The End of the Podcast Exclusive?

The End of the Podcast Exclusive?

In the last week or so, two of the biggest podcasts deals around have been renewed.

Smartless has moved away from Amazon/Wondery to SiriusXM Media in a “multi-year” deal said to be worth $100m. While SiriusXM members will get early, ad-free access to the title, everyone else will still be able to listen on RSS. That broadly mirrors what Amazon had done previously with the title.

And then Spotify renewed The Joe Rogan Experience deal, except that they’ve changed how that show will be distributed. Joe Rogan has until now been a Spotify exclusive (at least in its current incarnation). While you didn’t need to be a paid Spotify Premium user to hear it, you still had to use their app to listen. And the video version was exclusive to Spotify too, with only clips making it over to YouTube. The new deal, said to be worth $250m, is another “multi-year” agreement, but this time the show is going to be made available on RSS and no longer exclusively on Spotify. Instead, Spotify “will work closely with Joe and his team to continue to maximize the audience of the show across platforms,” which includes YouTube.

This follows hot on the heels of the recent news that another top-performing Spotify exclusive, Call Her Daddy, will no longer be exclusive on that platform either.

It’s clear that Spotify is now chasing maximum revenues by going where the audience is, rather than using podcasts more as a lure onto its own platform. This follows a series of high profile reductions by Spotify in the podcasting sector as more expensive shows with perhaps more limited runs, have been shuttered or offloaded by the platform.

Podcasting is still important to Spotify – but it seems as much as anything, it’s the advertising associated with it that is more valuable than as an adjunct to its music streaming business.

At this point, I’m not sure that any other major titles are now platform exclusive, at least not ones that ride high in the charts. Remember, that Joe Rogan and Call Her Daddy, were both top 10 titles in the most recent Edison Research US rankings and that was while they still were Spotify-exclusive. Rogan of course, can’t get higher than #1 in that chart, but he can serve millions more episodes on other platforms. Similarly, going onto YouTube probably opens up significant revenue streams that had been cut-off under the previous deal.

None of this is to say that ad-free versions, early access or boxsets won’t continue to be platform exclusives. And subscriptions aren’t going away either. But it feels a little like the music industry, where, for a while, there were platform exclusives on the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and others. That has largely gone away, at least in terms of catalogues available. Certainly there are differentiators like lossless quality, or spatial audio – things that Spotify in particular has been slow to catch up with. But in overall terms, there really aren’t artists or albums that are platform exclusive.

Some in the podcast landscape will be looking agog at some of those 9 digit figures being bandied around. And yes, when beautifully made, culturally significant titles are being cut, while “chat show” formats with big names are having hundreds of millions thrown at them might seem to be a bitter pill.

But it’s no different from any other part of the media ecosystem. The biggest artists in the world do vastly better than the rest. And given the way both music streaming payments are going, or determining which movie stars get their films greenlit, nothing is going to change.

At this point, one would at least think that the deals being offered to these top performing podcasts are at least in line with their overall popularity. Spotify in particular has shown that it is no longer in the business of throwing money at famous people in the vague hope that they can make something audiences like. And I think the Smartless guys also have proof of their ability to deliver.

The other important thing to note is that overall podcast revenues continue to climb, and so does listenership. But yes, we do seem to be reaching a period of sometimes less “prestige” titles gaining ground. In the UK, the Goalhanger stable alongside titles like these show that “always on” (that is, dropping new episodes 52 weeks a year) “chat” format titles (less intensive to produce since they’re often a few people in a studio shooting the breeze), for better or worse, are leading the way.

Personally, I’m not interested in any of the aforementioned big-money US titles. I wouldn’t touch Rogan with a bargepole, and while the Smartless guys seem very likeable, I’m not a fan of celebrity titles in general. But the most popular TV shows are not necessarily the most demanding, and the biggest box office movies often aren’t either. (A reminder during awards season: most popular ≠ best)






One response to “The End of the Podcast Exclusive?”

  1. Kevin Spencer avatar

    Glad the landscape is changing. Anything that went to Spotify as an exclusive was immediately dead to me. And I pay for Spotify.

    I have a podcast app that I love (Overcast) and won’t use different apps for different podcasts. If it’s not an open RSS based (actual) podcast then I’m not interested.

    Of the big names mentioned, I am subscribed to Smartless as occasionally they have guests on who interest me. If I’m honest, mostly I skip their episodes.