Higher Ground, the producer of the Obamas, and Spotify will not renew their exclusive partnership, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Higher Ground has produced a series of exclusive shows distributed on the streaming platform since 2019.
These 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.
But Spotify chose not to make an offer to renew the deal, which runs through October, said sources familiar with the matter who were 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, the sources said.
Higher Ground has held talks with other rival podcast companies, including Audible and Amazon’s iHeartMedia, according to Bloomberg, which first broke the news.
Other podcasts that had exclusive agreements with Spotify made their podcasts widely available later on. For example, “Last Podcast on the Left” is no longer exclusive to Spotify, but is still available on the platform.
More podcasters want to be widely available on multiple platforms “because the distribution network is so much bigger and they want to go beyond the Spotify audience,” said Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, based in Palo Alto.
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 Joe Rogan and Meghan Markle’s Prince Harry and Archewell.
When the Higher Ground-Spotify deal was announced, Michelle Obama said she was thrilled to “have the opportunity to amplify voices that are often ignored or silenced outright, 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 on podcasts, compared to other voices that aren’t as well-known, sources said.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at consulting services firm Enderle Group, said he believes the Obamas will be able to attract a lot of demand for their podcasts.
“They are incredibly savvy about their social media presence, and wherever they are, they will undoubtedly be a king for whatever service catches them,” Enderle said.
Spotify quickly grew into a major podcast hub, but not without some controversy.
Earlier this year, some musicians, including rocker Neil Young, boycotted the streaming service over concerns about misinformation and racially insensitive language on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” a popular Spotify exclusive podcast.
The protest prompted Spotify to publish its content moderation policies and address what Rogan said on his podcast. Rogan apologized for using the N word.