Spotify’s exclusivity era nears its end

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I just got back from Puerto Rico and wow, there is a lot of podcast news! Let’s get into it.

Call Her Daddy is getting wide distribution

It’s very nearly the end of the exclusivity era for Spotify. The audio streamer announced today that Call Her Daddy, Spotify’s second-most-popular original podcast, is getting wide distribution across podcast platforms. Call Her Daddy was one of only two remaining Spotify exclusives, along with Rogan. The arrangement could be an indication of what is to come for Rogan as his contract is up for renewal.

There is a slight twist to the deal: Spotify is still hanging on to the video version of Call Her Daddy. For most podcasts, that’s not a make-or-break thing, but Call Her Daddy has been particularly successful at using video clips to make Alex Cooper’s interviews go viral. And notably, this does not hand over the show to Spotify’s current top competitor, YouTube.

According to Spotify spokesperson Amanda Long, the new distribution arrangement for Call Her Daddy “will help us build on the successful broad rollout of other originals and licensed titles like Armchair Expert, anything goes with emma chamberlain, and Science Vs which have seen strong boosts in audience reach and ad revenue. This shift will drive increased value for both creators and Spotify.”

The decision by Spotify comes after more than a year of unraveling its exclusivity model, which was faulted by the Gimlet and Parcast unions for preventing their shows from finding significant audiences. Notably, Spotify’s most stable podcasting vertical, The Ringer, had wide distribution from the beginning.

Call Her Daddy was an anomaly in that it did not suffer for reach under the exclusivity model (which, again, goes back to the video / TikTok factor). In November, Edison Research named it the eighth most popular podcast in the country. But as Spotify fights for higher margins, it seems it has more to gain from getting the ad dollars that come from wider distribution than whatever less tangible platform benefit comes from exclusivity. 

Which brings us back to Rogan. When I spoke with industry insiders a few months ago about what they think is in store for him, theories coalesced around the idea that he will likely stay at Spotify but under a different kind of deal. Perhaps it could look more like Cooper’s: video still exclusive to Spotify but with wider distribution that opens up more opportunities for ad revenue.

If Rogan goes, it would really be the final death knell for Spotify’s exclusivity experiment. It did work for Spotify in some ways. By snatching up the top podcasts and studios at the time, it lured podcast listeners away from Apple and forged new ones. And even now that it has fallen behind YouTube, it is still a go-to destination for podcasting. But that is likely cold comfort for the laid-off staffers who worked on shows that were ill-suited to the model. 

Pineapple Street lays off one-quarter of its staff

Staff at Pineapple Street Studios, which is owned by embattled radio giant Audacy, have been told that 12 employees are being cut, representing about a quarter of the staff. First reported by Bloomberg, the news is an indication that the industry is not yet done with layoffs. 

“As part of our 2024 planning cycle, we are continuing to optimize our structure to align with the podcast market opportunity and set us up for continued growth. Unfortunately, that means reducing the size of some of our teams, and we have made the difficult decision to reduce a portion of our Pineapple staff. We are grateful for the hard work and dedication of the impacted individuals,” Audacy senior director of corporate communications David Heim told Hot Pod in a statement.

Heim confirmed that most of those laid off worked on Pineapple Street’s original shows. The studio made its name with well-regarded limited series like The Clearing and Missing Richard Simmons. But as money for limited narrative series has dried up, the studio has increasingly shifted to branded shows. The layoffs appear to be an indication that branded content will become an even bigger part of Pineapple Street’s business.

According to a person familiar with the matter, the 12 staffers who have been cut have been placed on leave while the union negotiates a severance package. Employees at Pineapple Street unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East in October 2022 and are still in the process of negotiating their first contract with Audacy management. (Disclosure: The Verge’s editorial staff are also unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East.) A representative for Pineapple Street’s union did not immediately return Hot Pod’s request for comment.

SmartLess leaves Wondery for SiriusXM

SiriusXM is doubling down on talent deals, while Wondery appears to be scaling back. Bloomberg reported on Monday that SmartLess, the chat show hosted by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes, has been signed to SiriusXM for a multiyear deal that is worth more than $100 million. The new deal will commence when the show’s current contract with Wondery expires.

It is the latest show to join SiriusXM’s roster, which includes Crime Junkie, Pod Save America, and Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend. SiriusXM also cut a deal with James Corden in November. 

“Over the past several years, we have doubled down on our commitment to podcasting, and with the addition of SmartLess, we are strengthening our leadership position in podcasting,” said Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM. “This groundbreaking new collaboration showcases our power to drive growth for an established podcast while bringing unique value back to our subscribers through exclusive content and events.”

Interestingly, this is the second big show to leave Wondery. Earlier this month, My Favorite Murder unexpectedly shared that its deal with the Amazon-owned podcast studio ended a year ahead of schedule. It could be a sign that Wondery is backing off the big deals, especially as Audible, Amazon’s other podcasting arm, snatches up more talent.

It is also worth noting that, aside from its satellite shows, SiriusXM goes for wide distribution of its podcasts. Wondery tried a modified version of the exclusivity model, giving Wondery Plus and Amazon Music subscribers early access to new episodes of most of its licensed shows (including SmartLess) before releasing them across platforms. But like with Call Her Daddy and Spotify, it seems that podcasters and audio giants are done tinkering with distribution (for now) and reverting back to the norm: getting shows to as many people as possible, while making as much ad revenue as possible.

That’s all for now! I will be back tomorrow with the latest audio news for Insiders. As for the rest of you, see you next week.

By 111 Tech

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