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

Los Angeles, California - Higher Ground, the Obamas' production company, and Spotify will not renew their exclusive partnership, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Michelle and Barack Obama's production company Higher Ground will reportedly not renew exclusively with Spotify.
Michelle and Barack Obama's production company Higher Ground will reportedly not renew exclusively with Spotify.  © Collage: 123RF/daviles & Screenshot/Instagram/michelleobama

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 Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. The Michelle Obama Podcast was the fourth-most popular podcast globally on Spotify in 2020.

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

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

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.

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.

Joe Rogan and the royals also have exclusive Spotify podcast deals

Michelle and Barack Obama are among other high-profile figures to have popular podcasts on Spotify.
Michelle and Barack Obama are among other high-profile figures to have popular podcasts on Spotify.  © Collage: 123RF/grinvalds & Screenshot/Instagram/michelleobama

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 Joe Rogan and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry'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.

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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 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.

Cover photo: Collage: 123RF/daviles & Screenshot/Instagram/michelleobama

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