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Insider February 4, 2022 — When Spotify goes low…

… the Obamas shop Higher Ground elsewhere

It’s pouring! My power is out! We have ruined the planet, and it is, in turn, ruining me. ANYWAY. Audio. Even though we already did earnings, we’ve still got a lot of numbers here today. Can you believe? Fortunately, these are the more fun ones, IMO.

Obamas reportedly on hunt for their next Spotify

2022 marks the end of the Obamas’ three-year contract with Spotify, and they’re apparently looking for a new partner, not a contract renewal. Three “podcast industry sources” told Business Insider that the Obamas’ company Higher Ground has various grievances with Spotify, including its slow production pace and a disinterest in having younger, newer voices host podcasts, as opposed to the Obamas themselves.

This potential departure isn’t a pile-on to creators boycotting Spotify for its support of Joe Rogan, even though the Obamas’ frustration was first called out earlier this week in a Vanity Fair article about the Rogan fiasco. However, the two situations intrinsically have things in common: the Higher Ground team is apparently taking issue with Spotify’s vision of money-making, wide-reaching content, which is embodied by Joe Rogan and his millions of listeners but which Insider’s sources say are incompatible with more unconventional ideas the Obamas have brought to the table.

These disagreements must be pretty strong if the Obamas are willing to leave Spotify even though they just launched a new podcast last month. Higher Ground’s other recent addition, though — Ethan Lewis, its newly hired senior vice president of unscripted/non-fiction content — can ostensibly travel with them wherever they choose to go.

Chicago merger launches with $60M+ in multi-year funds 

The process of Chicago Public Media acquiring The Chicago Sun-Times has officially wrapped, with the group raising $61 million in philanthropic support in the process. It’s a big sum, but it isn’t arriving all at once: it’s broken up into “multi-year commitments,” most of which will be spread out over a five-year timeline.

It reminds me a lot of the way that allowances are doled out — a little restrictive, sure, but at least you can always count on more money coming your way.

Speaking of millions: um, Audiochuck???

Did you catch the profile of Ashley Flowers and Audiochuck in The New York Times on Wednesday? Did you catch that the Crime Junkie fan club alone has tens of thousands of members paying $5 to $20 a month? By my quick calculation, that means that even on the low end — 20,000 people, pledging five dollars monthly — that’s still $1.2 million annually for Audiochuck, just for bonus access to one of its shows. Woweewow. Looks like Flowers didn’t need any more than an ad-sales deal with SiriusXM; Audiochuck is having a fine time, even just with fan support.

Slate ad(d)s additional episodes

Earlier this week, Slate announced that shows like Political Gabfest and Mom and Dad Are Fighting will soon release extra episodes on a regular basis. Because I’m on a roll with math, let’s look at how much the company stands to benefit from adding those extra episodes, purely based on how many advertising slots this is likely to introduce.

Within a given episode, there’s room for maybe one to four companies to advertise; multiply that by the four shows that are adding extra episodes, then multiply that by anywhere from 12 to 52, to reflect that a show might be gaining an episode every month or every week. I’m not actually going to math it out, but you get the idea — that’s a lot of added real estate for ads.

SmartLess gets more ambitious

I once thought the naming convention that defined the entertainment industry was the addition of “+” to the end of something, but it might actually be playing around with the word “media” or “studios.” It signals that you offer more than just the specific thing you started with, whether it be podcasts or TV, and it’s what SmartLess did this week when it announced it wouldn’t be just the hit show hosted by Will Arnett, Sean Hayes, and Jason Bateman, but SmartLess Media, a whole production company! Sure! Why not?

It sounds like the “media” these folks will be producing will skew toward audio, but other than that, the details are sparse. What we do know is that an ex-Daily Show producer, Richard Korson, is now president of the company, and Amazon will get first look at whatever it puts out, per the original deal it struck with the SmartLess crew back in June. 

Futuro Media brings more shows to PRX

On Tuesday, PRX announced that it’s expanding its existing partnership with Futuro Media. PRX already distributes other Futuro shows, like Latino USA, and it will now begin distributing the similarly long-running In The Thick and Latino Rebels Radio, as well as providing sponsorship and promotions for the programs.

Hey Meta, what will the metaverse sound like?

According to Reuters, Meta “is close to acquiring Greek audio software startup Accusonus,” which could mean two really, really different things. Accusonus offers plugins that remove background noise and modify speaker voices, as well as more open-ended tools for making beats and songs, so it’s possible that Meta plans to supply users with the programs they’d need to create podcasts or music within its immersive landscape. On the other hand, maybe these tools will be kept for internal use as a way to churn out audio that will be threaded throughout the metaverse, potentially including sounds from Accusonus’ existing music library.

If it’s the latter, oh man. Is this Meta’s vision? For the grand metaverse to be scored by generic-sounding instrumental tracks? For the future to sound like one big game of Wii Sports Resort?


Podimo has a new country manager for its operations in Spain: Juan Galiardo Sosa, who previously oversaw Uber’s operations in that country. Asha Saluja, managing producer for Slate podcasts since this time last year, announced that she’s stepped down from that position. NPR’s subscription product is expanding not only its offerings but its team, hiring Leda Marritz as program manager of NPR Plus; up until now, she was with Apple Podcasts, curating whom and what the app highlights. And the song-centric podcast company Audio Up is really bolstering its musical prowess: Christine Kauffman will be the company’s new executive vice president of brand strategy and partnerships, previously contributing similar expertise to record companies and magazines, and PJ Bloom has been appointed as second co-president of music, after serving in such roles as lead music supervisor for Glee. Wow, deep cut.I used to like Fridays, but Abbott Elementary has turned me into someone who watches things as they’re released, so now I only like Tuesdays. Hope I can enjoy myself anyways.