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Spotify wants video. Can a key executive behind ‘America’s Top Model’ and ‘Gossip Girl’ make it fly?

Spotify wants video. Can a key executive behind ‘America’s Top Model’ and ‘Gossip Girl’ make it fly?
27 Jun
4:52

Tyra Banks attended the BET Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Spotify, place of childhood-music nostalgia and the latest Zedd remix, as home for the next “Next Top Model?”

As Tyra might say: It could be flawsome.

The Sweden-based streaming service announced Tuesday that it had hired Dawn Ostroff as its new chief content officer. For the past seven years, Ostroff has run Condé Nast Entertainment’s video operation. Before that she was a key figure at UPN, where she helped launch the Tyra Banks modeling sensation, and headed up all prime-time programming for the CW during its “Smallville” and “Gossip Girl” heyday ( along with more “Top Model”).

That doesn’t sound like a rich streaming-music résumé. But Spotify wants to get deeper into original non-music-based video (it had been doing mainly stuff in that vein). So it hired Ostroff, who at Condé Nast has produced movies such as the firefighting rescue drama “Only the Brave” and the VR serial “Invisible.”

“I’m excited to welcome Dawn Ostroff to the band!” Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek tweeted on Tuesday. According to the company, the New York-based executive will “lead all aspects of Spotify’s content partnerships across music, audio and video.”

Ostroff starts the job Aug. 1. A Spotify spokesman, citing that future date, declined to make Ostroff or any executive available to interview.

Given Ostroff’s history, though, it’s reasonable to assume what she will be doing: finding original creators with ideas for new series to appeal to Spotify’s youth-skewing market, even though the company has little experience doing that kind of thing and even though Ostroff has little experience working on the music side.

What seems like an unexpected hire is the result of a long battle with Apple, Spotify’s main competitor. Apple Music has been gaining on Spotify in the domestic-subscriber market, closing the gap to within 3 million of  Spotify’s 18 million subscribers last year, and may be on the way to passing it one of these days. Apple has also been beefing up its original video offerings, with talent such as Oprah Winfrey and Kumail Nanjiani, for what many analysts believe will be a combined music and video subscription service.

So Spotify is returning the favor. The company wants to attract subscribers to its $10 monthly plan by offering not just access to 30 million songs but also original and licensed shows. Essentially, it’s saying to Apple, “If you can gain subscribers with all this online music, we can win some of them back with video.” It’s a castling move in the long game of streamer chess.

Incidentally, there’s a bit of a parallel here to what another digital competitor, Google’s YouTube, has been doing: hiring the veteran — yes, CW executive — Susanne Daniels to bring in new shows, such as the recent hit “Cobra Kai.”

But can it work for Spotify? Not everyone is so sure.

Ostroff, after all, isn’t the first hire to signal the company’s intentions on this front. In a little over two years the company has run through two other video executives, Stefan Blom and Tom Calderone, the latter a longtime VH1 veteran. Analysts wonder whether the company has the institutional knowledge to attract Hollywood talent, or the brand savvy to attract consumers, on the video front.

“I’m skeptical of how successful they can be,” said Tony Gunnarsson, a Sweden-based senior analyst at the research firm Ovum who recently completed a report on streaming entertainment. “It’s an attempt to add another layer of consumer satisfaction and to future-proof the company against Apple, but it feels like it will be marginal to what Spotify is known for; it will be something that just sits on the periphery.”

Still, many in Hollywood know not to bet against Ostroff. “Gossip Girl” drew skeptics when it was first developed, yet it wound up running for six seasons and casting a long shadow over pop culture that’s still seen today. And “America’s Top Model”? It’s been smizing for 24 cycles, the last of which just ended in April.

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