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Barack and Michelle Obama will create exclusive podcasts for Spotify

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama and former President Obama, shown in 2017, have struck a podcast deal with Spotify.
(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Barack and Michelle Obama have inked a deal to make podcasts for streaming music giant Spotify, in the latest expansion of the former president and first lady’s nascent media business.

The Obamas’ production company Higher Ground said Thursday that it has forged a partnership to create podcasts exclusively for Stockholm-based Spotify’s global platform. Publicly traded Spotify is the world’s largest streaming music company, with 100 million paying subscribers and more than 217 million monthly active users.

Financial terms of the Obamas’ deal were not disclosed.

The companies did not announce any titles for new podcasts or say how much content Higher Ground would produce for Spotify. Under the partnership, Barack and Michelle Obama will develop, produce and lend their voices to podcasts, the companies said.

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“We’ve always believed in the value of entertaining, thought-provoking conversation,” President Obama said in a statement. “It helps us build connections with each other and open ourselves up to new ideas. We’re excited about Higher Ground Audio because podcasts offer an extraordinary opportunity to foster productive dialogue, make people smile and make people think, and, hopefully, bring us all a little closer together.”

The Spotify deal comes a year after Higher Ground scored a multi-year agreement to make movies, TV series and other content for Netflix Inc. The Obamas founded Higher Ground in 2018. Higher Ground in April announced a robust lineup of Netflix projects, including a film about abolitionist Frederick Douglass and a nonfiction series based on Michael Lewis’ book “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy.”

The 44th president’s connection to podcasting is not new. Obama gave a major stamp of legitimacy to the scrappy industry in 2015 when he appeared as a guest on the popular interview show “WTF with Marc Maron,” hosted by the comedian and actor. And in 2017, a group of former Obama White House staffers founded Crooked Media, which produces “Pod Save America” and multiple other podcasts about politics.

Spotify has been investing deeply in the podcast space, with plans to spend as much as $500 million on podcast-related acquisitions this year as it tries to take a chunk of the burgeoning audio market that has traditionally been the domain of Apple Inc. Already this year, Spotify has acquired podcast firms Parcast, Gimlet Media and Anchor FM.

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Spotify said in April that it had more than 250,000 podcast titles available on its platform and launched 15 original or exclusive podcasts in this year’s first quarter.

As the sea of podcasts expands rapidly, it can be challenging to find good ones, and companies such as Spotify are rushing to build up their libraries of exclusives.

Chief Executive Daniel Ek said he believed that eventually more than 20% of time users spent on Spotify would be on non-music content.

Podcasts could also help boost Spotify’s financials. Last quarter, the company was still operating at a loss. When people stream music on Spotify, the company pays royalties to rights holders such as the performer and composer, Tom Webster, a senior vice president of Edison Research, noted in a Medium post this year. That dynamic changes if Spotify owns the content, he wrote.

“If the Spotify listener converts from 100% music to even 90% music, 10% podcasts, that’s a 10% decrease in checks cut to other entities on behalf of that listener,” Webster wrote.


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