Not that the quarter’s MAU tally was a surprise. Spotify pointedly stated in its Q4 2020 earnings that 2021 guidance would be hard to pin down because of “substantial uncertainty.” Investors didn’t like to hear that, either: Spotify’s share price fell 9% that day. It goes to show you can’t please everybody.The essence of Q2 2021 earnings can be boiled down to these six topics.MAUsThe standout metric in Spotify’s Q2 earnings was monthly average users, which grew 9 million from 356 to 365 million — with 7 million of those coming from new subscribers. Though paid subs were on the high end of guidance, ad-supported listeners were below expectations — and the same thing happened in the first quarter. This can be interpreted in a couple ways. On one hand, free listeners are worth a fraction of subscribers and so a high ratio of subscribers to MAUs is desirable. On the other hand, fewer free listeners today could mean Spotify has fewer listeners to convert to paying subscribers in the future. MAU growth was also weak in Q1, suggesting investors tend to have the second interpretation. MAU shortfalls in India, Brazil and parts of Southeast Asia and slower adoption rates in some newly launched markets. “All of these regions were hard hit by COVID,” said CEO Daniel Ek, and Spotify “lost about a quarter of growth between Q1 and Q2.”Engagement!Ek said Spotify’s strategy “is really focused on increasing engagement.” More engagement equals more subscribers that stay with the service longer (resulting in lower churn). Unfortunately, Spotify doesn’t release metrics for engagement such as listening hours per user or time spent listening per session. But Ek provides some evidence that engagement is increasing. Ek said Spotify released “more than 20 significant new features over the last few months,” from collaborative listening to Greenroom, Spotify’s answer to Clubhouse. Spotify also wants to create engagement between listeners and creators by launching tools that increase the number of creators from 8 million to 50 million and build bonds between them. Ek added that engagement with podcasts (which number 2.9 million, up from 2.6 million in Q1) was up 95% y/y and up 30% on a per-user basis. One has to wonder how long Spotify can keep up this engagement arms race with a dizzying pace of new feature launches, investments in podcasts and acquisitions.Raising PricesSpotify’s price hikes in 42 markets were a hot topic in the Q1 earnings call and Ek addressed the topic again on Wednesday. The increases were modest at $1 in the U.S. family plan, for example, and a similar amount for three discount plans in the United Kingdom. The company is comfortable raising prices in 42 markets because engagement has remained high and signals a “very loyal customer base,” said Ek, and explains “why subscriber growth has been so strong as well.” That suggests Spotify could hesitate to raise prices again if engagement slips. So, again, engagement is crucial.MarginsEven though Spotify focuses on engagement and listener growth, it doesn’t overlook key financial metrics such as gross margin. Q2’s improvement in gross margin was mostly a mirage but still noteworthy. Gross margin shows how much revenue is left over after paying royalties and other cost of sales. Spotify had on its books accrued publishing royalties but in Q2 determined to reverse some of the accruals, thus reducing royalties and increasing revenue in the quarter. With the help of that one-time event, gross margin improved from 25.5% in Q1 to 28.4% in Q2. Removing the one-time release of accrued royalties, gross margin would have been 26.5% — lower but still ahead of the 23.6 to 25.6% guidance. (Gross margin was also 26.5% in Q4 2020 and had averaged 25.6% over the previous 8 quarters.) Spotify said Q2 margins were also boosted by podcast revenue and the two-sided marketplace.ARPU and ChurnARPU and churn usually move in opposite directions — and can produce positive results. As Billboard wrote in June, falling churn improves a subscriber’s lifetime value even if ARPU falls. It’s notable that both moved in the same direction in Q2. ARPU has fallen 11.7% from 4.86 euros in Q2 2019 to 4.12 euros in Q1. But in Q2, ARPU rose to 4.29 euros, the highest mark since 4.41 euros in Q2 2020. This happened because Spotify claims to have successfully raised prices in 40 markets in Q1 without hurting churn or engagement. Also, new, sticky product features and family plans helped reduce churn by 23 basis points (0.23 percentage points y/y and “down modestly” from Q1).The Long GameRather than focus on Spotify’s growth in any one- or two-quarter span, consider whether where it’s headed in the next two or three years. Year-over-year growth in 2021 is misleading because Spotify exceeded expectations during the first year of the pandemic, Ek said. “We’re still on track to outpacing the average growth from the past two years in this year. We’re just comparing it to an exceptional 2020.” That said, Spotify’s goal of becoming the leading audio platform — music and podcasts — is increasingly pressured by major players such as Apple Music, Amazon, iHeartRadio and SiriusXM. Ek’s goal of reaching 2 billion users won’t be easy.
Lauren Patten Thanks Trans and Nonbinary ‘Jagged Little Pill’ Colleagues While Accepting Best Actress in a Musical
Patten’s comments follow the news that the show’s lead producers, Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David and Eva Price, had hired the external firm Jay Hewlin and The Hewlin Group to investigate allegations made by former cast members, including nonbinary actor Nora Schell, who alleged in a social media post mistreatment by stage management and…
Patten’s comments follow the news that the show’s lead producers, Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David and Eva Price, had hired the external firm Jay Hewlin and The Hewlin Group to investigate allegations made by former cast members, including nonbinary actor Nora Schell, who alleged in a social media post mistreatment by stage management and other members of the show’s creative leadership in regards to their health care. The producers also announced they are immediately launching an external review of the show’s policies and procedures.That followed a lengthy Sept. 17 statement to the production’s website and social media, acknowledging missteps in how they publicly spoke about and identified Patton’s character Jo, a lovestruck teen dealing with religious parents, their sexuality and a souring relationship while also going on their own gender journey, which has no confirmed outcome in the show. The letter also outlined significant changes to the productions on an off-stage approach to trans and nonbinary identities.A day after the statement, Patten shared a video conversation with Shakina Nayfack, trans writer, actress and activist, to increase transparency around the conversations that were being had about Jo, and to be accountable for harm resulting from the erasure of Jo’s gender journey. Patten linked her comments to a broader conversation on Broadway about transparency and the production changes that have occurred in regards to representation, particularly over the last year.“The truth is that I did not know as much as I should and stepping into something that I did know would resonate with a lot of folks — a lot of queer folks and a lot of trans folks,” Patten said. “I should have known more how to talk about it. I should have known how to exactly, as you said, affirm the experience without trying to be it.”This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.
