Spotify’s Bitter Break With Royals Ends Exclusive Podcast Deals Era

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The audio giant has essentially abandoned the model for its new talent deals and is releasing some of its previously exclusive shows — as well as a new show from Trevor Noah — on rival platforms.

Spotify’s relationship with the Sussexes was, in the end, a mess.

The two parties formally ended their exclusive podcast deal on June 15 in the press after The Wall Street Journal reported that Spotify was not renewing Meghan Markle’s Archetypes show for a second season and the Duchess was “continuing to develop more content for the Archetypes audience on another platform, according to a statement shared with the paper that was first attributed to a spokesperson for Archewell Productions before being changed to WME, which signed Markle and Archewell in April.

The Journal story is believed to have ultimately fast-tracked the end of the Spotify–Archewell relationship, which had still been in place prior to the story’s publication but concluded with a carefully worded joint statement released that evening announcing the two parties had “mutually agreed to part ways.” But Spotify’s Bill Simmons, who leads podcast monetization for the audio company, called into question how amicable the split was when he labeled Markle and Prince Harry as “fucking grifters” during a June 16 episode of his eponymous podcast.

That isn’t to say Spotify is entirely blameless in the breakdown of the relationship. One dealmaker notes to The Hollywood Reporter it is “very difficult to get anything done at Spotify” and that there isn’t much “flexibility with these big tentpole deals.”

Other high-profile talent deals have also ended without renewal, including with Barack and Michelle Obama, whose Higher Ground decamped for Audible, and Esther Perel, who left for Vox Media. Jemele Hill, whose show Jemele Hill Is Unbothered had been exclusive to Spotify since 2019, is also expected to leave after her contract ends this summer.

The podcasting division at Spotify has undergone major leadership upheaval with the recent departures of former chief content and ad business officer Dawn Ostroff and top podcast partnership executive Max Cutler. Significant layoffs have impacted the podcast division this year, with the most recent caused by the merger of in-house studios Gimlet and Parcast into one centralized studio, Spotify Studios, despite the audio company’s pricey acquisitions of the two.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek acknowledged the “overpaying and over investing” on podcasting and talent deals during an April 25 earnings call with analysts. “We’re not going to do that [anymore], and we’re going to be very diligent in how we invest in future content deals,” Ek said. “The ones that aren’t performing, obviously, we won’t renew. And the ones that are performing, we will obviously look at those on a case-by-case basis on the relative value.

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