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Obamas’ production company won’t renew exclusive deal with Spotify

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama walk next to photographers
Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Higher Ground, the Obamas’ production company, and Spotify will not renew their exclusive partnership, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Higher Ground has produced a number of exclusive shows distributed on the streaming platform since it partnered with Spotify in 2019.

Those include “The Michelle Obama Podcast” and “Renegades: Born in the USA,” featuring discussion between former President Obama and Bruce Springsteen. “The Michelle Obama Podcast” was the fourth-most popular podcast globally on Spotify in 2020.

So far, the response to Neil Young’s call to pull music from Spotify has been largely muted among recording artists.

But Spotify opted to not make an offer to renew the deal, which extends through October, said a source familiar with the matter who was not authorized to comment.

The Obamas were seeking a deal in which Higher Ground’s podcasts would be widely available and not exclusive to one platform, sources said.

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Higher Ground has held conversations with other rival podcast companies, including Amazon’s Audible and iHeartMedia, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the news.

Other podcasts that have had exclusive deals with Spotify have gone on to make their podcasts widely available later. For example, “Last Podcast on the Left” is no longer exclusive to Spotify, but it is still available on the platform.

“Last Podcast on the Left” is the second podcast to end an exclusive agreement with Spotify and will become available on multiple platforms next year.

More podcasters want to be widely available on multiple platforms “because the distribution network is much bigger and they want to get beyond Spotify’s audience,” said Ray Wang, principal analyst of Palo Alto-based Constellation Research.

Representatives for Spotify and Higher Ground declined to comment.

Spotify signed a deal with the Obamas as part of the company’s ambitious foray into podcasting. The Swedish music streaming giant also has exclusive deals with other high-profile figures such as as Joe Rogan and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Archewell.

When the Higher Ground-Spotify deal was announced, Michelle Obama said she was thrilled to “have the opportunity to amplify voices that are too often ignored or silenced altogether, and through Spotify, we can share those stories with the world.”

But there were some creative tensions with Spotify over how prominent the Obamas would be in the podcasts, compared with other voices that are not as well-known, sources said.

Rob Enderle, a principal analyst with advisory services firm Enderle Group, said he believes the Obamas will be able to garner a lot of demand for their podcasts.

“They are incredibly savvy with regard to their social media presence, and wherever they go, they will undoubtedly be a king maker for whatever service picks them up,” Enderle said.

Spotify wants to take over the streaming world. Joe Rogan is just a means to that end.

Spotify has quickly grown to be a major podcast hub, but not without some controversy.

Earlier this year, some musicians, including rocker Neil Young, boycotted the streaming service due to concerns about misinformation and racially insensitive language on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” a popular exclusive podcast on Spotify.

The protest pushed Spotify to publish its content moderation policies and to address what Rogan said on his podcast. Rogan apologized for using the N-word.


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