Spotify Is Acquiring Bill Simmons’ The Ringer as Part of Podcast Push

Spotify announced a deal to acquire The Ringer, a sports, entertainment and pop-culture media company founded by Bill Simmons, as part of the streaming company’s podcast expansion.

Terms of the pact were not disclosed. The Ringer, founded by ESPN alum Simmons in 2016, features more than 30 podcasts from Simmons and the startup’s staffers as well as notables such as David Chang and Larry Wilmore.

Spotify said The Ringer, which is based in L.A. and has about 90 employees, will further expand its podcast lineup and audience reach, particularly in sports. The company said The Ringer also offers “new opportunities for monetization.” Spotify anticipates the deal closing in the first quarter of 2020.

“We look forward to putting the full power of Spotify behind The Ringer as they drive our global sports strategy,” Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content officer, said in a statement. “As we set out to expand our sports and entertainment offerings, we wanted a best-in-class editorial team. Bill Simmons is one of the brightest minds in the game and he has successfully innovated as a writer and content creator across mediums and platforms.”

The acquisition of The Ringer will bring “highly loyal sports and culture fans to the platform,” Daniel Ek, Spotify’s CEO, said on the company’s earnings call. “The trend that we’re investing in is that radio is moving online,” he said. Ek, indulging in hyperbole, added, “What we really did with The Ringer, I think, is we bought the next ESPN.”

Spotify’s deal for The Ringer comes amid the streaming music and audio giant’s drive into podcasting over the past year. In 2019, Spotify acquired three podcast companies — Gimlet Media, Anchor and Parcast. Earlier Wednesday, in announcing record quarterly Premium subscriber adds in Q4, Spotify said it would continue to invest in podcast content and infrastructure and claimed podcast listening hours grew nearly 200% in the last three months of 2019.

“We will continue to invest for growth,” Ek told analysts, saying Spotify has seen “tangible results” from the podcast strategy.

Spotify paid $393 million for the three previous podcast acquisitions, with additional payment incentives over four years contingent on employment, according to regulatory filings. The Gimlet deal was worth about $189 million (€172 million) plus up to $44 million in incentives; Anchor was $150 million (€136 million) plus $22 million in incentives; and Parcast was $54 million (€49 million) plus up to $11 million in incentives.

“Spotify has the unique ability to truly supercharge both content and creator talent across genres,” Simmons said in a statement. We’re joining one of the best media companies in the world. It’s an incredible day for us.” News of Spotify’s interest in buying The Ringer was reported last month by the Wall Street Journal.

The Ringer Podcast Network’s podcasts include consistently top-ranking shows “The Bill Simmons Podcast,” “The Rewatchables” and “The Ryen Russillo Podcast.” The company’s original video content includes “NBA Desktop” and has included after-shows for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Big Little Lies” started streamed exclusively on Twitter.

The company’s Ringer Films division produced 2018 documentary “Andre the Giant” for HBO, which the premium cabler said was its most-watched sports documentary to date. Other projects include the upcoming “Showbiz Kids” for HBO, a feature-length documentary about children working in the entertainment industry, and “Women of Troy,” about the groundbreaking USC women’s basketball team of the 1980s.

Simmons’ company also recently launched Ringer Books, whose first title “Movies (and Other Things)” by Shea Serrano debuted as a New York Times Bestseller in October 2019. Forthcoming books include a gambling guide from Cousin Sal Iacono (host of Ringer podcast “Against All Odds With Cousin Sal”) and will a book about “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer by Ringer staff writer Claire McNear.

While at ESPN, Simmons built up a sizable online following as an on-air commentator and also as the head of the Grantland news and commentary website. In May 2015, ESPN ousted Simmons after he engaged in public clashes with higher-ups.

After his exit from ESPN, Simmons inked a wide-ranging development pact with HBO. He hosted a short-lived weekly magazine show for HBO, “Any Given Sunday,” which was canceled after five months on the air.

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