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News Rundown: June 15, 2021

Spotify announces exclusive deal with Call Her Daddy‘s Alexandra Cooper. Upon looking at The Joe Budden Podcast’s impact on Spotify’s listening metrics back when that show was made exclusively available on the platform, CEO Daniel Ek was reported to have said “Let’s do 1,000 of these.”

The past few years have seen that intent bear out, as the company proceeded to forge exclusive deals with The Joe Rogan Experiencethe Obamasthe former Royals, and more recently, Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, among other marquee names. The sentiment to sign a thousand of these deals is obviously a superlative turn of phrase, but some days, I wouldn’t blame you if you were to take Ek’s declaration literally. At this point, who truly knows.The past week saw yet another deal about thrown onto the exclusivity pile. On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Spotify is “nearing a deal” that would bring Alexandra Cooper, along with her popular sex-and-relationships-themed comedy podcast Call Her Daddy, exclusively to the service, with sources telling the Journal that the deal could be valued at $20 million. The deal was officially announced today, with the podcast leaving Barstool and slated to go exclusive on Spotify starting on July 21.

There is, as you might recall, a more ornate story around Call Her Daddy. Originally launched in 2018 as part of Barstool Sports by Cooper and Sofia Franklyn, the podcast became embroiled in an ownership-related flare-up last year between the two hosts and Barstool Sports. There was a publishing blackout, a public messaging battle that took place across the podcast feed and Instagram, and Spurs-era Kawhi Leonard levels of behind-the-scenes politicking that audiences were only privy to in flashes and glimpses. All this, it should be noted, played out in a way that fit sideways into ascendant industry-wide themes about intellectual property, the relationship between creators and media companies, and how the risk-reward split should be allocated within the framework of that relationship. (This is a wildly abbreviated summation of events, and I recommend reading The New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz’s piece for a fuller accounting.) The flare-up ultimately led to a restructuring of the deal, along with the departure of co-host Franklyn to launch her own independent show, Sofia with an F. Today’s official announcement of the deal seals a dramatic next chapter in that particular saga.

Anyway, all this context is largely set dressing for the central industry story here, which continues to revolve around Spotify’s continued push to build a core of talent-driven, listener-heavy, exclusive programming as part of its bid to realize its ambition as the all-consuming pillar of the new audio economy, and beyond.

On that note, here’s something else to consider: In its blog post summarizing the shape of last year’s streams on the platform, Spotify highlighted Call Her Daddy as being the fifth-most-popular podcast on its service. The Joe Rogan Experience topped that list, while The Michelle Obama Podcast came in fourth, which means three out of the five most popular podcasts on the Swedish audio platform last year are now Spotify exclusives.

The other two shows, by the way, are TED Talks Daily and The Daily. Now, I doubt the Times would ever let its flagship audio franchise go exclusive to Spotify, but the other one… who knows.

Speaking of Spotify…

Reply All returns with its first post-Test-Kitchen release. The episode, “Search Party,” published last Thursday, marks something of a return to what could be argued as the show’s “roots,” featuring co-host Alex Goldman mounting an inquiry into weird-esque Internet with guest tech reporters Ashley Feinberg and Katie Notopoulos.

It’s decidedly lighter fare, though meta-observers would note a distinctly toe-dipping vibe that comes in the wake of the Test-Kitchen-related scandal earlier this year that led to a reckoning at Reply All and Gimlet Media along with the departures of founding co-host PJ Vogt and longtime staffer Sruthi Pinnamaneni from the show. At the time, Reply All’s future was left a little uncertain, though the remaining team released an update in late April announcing that it would continue under Goldman and Emmanuel Dzotsi, who was made co-host last September.

How does a podcast chart a course forward in the aftermath of a highly visible scandal that struck at its very identity and persona? A version of that question was asked in a piece by The Guardian, which was published on the day of Reply All’s return. When presented with the article by a listener, the show’s chatty Twitter account replied, “Guess we’ll find out.” Indeed. 

In other news of returns. Here’s the first one: Rory and Mal, the former co-hosts on The Joe Budden Podcast who were fired by Budden last month in the midst of an extensive period of multi-directional controversy and conflict, launched their own podcast on Friday. Intriguingly, the show, called New Rory and Mal, is available on Spotify, which is a platform that new episodes of The Joe Budden Podcast are not available on following Budden’s contentious departure from the Swedish streaming platform.

And here’s the second one: Bari Weiss, the controversial op-ed writer who left The New York Times last summer citing “constant bullying by colleagues” in her publicly posted resignation letter, launched a new podcast last week, Honestly, that extends the work she’s been doing independently on her Substack, called Common Sense, since the start of the year.

In April, The Daily Beast had reported that Weiss was “close to inking a deal to launch a major podcast project,” and that she was enlisting Andy Mills, her former Times colleague who left in February after the Caliphate scandal as well as renewed scrutiny around his past workplace conduct, to join the venture. The podcast’s debut last Wednesday bore no credits at the end of its 30-minute runtime, so it remains unclear whether an external publisher or studio is involved with the project. Same goes with Mills’ involvement, though there is word of an Instagram post floating around that confirms as much…

Deep read. I’m only tangentially clued in to the goings on of h3h3Productions — the wildly popular digital media operation led by the husband-wife duo Ethan and Hila Klein that sits cleanly at the intersection of creator culture, YouTube, and podcasting — in the sense that I only have a rough grasp on the team’s crusading exploits, and that I mostly dip in and out of the H3 podcast depending on the guest. This means that I was in sore need of heavier context around the Trisha-Paytas-Ethan-Klein-Frenemies situation that’s been playing out over the past few weeks.

Thank goodness, then, for all the fine souls on the Extremely Online/YouTube beat. There’s a lot baked into this story, and for those interested, I’d start with the brief Vulture post by Zoe Haylock, then head over to the longer Insider explainer by Lindsay Dodgson and Sirena Bergman, then hit up Slate’s ICYMI podcast by Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher for a lot more background on Paytas, and then generally stay on Kelsey Weekman’s Twitter feed.

Self-promo. For the most recent New York Magazine’s print issue, I reviewed the latest season of Slow Burn, which took on the events and mistakes leading up to the Iraq War. One side thing I’d like to express that I felt was inappropriate to include in the actual review: I found myself really taken aback by how the season handled the execution of its wine club ad. It’s excessive!

Speaking of Slate… Decoder Ring returns today, in its new seasonal publishing format. I, for one, am very glad to hear this. One thing to note: The company is releasing all episodes at once for Slate Plus members, while everyone else gets new episodes weekly.

Hell House. The Verge’s Ashley Carman published an absolute wildfire of a feature last week about HiStudios, the podcast studio spun out of the Chinese audio giant Ximalaya, which devolved into an oozing, abusive pile of idiocy under the supervision of one individual, Peter Vincer. Stupid money (or fictitious stupid money) brings stupid behavior, and we’re all worse off for it.

AIR Media’s New Voices program has opened applications. The program, which runs from August to December of this year, will remain virtual. More details here.

American Public Media has struck a “multi-year strategic deal” with Cadence13, which will see the latter serve as the exclusive podcast sales rep for the public radio organization. More details here.

The Tribeca Film Festival’s inaugural podcast selections are now almost fully available, and you can find them on this page. I’m still making my way through the picks, though I’m liking most of what I’ve heard so far. In particular: Hot White Heist, which I got previews for, and Vermont Ave., because, listen, I’ll pick up anything that James Kim is putting down. Might revisit some of these in future issues, or in 1.5x Speed.