President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are going into business with Audible, the Amazon-owned audio storytelling platform.
Audible set an exclusive, multiyear and global first-look production deal with Higher Ground, the Obamas’ media company, covering multiple audio projects. The slate of Higher Ground’s shows for Audible “will reflect the companies’ shared mission to tell meaningful and entertaining stories that elevate diverse voices and experiences,” according to the announcement. The companies didn’t provide details on what forthcoming audio projects may be in the works.
The Higher Ground originals produced under the deal won’t be exclusively available on Audible. Rather, the companies plan to make the show available across a wide range of podcast platforms.
The deal comes after the Obamas’ exclusive podcast pact with Spotify, originally inked in 2019, came to an end. Spotify says it declined to renew the deal; according to sources, the Obamas wanted their podcast programming to be distributed as widely as possible and not exclusive to Spotify. Higher Ground also disagreed with Spotify over the number of its shows that would feature the former president and first lady.
“At Higher Ground, we have always sought to lift up voices that deserve to be heard — and Audible is invested in realizing that vision alongside us,” President Obama said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to partnering with them to tell stories that not only entertain but also inspire.”
Michelle Obama said, “We are so proud of the stories we have been able to tell at Higher Ground, and there’s no one we’d rather write our next chapter with than Audible. Together, we will keep striving to tell compelling, provocative, and soulful stories — while doing everything we can to make sure they reach the folks who need to hear them.”
Higher Ground’s current deal with Spotify runs through October 2022. Podcasts produced by Higher Ground for Spotify will continue to launch on the streaming platform through the fall. “We’re incredibly proud of our partnership with Higher Ground and while we declined to make an offer [to renew the deal], we are excited about the series we made together and those still to come in the months ahead,” a Spotify rep said.
The first podcast from Higher Ground, “The Michelle Obama Podcast,” is the most-listened-to Spotify original to date. The company’s other podcasts include “The Big Hit Show,” a series of audio documentaries hosted by Alex Pappademas focused on defining pieces of popular culture; “Tell Them, I Am,” a podcast collection of stories from Muslim people; “Renegades: Born in the USA,” a series of conversations between President Obama and Bruce Springsteen; and the upcoming “The Sum of Us,” a podcast series based on Heather McGhee’s bestseller, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”
“We have long recognized President and Mrs. Obama’s historic capacity to captivate,” Don Katz, Audible’s founder and executive chairman, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to welcome two of the most profound voices of moral and intellectual leadership of our times into the Audible fold, and to be able to elevate President and Mrs. Obama’s singular ability to provide hope and uplifting guidance — needed now more than ever — through their voices.”
Zola Mashariki, head of Audible Studios, commented, “For so long we have been inspired by the Obamas. Their passion, curatorial style and ingenuity is reflected in the content they have created across all mediums, as well as the talented team they have assembled at Higher Ground. We are beyond thrilled to collaborate on audio-first original content that highlights their profoundly unique content and vision.”
Higher Ground also has an exclusive film and TV production deal with Netflix. The company’s first film release, “American Factory,” won the 2019 Oscar for documentary feature. Higher Ground’s film releases include “Becoming,” directed by Nadia Hallgren; “Fatherhood,” starring Kevin Hart; and “Worth,” a drama that looks at what role government can play in the aftermath of a tragedy.
The company’s TV series have included docuseries “Our Great National Parks”; kids’ show “Waffles + Mochi” hosted by Michelle Obama, which will return to screens this fall; two seasons of animated series “Ada Twist, Scientist”; and “We the People,” a short-form series from creator Chris Nee that uses music and animation to teach the basics of rights and citizenship with songs by artists like Janelle Monáe, H.E.R., Adam Lambert and Brandi Carlile.
Upcoming film and TV projects for Netflix include “Rustin,” a feature film that tells the story of civil rights and gay rights activist Bayard Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe and starring Colman Domingo in the title role; feature documentary “Descendant,” the story of the Clotilda, the last known ship to transport African citizens to the Americas to be enslaved, produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson; “Blackout,” a film and TV event adapted from six different love stories; “Leave the World Behind,” a film adaptation of the acclaimed novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, written and directed by Sam Esmail and starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke and Myha’la Herrold; and an untitled comedy series from Regina Hicks.