Update, April 21 at 3:35 p.m.: The Obamas are ending their podcast collaboration with Spotify. Barack and Michelle Obama will not sign a new deal with the music-streaming service, with Spotify reportedly declining to make the former First Family an offer, according to three Bloomberg sources. Bloomberg reports the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground, desired to release their shows on multiple platforms simultaneously. Higher Ground is reportedly discussing potential deals worth tens of millions of dollars with distributors like Audible and iHeartMedia. Spotify exclusively debuted shows like The Michelle Obama Podcast, which was one of their five most popular podcasts in 2020, and Renegades: Born in the USA with Bruce Springsteen.
This development was broadly expected. Murmurs of discord between Spotify and Higher Ground’s audio team first came to light in February, when Vanity Fair reported that the studio had been “frustrated at times” with Spotify, in part due to there being a misalignment. The Obamas were reportedly more interested in developing projects around new voices, while Spotify seemed to emphasize shows hosted by the Obamas themselves. Not long after, Insider broke the news that Higher Ground Audio was officially shopping around for a new deal, with sources telling Insider that the team was “said to be frustrated with the slow pace of development at Spotify.” News of Higher Ground Audio’s impending departure from Spotify comes at an opportune time. Presumably, it wouldn’t have been a good look for the former president to amp up his new role as a prominent voice combating misinformation and disinformation while hanging onto a lucrative content deal with the platform that’s the exclusive home of Joe Rogan.
Original story published June 6, 2019, follows.
When he’s not hanging with the fans at the NBA Finals or performing the various stately duties expected of a former president, Barack Obama, along with former First Lady Michelle Obama, have turned to doing what a lot of famous people tend to do: make content. In the summer of 2018, the Obamas signed a multiyear deal with Netflix to develop a portfolio of movies and television shows for the all-consuming video-streaming platform through a newly created production studio they’re calling “Higher Ground.”
Today, June 6, the Obamas’ production studio announced an expansion into audio and podcasts, and it comes under the auspices of another new multiyear agreement with another all-consuming streaming platform: Spotify. No concrete details yet on any of the projects that will be developed — the official language so far says they will “develop, produce, and lend their voices to select podcasts, connecting them to listeners around the world on wide-ranging topics” — but the deal does mean that the upcoming Higher Ground audio shows will be exclusive to the Spotify platform.
This partnership is also the latest buzzy development in Spotify’s ongoing efforts to establish itself as a force in the podcast world. Earlier this year, the company spent almost $400 million to acquire three podcast companies (Gimlet Media, Parcast, and Anchor), hired a new head of creative development for podcasts (Liz Gateley, a longtime television executive), and have begun experimenting with new versions of its app interface to better emphasize its podcast inventory. For what it’s worth, we highly doubt this will be the only big-name partnership we’re going to hear about in the podcast industry’s future.