I have nothing pithy to say about today’s news that hasn’t already been said. Keep your data safe. Maybe check out Slate’s very good new season of Slow Burn. I am probably going to do the opposite of self-care, which is watch the new episode of For All Mankind, a show that takes place in an alternate timeline in which the Equal Rights Amendment passes and women matter (that’s a season 1 spoiler, and we’re on season 3, so it is what it is).
Anyway, on with the show. Today, Spotify’s new hit they would rather you not notice, why the Obamas and Spotify did not mix, and a big new industry move.
Spotify secretly launched a show with Claudia and Jackie Oshry — it’s already a hit
Spotify has a brand new original topping its podcast chart, but it would probably prefer if you didn’t know about it.
Last week, Spotify launched a new pop culture show, Breaking Bread, on Spotify Live. Breaking Bread’s recordings now rank at number six on Spotify’s top podcast chart after holding the number two spot for most of the week, putting it just behind Joe Rogan. The show’s popularity — and the reason the company might be staying quiet about its new hit — is due to its two hosts: Jackie Oshry Weinreb and Claudia Oshry (aka Instagram’s girlwithnojob), who come with a huge built-in audience. While the sisters have delivered their massive fanbase to the app, they have a controversial history that could be problematic for Spotify at a time when the company is being extra cautious.
The sisters had a short-lived show in 2018 on Oath, Verizon’s now-defunct media brand, that was canceled after The Daily Beast reported that their mom is notorious conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller and that the sisters had both previously posted racist and anti-Muslim statements on social media. The sisters apologized, deleted their Twitter accounts, and relaunched with The Morning Toast as an independent podcast. Some fans have been uncomfortable with their unwillingness to disavow their mother’s activities, but their audience is undeniable. The Oshry sisters have more than 3.5 million Instagram followers between them, their flagship podcast currently ranks in the top 100 on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and they maintain what appears to be a robust Patreon base (the stats are now private, but as of 2019, they had more than 9,000 subscribers). The Oshry sisters did not respond to a request for comment.
But if the Oshry sisters are controversial, you wouldn’t know it from their show. The Morning Toast is mostly run-of-the-mill pop culture fare, and Breaking Bread is much of the same: Kim Kardashian’s Marilyn Monroe dress, Hailey Bieber’s skincare line, Britney Spears’ wedding. The Spotify Live platform also allows fans to participate in the show, asking for advice on light topics like puppy training and bachelorette woes.
Following the model of other Spotify Live shows like After Hours with Alex Cooper and Dating Harry Jowsey, the original show takes place on the Live app and is posted as a podcast on Spotify later. Unlike those shows, Breaking Bread received no promotion from Spotify. The company did not issue a press release about the show and did not push it on any of its social channels. The only promotion seems to have come from the Oshrys themselves on their social accounts and podcast.
That may have something to do with the backlash Spotify has received for its nine-figure deal with controversy machine Joe Rogan. Rogan has the undisputed biggest podcast in the world, and as Spotify grows its podcasting might, the company needs him. But Spotify’s unfailing support for Rogan has caused some reputational, if not monetary, damage. Spotify declined to comment on why they chose to partner with the Oshry sisters or whether their past has anything to do with the lack of promotion for the show, but with the way the company has approached Breaking Bread, it seems to be going for the Oshrys’ substantial fanbase without the baggage.
Even if Breaking Bread itself is inoffensive, it is debuting at a time when Spotify is being particularly careful. Last week, the company announced a Safety Advisory Council to assist in its content moderation policies (a move Geller called “a government sponsored internal coup”) and cut a new deal with Integral Ad Science to firm up its brand safety analytics for advertisers.
But the company also is trying to boost its social audio app Spotify Live (previously branded Spotify Greenroom) at a time when social audio is flailing, and Breaking Bread may be its biggest hit yet. If the Oshrys continue to deliver numbers, the show will be hard for the company to ignore.
Why the Obamas left Spotify
Earlier this week, Amazon’s Audible and the Obamas’ production company Higher Ground announced a multi-year first-look deal. The Obamas have several months left at Spotify, and according to a new report from Bloomberg Businessweek, it has not been a comfortable arrangement.
Spotify reportedly wanted more shows with the former first couple at the mic, like The Michelle Obama Podcast and Renegades: Born in the USA, but the Obamas were less interested in actually being in the shows than they were in elevating voices and stories they thought mattered. They were apparently surprised when Spotify (usually via departing head of studios Courtney Holt) rejected dozens of show pitches.
The new context makes President Barack Obama’s statement in the Audible announcement this week more pointed than at first glance: “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.”
The article is also worth checking out to see what has — and hasn’t — worked in Spotify’s quest for audio industry dominance. Rogan (for better or worse), Cooper, and other established names have been a boon for the platform, while partnering with celebrities to make new shows has been mostly a bust. And while consumers are increasingly turning to Spotify for podcasts, investors remain as skeptical as ever that the $1 billion-plus investment was worth it.
Moves: British podcast studio Novel hires PRX exec Julie Shapiro
Novel, an independent podcast studio out of the UK behind shows like The Superhero Complex and Call Me Mother, has been on a bit of a hiring spree. After poaching executives from New York Times’ The Daily and The Guardian’s Today in Focus, the company announced Thursday that it has hired PRX and Radiotopia executive Julie Shapiro as its executive creative director.
In addition to being VP of editorial at PRX and Radiotopia, Shapiro (no relation — again!) is the executive producer of Pulitzer-nominated show Ear Hustle. According to Deadline, she will be integral in Novel’s pivot to the US market. Novel recently landed a deal to develop 11 narrative podcasts for iHeartMedia and struck a talent and distribution partnership with United Talent Agency.
That’s all I got. See you next week.