The Obama family and Spotify’s marriage didn’t work out

The former president and his wife Michelle were the spearheads to spread the Swedish giant’s podcasts. But success was short-lived and problems were so many that parting ways is better for everyone.

It started as a wedding in style, but is about to end with an unexpected divorce that leaves It started as a wedding in style but is about to end with an unexpected divorce that leaves everyone unhappy. On the one hand Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, on the other Spotify, on the former presidential couple of the United States have invested so much in order to expand their business on podcasts. The premises for success were all there because the meeting between the audio streaming platform with the most subscribers ever and two personalities recognized as positive models on a planetary level could only result in success. That has punctually arrived, except to crumble too soon and well before the contractual agreements.

In 2019, the two parties came to an understanding by signing a three-year agreement that, according to what filtered through, guaranteed the Obama family $25 million. The alliance with Spotify was part of a broader discourse for the former White House tenant, who after completing his two presidential terms in Washington (2009-2017) planned a wide-ranging cultural project with his wife Michelle.

Multi- Year Deal

In fact, the year before signing with Spotify, the couple signed a multi-year deal with Netflix to make movies, TV series and documentaries through Higher Ground Production, the company they founded over the previous months. The couple also signed a record contract, which according to the Financial Times would be around 65 million dollars (for sure a significant part of the revenues will be donated to charity, as specified by the publisher), for the release of two books, one each, with Penguin Random House, the leading U.S. publishing house. In short, a well-thought-out plan to “spread stories and cultivate talent to promote greater empathy and understanding among people,” as Barack Obama himself said.

Renegades Born in the USA – podcast Barack Obama; Bruce Springsteen (credit Spotify

The Obama Family

The launch of the partnership has been well received by listeners and critics alike, not just American ones. The podcast ‘Renegades: Born in the USA‘, in which the former president converses with Bruce Springsteen about music, love for the States and their respective lives has proved to be a great success. As well as The Michelle Obama Podcast, with the former First Lady in dialogue with family, friends and colleagues about the interpersonal relationships that characterize our lives. The other two productions available exclusively on Spotify are ‘Tell Them, I Am‘ and ‘The Big Hit Show‘. The former tells 22 stories of young Muslim boys and girls, while the latter focuses on teens and pop culture, with the first episode focusing on the love-hate relationship that characterizes young people’s relationship with the Twilight saga.

What dampened the enthusiasm was the differences in views that emerged over the past year, which displeased both sides. Spotify has invested in Barack and Michelle Obama as part of a wide-ranging maneuver aimed at securing well-known and very popular faces to offer a catalog of unique and exclusive podcasts. Along with the first African-American U.S. president came Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Kim Kardashian and the controversial Joe Rogan, who for his podcast would have obtained more than 100 million dollars, attracting much criticism for hosting no-vax doctors. A lot of money, like the $1 billion budget allocated by Spotify in its podcast buying campaign, which also includes the acquisition of various companies in the sector.

The Obama family
Michelle Obama My Story (credit Netflix)

The executives of the Swedish giant were disappointed by the attitude of the Obama family, from whom they expected greater resourcefulness in the way of telling stories, starting from a greater number of contents compared to those produced. Even more important, from the central role that the two should have assumed in the various podcasts. On the other hand, the pair concentrated on promoting unheard voices and stories of people in difficulty in search of dreams and revenge, remaining in the background rather than in the foreground. Too much distance, therefore, from what the Stockholm company wanted, which has thus decided not to renew the contract expiring next October.

Analyzing the issue from Obama’s point of view, even in the absence of specific words on the subject, based on what has been filtered so far it seems that dissatisfaction with the exclusive agreements, with podcasts available only on Spotify potentially cut off a large segment of the public, was the main reason for not continuing the partnership with the Swedish company. Hence the idea of sounding out the market to look for alternatives and less rigid agreements to publish content on multiple platforms. Assuming that this choice should result, at least in theory, in agreements with lower figures.

he Obama family (credit Twitter page Barack Obama)

The interest in Barack Obama and his wife Michelle is always very high, as they are influential figures who enjoy good press at various latitudes. Being able to find a new agreement will not be difficult for them, while curiosity is there to find out what the conditions will be. Bloomberg revealed that negotiations are underway with various companies, including Audible (an audio platform owned by Amazon) and iHeartMedia (a Texan company that owns more than 850 radio stations in the USA). Whether one of these two or another is the next step, what is certain is that future podcasts signed by the Obamas will still be available on Spotify, which, unlike the others, however, will continue to have exclusive audio content previously produced by Higher Ground Production. 

Obamas aside, Spotify has several thorns to resolve. Three heavy resignations have come for the podcasting section in recent weeks. The most recent is that of Michael Mignano, co-founder of Anchor (a company that distributes podcasts, acquired by Spotify in 2019 for $150 million) and Spotify’s podcasting tech chief for the past three years, who will leave the company in June. Before he had already announced their respective departures Lydia Polgreen, director of Gimlet Media (a company that produces narrative podcasts, acquired by Spotify also in 2019 for about 230 million dollars), and Courtney Holt, head of studios and video that made the deals with Joe Rogan and the Obamas themselves.

Alessio Caprodossi is a technology, sports, and lifestyle journalist. He navigates between three areas of expertise, telling stories, experiences, and innovations to understand how the world is shifting. You can follow him on Twitter (@alecap23) and Instagram (Alessio Caprodossi) to report projects and initiatives on startups, sustainability, digital nomads, and web3.