Netflix just announced that it’s developing a scripted series based on the “Swedish music sensation Spotify.” Based on the book Spotify Untold, the new Netflix show will tell the music streaming company’s origin story in the framework of piracy in the late Aughts. Whether or not this will be an exciting ride, remains unclear.
Turning the stories behind major technology companies into a show or a movie is not a new idea. Aaron Sorkin crafted a blockbuster out of Facebook’s early days in The Social Network, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake. The dreadful sage of WeWork and madman founder Adam Neumann recently got greenlit for a Hollywood film written by Charles Randolph, who won the best-adapted screenplay Oscar with The Big Short. (A scripted TV series about the WeWork debacle starring Nicholas Braun as WeWork founder Adam Neumann is also in the works.) It seems like a new filmmaker attempts to tell the story of Steve Jobs and Apple’s early days every year or two, always unsuccessfully.
What’s different about the Spotify story? Hard to tell at this point in time. Founded in 2006, the Sweden-based company founded by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon didn’t exactly explode onto the global market the way that companies like Facebook or WeWork did. Spotify’s first app launched in 2008, offering free streaming music to users in Europe willing to listen to some ads or unlimited paid subscriptions to those willing fork over $10 or so per month. The service didn’t come to the United States until 2011, where it was by all accounts a hit. Spotify would launch in dozens of countries worldwide before its initial public offering in 2018. And these are the exciting parts of the story.
“The story of how a small band of Swedish tech industry insiders transformed music—how we listen to it and how it’s made—is truly a tale for our time,” said Berna Levin, executive producer of Yellow Bird, in a statement. “Not only is this a story about the way all our lives have changed in the last decade, it’s about the battle for cultural and financial influence in a globalized, digitised world.”
Surely there’s a dramatic angle in there somewhere. One could imagine that Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network) could make an appearance in the scripted Spotify series (perhaps played again by Justin Timberlake). Parker was an early Spotify advocate and was a board member at Founders Fund, which invested in Spotify ahead of its US launch. Spotify Untold, the book on which the series is based, also counts Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Jay-Z, and Jimmy Iovine as characters in the company’s origin story. Its publisher describes the tale as a “David vs Goliath story.” The book even claims that Steve Jobs intimidated Spotify founder Daniel Ek with phone calls. So maybe the story is slightly more exciting.
One can’t help but look at Netflix’s Spotify show as one big streaming company making a splashy show about another big streaming company. Netflix and Spotify aren’t competitors, but in a sense, they’re comrades. Time will tell whether Spotify’s origin story makes for good internet TV. Maybe, in time, we’ll also learn whether Netflix’s origin story makes for a good podcast series produced by and featured on Spotify.