Britney Spears Thinks These ‘Cheesy’ Instagram Photos Look Like Her Yearbook Pictures
Britney Spears returned to Instagram after a brief hiatus recently, and she’s back to sharing some of her selfies.Friday night (Sept. 24), the pop star posted a pair of pictures of herself in which she’s seen sweetly gazing up at the camera. With a floral crop top and her hair pulled half back, Spears’ look…
Britney Spears returned to Instagram after a brief hiatus recently, and she’s back to sharing some of her selfies.Friday night (Sept. 24), the pop star posted a pair of pictures of herself in which she’s seen sweetly gazing up at the camera. With a floral crop top and her hair pulled half back, Spears’ look in the snapshots apparently reminded her of some old photos — her yearbook pictures.Some of Spears’ actual yearbook portraits have circulated around the internet in the past. (A quick Google image search will pull them up.)
Saweetie & Darren Criss Talk Performing at the ‘Celebratory’ SHEIN x Rock the Runway
“I love that SHEIN’s goal for this event is to create a one-stop destination for fashionistas to discover up and coming creators across all aspects of the industry,” Saweetie tells Billboard of the opportunity. “I love that SHEIN is opening that door for everyone by shining a light on the biggest of stars to the indie artists.…
“I love that SHEIN’s goal for this event is to create a one-stop destination for fashionistas to discover up and coming creators across all aspects of the industry,” Saweetie tells Billboard of the opportunity. “I love that SHEIN is opening that door for everyone by shining a light on the biggest of stars to the indie artists. I’m passionate about so many things… music, fashion, beauty, and I’ve been so fortunate to pursue my dreams. Music is my ultimate love and it’s opened the door for all these other amazing things.”Fellow performer Darren Criss is equally excited to be included in such a unique opportunity, telling Billboard, “I really like the idea of not your typical fashion show and it being more of a celebration of dance and music and contextualizing the clothes via the music and performative elements and seeing how clothes look on all different kinds of people with different kinds of movement and music. That thinking out of the box factor of a typical fashion show was immediately appealing to me.”Saweetie shared that for her performance, which will showcase the Ski Party looks, fans should expect “lots of dancing” choreographed by Brya Woods and assistant choreographer Aahkilah Cornelius.Criss is gearing up to perform his new single “For a Night Like This,” which he describes as an “unapologetically celebratory jam.””It’s all about celebrating with the people you love,” he adds. “It’s such a vibrant song and the creativity that they were going for with this fashion show was a really great match for the song I wanted to perform. I’m happy I can showcase that vibrancy and colorfulness.”Criss, whose performance will accompany the City Sleek styles, emphasized his gratitude for SHEIN bringing his song to life with “a hundred dancers of all different backgrounds, shapes and sizes, with a variety of movement. That is something that really takes a song to the next level. It takes it from a song to a spectacle and a visually exciting experience. It’s something we all hope can happen with our songs when we write them.””Any opportunity I have to be around dancers and have dancing in my life – I’m not a dancer myself, but any time I can have that in my life, whether it’s through one of my songs or walking through life, I embrace that opportunity,” he continues. “The more dance, the better.”SHEIN x Rock the Runway will also help raise awareness and donations to benefit National Action Network, one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations and Youth Emerging Stronger, which helps to build futures for foster and homeless youth. SHEIN is donating $350,000 across both charities.”While I love to use my platforms to entertain, it’s just as important for me to educate and make a positive impact on the world and I love that SHEIN is acting on this by partnering with these organizations,” Saweetie says of the event’s charitable aspect. “I’m huge supporter of education and giving everyone access to the knowledge that will help them to grow and succeed in the world regardless of their background.””It’s obviously the bonus for anything you do,” Criss agrees. “You’re happy to support anything that supports others beyond the preliminary presentation of ‘Here are some cool clothes, here are some amazing dancers, here’s a cool song.’ In the process, we’re also shining a light on an organization that are doing a lot of good in the world. I always prefer that to be a component in anything I do.”Since this is a fashion show, after all, how would Saweetie and Darren Criss describe their personal style? “My style is always growing and evolving,” Saweetie explains, “Because I am constantly researching and studying designers and their collections throughout the past. I love to play with fashion and take risks with my style – anything glam! I draw a lot of inspiration from the 90s and early 2000s and try to mix these retro and nostalgic elements with the feminine aesthetic of old Hollywood glamour.””I’m a big believer in dressing for the party,” Criss says. “This is a much larger idea that goes into music, that goes into how I approach everything in life, which is knowing what the venue is, honoring what the dress code is and then doing your own spin on it to be a little unique and not like everybody else. Just enough of something that is accessible so that people feel comfortable around your choice, but you’re also pushing it a little bit. I like toeing that line in general. I’m not saying I’m a fashionista at all, but it depends what day of the week it is, what coffee shop I’m walking to and what part of town. All those variables have their own set of rules that I like to abide by. But I’m definitely not one type of thing and am never thoughtless, that’s for sure.”Catch the SHEIN x Rock the Runway event when its streams on Sunday (Sept. 26) at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on the SHEIN app, and the company’s Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook pages. Shop the SHEIN x Rock the Runway looks here.