‘buy-side’ — including Amundi, AXA Investment Management, BNP Paribas Asset Management and JPMorgan Asset Management, told Reuters they have deployed tools to keep all communications between staff and clients compliant.
Spokespeople for the SEC and CFTC declined to comment on whether their investigations could extend beyond the banks, but industry sources expect authorities to cast their nets wider across the finance industry and even into government.
Last month Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the country’s top data protection watchdog, called for a review of the use of WhatsApp, private emails and other messaging apps by government officials after an investigation found “inadequate data security” during the pandemic.
Regulations governing financial institutions have progressively been tightened since the global financial crisis of 2007-9 and companies have long recorded staff communications to and from office phones.
This practice is designed to deter and uncover infringements such as insider trading and “front-running,” or trading on information that is not yet public, as well as ensuring best practice in terms of treatment of customers.
But with thousands of finance workers and their clientele still working remotely after decamping from company offices at the start of the pandemic, some sensitive conversations that should be recorded remain at risk of being inadvertently held over informal or unauthorized channels.
Brad Levy, CEO of business messaging software firm Symphony, said concerns on managing that risk had driven a surge in interest for software upgrades that make conversations on popular messenging tools including Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp recordable.
“Most believe the breadth of these investigations will go wider as they go deeper,” Levy said.
“Many markets participants have retention and surveillance requirements so are likely to take a view, including being more proactive without being a direct target.”
He said Symphony’s user base has more than doubled since the pandemic to 600,000, spanning 1,000 financial institutions including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
Symphony peer Movius also said its business lines specializing in making WhatsApp and other tools recordable have more than doubled in size in the space of a year, with sales to asset managers a growing component.
“Many on the buy-side have recognized that you can’t just rely on SMS and voice calls,” said Movius Chief Executive Ananth Siva, adding that the company was also seeking to work with other highly-regulated industries including health care.
Movius software integrates third-party communications tools such as email, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp into one system that can be recorded and archived as required, he said.
Amundi, AXA IM, BNPP AM and JPMorgan Asset Management all confirmed they had adopted Symphony software but declined to comment on the full breadth of services they used or when these had been rolled out.
Amundi and AXA IM both confirmed they used Symphony services for team communications, while AXA IM also said they used it for market information.
Amundi, BNPP AM and JP Morgan AM declined to comment on whether they thought regulators would seek to investigate record keeping at asset managers after enforcement actions against the banks were completed.
A spokesperson for BNPP AM said it had banned the use of WhatsApp for client communications due to compliance, legal and risk considerations including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).