Spotify users are streaming again, but ad revenues still suffer due to COVID crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic’s continued impact on Spotify’s business was apparent in the results of the company’s Q2 2020 earnings today. On some fronts, Spotify had good news. As more users turned to streaming services to keep themselves entertained while social distancing, Spotify grew its active monthly users by 29% to reach 299 million in the quarter. Its paid subscriber growth also topped Wall Street expectations with 138 million paid users, versus estimates of 136.4 million. However, the pandemic took a negative toll on Spotify’s advertising business, with ad revenue down 21% year-over-year to €131 million in Q2.

Spotify’s Premium subscriptions, which still account for the majority (~90%) of its revenues, grew by 17% to reach €1.76 billion in the quarter. The company attributed this growth to a range of factors, including growth in more expensive Family Plan subscriptions and its new Duo option for two users, as well as the expansion of those plans to new markets, like Russia.

Meanwhile, the company touted that users’ listening hours are also now returning to levels near what they were before the COVID-19 health crisis.

In the first quarter, the pandemic had initially led to declines in daily active users and listening hours as consumers coped with their sudden lifestyle changes, like working from home and homeschooling children. Spotify today said that as of June 30, global consumption hours have since recovered to “pre-COVID levels” in all markets except Latin America, which is still around 6% below peak levels prior to the global health crisis.

This recovery in listening hours was led by those areas where the COVID-19 spread is slowing, including the EU and Asia-Pacific regions, the company noted. Spotify is also now seeing growth in other areas where listening had slowed due to government lockdowns and the work-from-home shift, like in-car listening. This is now less than 10% below pre-COVID levels, up from a 50% decline at its lowest point in April.

On the downside, Spotify’s ad revenue suffered in the quarter due to an overall more conservative market than before the COVID crisis — a trend the company expects to continue throughout the year. This drove Spotify to miss on revenue expectations in the quarter. The company reported revenue growth of 13% to 1.89 billion euros, but this fell short of analyst estimates of 1.93 billion.

“Last quarter we noted a marked deceleration in sales brought on by the global health crisis where the last three weeks in March were down more than 20% relative to our forecast,” the company said in its shareholder letter. “Performance continued to lag our expectations through April and May, but we significantly outperformed expectations in the month of June. [Quarter to date] through May, ad-supported revenues were down 25% year-over-year, but performance in the month of June showed significant improvement and was only down 12% year-over year.”

Though advertising is not a main revenue driver at this time, it’s still a key part of Spotify’s strategy with regard to its podcasting business. The company is investing heavily in bringing in new and exclusive deals, including recently Kim Kardashian West, Joe Rogan, Michelle Obama, DC and Warner Bros., TikTok star Addison Rae and others. And it’s willing to spend — Joe Rogan’s deal reportedly cost the company more than $100 million, for instance.

It’s also selling its own podcast ads and building out other tools for podcast creation, editing and distribution as part of its investment in this space. For instance, Spotify is developing new ad technology aimed at better monetizing podcasts, like its latest test of in-app offers, which will allow users to view and use coupon codes and other offers made in audio ads at any time from the Spotify app.

More recently, the company invested in video podcasts as well. Spotify also says its Streaming Ad Insertion technology will also become more broadly available to U.S. advertisers this summer and announced a $20 million ad partnership with Omnicom Media Group, which Spotify claims is the largest, global, strategic podcast ad partnership to date.

Overall, Spotify said its podcasting advertising outperformed in the quarter and is continuing into July.