Spotify sharpens its focus on video with 12 new music-themed original programs

MTV gave us a blast from the past last month when it streamed nonstop Prince videos as a memorial to the musician’s untimely death. But as it turns out, we will start seeing a lot more music video programming on another platform very soon. Spotify — the music streaming startup with some 75 million users — today announced a line up of 12 new “concepts” — original video programs around the theme of music that it plans to produce and stream starting this summer, featuring performances, pop culture, musical storytelling, animation and videos highlighting music culture.

The move comes a year after Spotify announced a move into video to complement its music service.

“We are developing original content that is rooted in music, pop culture, and animation that is driven by the passion and sense of humor of our audience,” said Tom Calderone, Global Head of Content Partnerships, Spotify, in a statement. “We are working with artists, producers and partners who understand that the Spotify audience has a strong connection to artists and wants to go deeper into their worlds, see their performances and expressions, and hear their stories.”

The video content initially will be shown in four markets: the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Spotify’s home market of Sweden. Not a massive distribution, considering that the company is in 59 markets — but it’s a start. They will be available both to free and premium users on iOS and Android (but not web it seems).

The new content is interesting for a couple of reasons. Adding in video gives Spotify a platform that keeps people more glued to watching, not just listening, to Spotify, which helps the company sell different kinds of ad units to make money against free users.

The other reason the Spotify video strategy is notable is because it helps further differentiate the service compared to other streaming providers. That is a space that was already crowded and is becoming more so, with the addition of new players like SoundCloud also wading into the field against not just Spotify, but others like Pandora, Deezer, Apple Music, Google and more.

On top of this, original content helps Spotify move away from (or at least complement) the sometimes onerous and not particularly lucrative market of making money from music streaming. The company has raised over $1.5 billion in funding but has yet to achieve group profitability (although Spotify says it has achieved cashflow positive status in specific, more mature markets). It’s also trying out other channels for revenue generation in its wider play to build a digital music business. These include B2B services for public venues, by way of Soundtrack Your Brand — a startup that was “co-founded” by Spotify and counts Spotify as its first investor.

Below is a rundown of the shows as detailed by Spotify. As you can see, the shows are a mix of dramatic, factual and musical themes.

If Spotify has played into the idea of being a place not just for casual music fans but for more ardent music enthusiasts, the video concepts play into both of these, trying to take more innovative approaches beyond the kinds of content that you see on existing channels like VH1. (Still, it’s not unlike the kind of content that you get on music-focused cable channels.)

Rush Hour – “Two hip-hop artists (one legend, one young buck) are picked up in a van during the height of LA rush hour,” Spotify notes. “As they drive to an undisclosed location they must come up with a remix or mashup of one of their well-known tracks. Once done, they arrive at the downtown LA parking lot stage of Russell Simmon’s new company All-Def Digital, where they perform their new collaboration (as well as other songs) before a crowd of raucous super fans.”

Landmark – This is more of a factual/documentary style series that will include interviews, archival footage, and “unique multi-media elements.” These will focus on key moments in music history that will also feature podcasts digging deeper into tracks.

Drawn & Recorded – Animated series narrated by T-Bone Burnett and illustrated by Drew Christie, also focused on music history milestones. “The stories will range from introspective to comic, and feature artists from across the music spectrum.”

Life in Short – This is described as an “anthology series celebrating music’s most enigmatic artists.” The seasons will have 24 episodes and each season will focus on a single artist. The episodes are very short — less than two minutes — and will mix in animation, documentary, performance and other formats. Prepare to be unprepared, it seems:”Episodes will run the gamut from funny to inspiring, to somber. Each episode is designed to live on its own but, if watched as whole, the series will provide unique insight into the subject.”

Trading Playlists – “Two celebrities trade Spotify playlists for a day, in the process discovering new music, learning a bit about each other, and highlighting all the ways music is tied to identity and culture.”

Singles – This reminds me a bit of the series of videos that Spotify has done around live performances at SxSW in Austin. This one — of artists performing some of their best-known work — will be shot in NYC on Spotify’s studios. And despite the fact that they studios are “state-of-the-art” “SINGLES will have a super-intimate, almost ‘low-fi’ feel,” says Spotify.

Rhymes & Misdemeanors – True crime series! “We profile a notorious crime from the music world.  From the PCP-fueled cannibalism of rapper Big Lurch to the murder-for-hire plot hatched by the singer of metal band As I Lay Dying, we’ll get the full story of how some of music’s biggest and most promising acts went tragically down the wrong path.”

Ultimate/Ultimate – If you liked Tim Robbins in movies like Robert Altman’s The Player, this one will be aimed at you. The actor has created a “comedic, mockumentary series following several passionate (but modestly talented) people competing in a competition to become the next great EDM star.” This sounds excellent.

Generations – A performance series that pairs different generations of hip-hop stars “to create new versions of their most notable songs.”

Public Spaces – “Whether it’s Macklemore in Union Square, or A$AP Rocky at the Brandenburg Gate this series will redefine ‘music for the masses.'”

Flash Frame – Spotify says this is its take on the “music video format.” Once a month an A-list act will perform at Spotify’s New York City office, and the show will be captured on video. “After the fact, additional visual assets will be sourced, shot or created (animation, archival footage, additional video production, etc.) and intercut with one of the performed tracks to build a narrative around the song’s theme.” Spotify says that its list of creatives will include music video directors, animators and CG artists.

Focus On… This is an interesting one, too: it will be using some of its own analytics to surface an up and coming musician or group, and will then get that act to perform a show for “superfans” as well as profiles of the band itself. It shows how, even if Spotify is still sitting cold with Taylor Swift, it’s trying to move on and forge relationships with the next generation of would-be stars.

Spotify doesn’t detail if anyone external will be helping the company produce all of the above, but last year, when Spotify first announced its video strategy, it unveiled a list of dozens of media parters that would be tapped for content to fill its streams. So if there are partners involved here, my guess is that it’s working with some from that list.

They include the likes of Vice, BBC, Turner, Viacom and Disney.