Higher Ground, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s media company, is ending its exclusive podcast deal with Spotify and is shopping for other partners in the podcasting space, Variety has confirmed.
The Obamas are exiting their exclusive pact with Spotify, originally inked in 2019, after being frustrated with the company’s exclusive terms — primarily, they want to have their podcast programming distributed as widely as possible, according to two sources familiar with the situation. Higher Ground also has disagreed with Spotify over how many of its shows would feature the former president and first lady, as first reported by reported by Bloomberg.
Higher Ground’s current deal with Spotify runs through October 2022. According to one source, Higher Ground was seeking a significant increase in financial terms to re-up with Spotify, and the streaming company declined to agree to the amount.
Reps for Spotify and Higher Ground declined to comment.
Podcasts that Higher Ground has produced for Spotify will continue to launch on the streaming platform through the fall, according to the Bloomberg report. But the company is currently in talks with other audio distribution companies, including Amazon-owned Audible and iHeartMedia, in hopes of reaching a nonexclusive deal for its podcast content.
Higher Ground’s first podcast for Spotify was “The Michelle Obama Podcast,” released in mid-2020, which at one point had ranked as the most-listened-to Spotify original to date. The company also produced “Renegades: Born in the USA,” a series of conversations between Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, released on Spotify last year.
In January, Higher Ground’s “The Big Hit Show,” focused on transformational moments of pop culture, premiered on Spotify. The company also released “Tell Them, I Am,” a podcast collection of universal stories from Muslim voices on the platform.
Spotify will retain certain distribution rights to “The Michelle Obama Podcast” and other Higher Ground shows in perpetuity. In addition, wherever the Obamas take their next podcast deal, it is likely that those new projects would be distributed on Spotify on a nonexclusive basis.
Separately, Higher Ground has a pact to produce films and TV shows exclusively for Netflix. The company’s first film, “American Factory,” won the 2019 Oscar for best documentary feature.
Spotify has spent billions to establish itself as a top podcast destination, including securing a $200 million-plus deal with controversial host Joe Rogan to exclusively distribute his popular podcast as well as a deal worth more than $60 million with “Call Her Daddy” host Alex Cooper. Spotify has acquired multiple podcast content and tech companies, including Gimlet Media, Parcast, The Ringer and Megaphone.
Spotify also has an exclusive deal with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Archewell, which earlier this year said the couple had urged the company to make changes to prevent “serious harms” from COVID misinformation present on its platform. That was an apparent reference to Rogan, who was the target of a Spotify boycott instigated by Neil Young and joined by other musicians and talent in protest of COVID misinfo on “The Joe Rogan Experience.” Archewell said it was proceeding with plans to produce Markle’s first podcast for Spotify, called “Archetypes,” after the couple was encouraged by talks with Spotify execs to address their concerns.