Barack and Michelle Obama’s podcasting deal with Spotify for their company Higher Ground is ending, according to a new report from Bloomberg. Higher Ground will not be renewing the deal and is instead looking for a different partner, the report said, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the negotiations.
The production company is in negotiations with multiple distributors for its future efforts, such as Amazon’s Audible and iHeartMedia, with hopes of finding a new partner in the coming weeks. Higher Ground had also been in discussions with Spotify, as well, but the streamer ultimately decided not to make an offer. A deal like this is potentially worth tens of millions of dollars.
Required exclusivity could have been one issue with regard to the failed Spotify negotiations. One of the things Higher Ground is aiming for with its next deal is to no longer be bound to one platform, and instead release episodes across streaming services.
But the former President also recently entered the fight against disinformation — an area that Spotify struggled with as it’s entered into hosting exclusive podcasts, like Joe Rogan’s, which controversially helped promote health misinformation, forcing Spotify to adopt new rules. It’s unclear to what extent this may have soured deal talks, however, given that controversial content shows up across other platforms, including even Apple’s.
Bloomberg noted the Obamas want to do limited series, with each agreeing to participate in an eight-episode program, which contrasts with popular podcasts which are weekly and run for at least several months. These proved to be points of tension in the past when it came to Higher Ground and Spotify’s partnership, the report noted.
Two of Higher Ground’s podcasts, “The Michelle Obama Podcast” and “Renegades: Born in the USA” were released first on Spotify, and then months later to other platforms, after the company’s signing of a 2019 deal with Spotify. Higher Ground wished to provide opportunities for other creators, but Spotify wanted more content directly involving the Obamas. Spotify and Higher Ground made five shows, with Bloomberg reporting that Higher Ground had pitched dozens.
Spotify has been expanding into podcasting for a while now, through multimillion dollar deals. In 2020, the company inked an exclusive $100 million dollar deal for “The Joe Rogan Experience” with Joe Rogan, who caused controversy by spreading misinformation through his podcast. Spotify also bought podcasting studios Gimlet and Anchor in 2019 for a combined $340 million. In 2020, Spotify acquired The Ringer and earlier this year, it bought podcast discovery platform Podz for around $49.4 million. As for the Obamas, this isn’t the only media production deal they have in the works: Higher Ground has six projects in development at Netflix, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Spotify hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the report at this time.