Under the multiyear deal between Spotify and Higher Ground Productions, the former first couple’s production company, Barack and Michelle Obama are set to develop, produce, and lend their voices to select podcasts on a wide range of topics. The agreement is with Higher Ground Audio, a new division of the Higher Ground production company, that is housing the Obamas’ move into podcasts.
The Obamas formed Higher Ground last year, saying their goal is to foster new, diverse voices in the entertainment biz. The couple has a multiyear deal with Netflix to produce original scripted, unscripted and documentary series and films and earlier this spring announced seven initial projects in development.
Spotify will distribute the Obamas’ podcasts worldwide to its paid and ad-supported user base. In the first quarter, Spotify said it had 100 million Premium subscribers and more than 217 million monthly active users overall.
“We’ve always believed in the value of entertaining, thought-provoking conversation,” President Obama said in a statement provided by Spotify. “It helps us build connections with each other and open ourselves up to new ideas. We’re excited about Higher Ground Audio because podcasts offer an extraordinary opportunity to foster productive dialogue, make people smile and make people think, and, hopefully, bring us all a little closer together.”
Michelle Obama said, “We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to amplify voices that are too often ignored or silenced altogether, and through Spotify, we can share those stories with the world. Our hope is that through compelling, inspirational storytelling, Higher Ground Audio will not only produce engaging podcasts, but help people connect emotionally and open up their minds — and their hearts.”
The companies didn’t provide details on specific projects the Obamas may be planning for Spotify at this point, including whether the podcasts will have an explicitly political focus. According to Spotify, the programming will encompass “a diverse slate of original podcasts.”
Higher Ground’s initial Netflix slate includes a non-fiction series based on Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” a look at the transition to Donald Trump’s presidency through the lens of federal bureaucrats; a film adaptation of author David W. Blight’s biography “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom”; and “Bloom,” a period drama set in the post-WWII fashion world written and executive produced by Callie Khouri (“Nashville,” “Thelma and Louise”).
For Spotify, the deal with Obamas extends its new push into podcasting, to diversify its audio-entertainment mix beyond music. Spotify also sees better economics and user engagement through a roster of exclusive podcast content, compared with ubiquitously licensed songs from music companies.
“President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are two of the world’s most important voices and it is a privilege to be working with them to identify and share stories that will inspire our global audience, which looks to Spotify for unique, breakthrough content,” said Spotify chief content officer Dawn Ostroff, who joined the company a year ago from Condé Nast.
In 2019, Spotify said, it expects to invest $400 million-$500 million in podcasting. That includes the acquisition of two podcasting companies — producer Gimlet Media and services provider Anchor FM Inc. — for around $337 million. Then in March, Spotify acquired Parcast, an L.A.-based scripted-entertainment podcast studio.